Mar. 10, 2008 - Nobody has done more to make his team a winner than Tyler Hansbrough of No. 1 North Carolina. Which is why he's SI's pick for player of the year.


There are some articles and topics that you pause before you start. You worry that the reader might might miss the point of the article. See, I actually LIKE Tyler Hansbrough, I really do — even if that crazy look in his eye reminds me of past-Knick Kurt Thomas at best, and wakes me up in the middle of the night with a cold sweat at worst. But let’s be clear: don’t hate the player, hate the game… when it’s announced so terribly. The Hansbrough hyperbole just gets so nauseating that it becomes an assault on basketball logic, reason, and history. It becomes an inner struggle not to punish a great college player who had the nerve to be born white. 

But I won’t explain the media’s white hot love for Tyler in this space. Voices from the blogosphere (D.K.Wilson from Sports on My Mind), the local media (Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune), and the national media (Mike Freeman from CBS Sports) have all adequately tackled the subject. There was really no need to weigh in further… until Saturday night.  The occasion marked North Carolina’s victory over Louisville when Jay Bilas, in a gushfest that would make Dick Vitale blush, doesn’t just tell viewers that Hansbrough has "never taken a play off", but that he is the most competitive player "ever", and that he played against Michael Jordan (Bilas went to Duke), and even MJ  wasn’t as competitive. First Michael Beasley, now Michael Jordan? …Where does it end?

Yes, the context of the Bilas comparison was limited to "competitive". Didn’t matter. The next day I decided that I was finally going to write something because Jay Bilas just wouldn’t stop swirling around in my brain. But just to ensure that I wasn’t hallucinating, I first decided to google" "Bilas-Hansbrough-competitive-Jordan". I’m glad that I did as Bilas seemed to have lit up some message boards which saved me the trouble of writing an article. By far the most popular message board posting is best represented by Rudius Media: "The verbal fellatio on Hansbrough has been staggering tonight." We will spare you the other more graphic quotes, and leave you with this well-thought out posting from "RDF" from the HoyaTalk message board where a broader, richer, and more nuanced context is provided.

Jay Bilas didn’t see Michael Jordan as "competitive" because during Jordan’s time at UNC–he was on teams that were BURYING Duke by so many points–the game often didn’t require his services. After all–MJ was at UNC from 1982-84 seasons and Bilas at Duke from 83-86 seasons. I don’t think Hansbrough is the worst player I’ve ever seen–he’s a hustle guy, works hard, has improved, and deserves to be given credit for improvement. That is NOT my issue at all. Do I take issue with the inventive praise for him? Yes. Do I think if he were a "darker hue" from Big East he’d not be talked about in same manner? Yes. Nothing wrong with saying Hansbrough is having a strong season, has been a great fit for the UNC program, and has worked himself into a fine college player. It becomes over the top when you consider:

Two teams have a stranglehold on "National" awards. If a Duke/UNC player averages double digits–they are strongly under consideration for some All American team, or award. If they are a White player from either school–they get rewarded for things that can’t be measured or overly praised/defended. Having to hear Hansbrough’s "competitive greatness" is different than saying "he’s the most competitive player EVER" and ignoring the numerous other players who compete as hard/if not more but don’t outwardly show it on the court or make the game look easier due to their athletic abilities. Doesn’t make you less competitive if you have the ability to make things look easy–that takes as much work in the gym as what Hansbrough does.

Redick gets called a name–and it’s "tragic"–Ewing gets called an "Ape" and it’s response is from Bill Raftery and Len Berman and nobody else at ESPN. Laettner stomps on Aminu Timberlake and he’s "just so competitive–took it a bit too far, but he’s caught in moment". When it’s Gerald Henderson giving a hard foul on Hansbrough who was in to pad stats, it’s "uncalled for, a total thuggish move". There is a difference. Now maybe it’s more of WHAT JERSEY COLORS these players wear–after all we did get the infamous Duhon "What a Player, What a Man" line and Shane Battier was slurped as much by media for being "someone you would want your daughter to sleep–I mean marry" but it seems to be a bit over the top from some elements when it’s Hansbrough and how his "intensity" is described–because nothing about his game is something we’ve not seen from THOUSANDS OF PLAYERS. He’s a fine player, works hard, but he’s a dork on the court–and that gets attention/rewarded/praised by the media as if your emotions matter. Did Hansbrough want the game anymore last year when he disappeared against Georgetown? No. Did the Hoyas want the game any more and compete any harder then Louisville did this year? No. So what is the change this year in inventing reasons to place Hansbrough on a level above his peers when fact is–he’s doing a fine job on a great team this year, but now is being talked about as superior to anyone who has ever played in terms of competitiveness? Is CBS that concerned people aren’t going to watch? Doubt it.

Realize that bringing race into this discussion will get panned–but it does have merit when you hear the announcing–and now that Hansbrough has been mentioned as being a superior competitor to Michael Jordan–I think it brings in much more merit. Measuring someone’s competitive nature by their facial expressions/celebrations and by the fact they might make it appear as if they are working harder due to their lack of physical attributes or by breathing heavy after/in between plays is baloney. Hansbrough has won awards, he’s on a very publicized/overpublicized team whose arrogance/fanbase thinks it’s their birthright to win the National Title and every game–whether they are outplayed or not. They are a fine program, great team, have a fine coach, and great college players. I just laugh at how they get credit for things most guys of their "acclaim" are SUPPOSED TO DO/HAVE DONE/ARE DOING.

Oh well–I’ve made my point and hearing what was said tonight–even with what appears to be a fine/clutch performance, I’m glad I didn’t watch and stand by the comments. Maybe it’s not Hansbrough I despise–it’s how the media inflates his stature in the sport and for that, I apologize to Hansbrough or those who praise his play on court–you have a strong point and it’s my hatred for all things ACC/those who suck up anything that league promotes as gospel that influences my bias against all things UNC/ACC.

RDF, whoever you are, thank you for the commentary.

UPDATE:  This late addition comes by the way of ESPN’s Bill Simmons’ mailbag and his David West comparison is right on target (hat tip to Sports on My Mind):

"Speaking of Favre, he already has been replaced by Tyler Hansborough as the token "White Athlete That The Media Openly and Embarrassingly Fawns Over Because of His Work Ethic and Love For the Game." (Note: Steve Nash was the overwhelming favorite here until Hansborough too over during the tournament.) For anyone who doesn’t think there’s a racial component to this, you’re crazy. Just look at David West of the Hornets — like Hansborough, he’s a self-made player and a staunch competitor who plays with an inordinate amount of passion, an undersized forward who routinely scores on bigger bodies, someone who extracted every ounce of his potential and made the most of it. Well, have you ever read a David West feature? Have you ever heard announcers raving about him to the point that you wondered if they were related to him? No and no. I just think it’s a little, um, peculiar. We’ll see if this changes during the NBA playoffs."