Jim Mancari, SNYNets.com
The realm of sports is classic for descriptive nicknames that highlight an athlete’s prowess.
Cal Ripken Jr., who played in a record 2,632 consecutive baseball games, was aptly nicknamed “The Iron Man.”
With his weaving moves on the football gridiron, former Chicago Bears’ running back Walter Payton earned the nickname “Sweetness.”
And of course, Wayne Gretzky was nicknamed “The Great One” after retiring with the most ever goals all-time in hockey at 894.
Despite the stature of these fine athletes, the Brooklyn Nets have a player whose nickname may be more appropriate than any of the above.
The nickname “Crash” is the perfect fit for Nets’ forward Gerald Wallace.
For a player earning $40 million over the next four years, Wallace’s offensive production in terms of scoring has been relatively pedestrian. He’s only cracked the double-digit mark in points once in the last nine games – a game in which the Nets lost by 13 points to the Rockets.
Even in Friday’s win over the Bulls, Wallace shot 3-of-4 from the field but only had six points. Yet in the locker room postgame, Wallace’s teammates were raving about his energetic performance and his unmatched intangibles, despite not showing up on the stats sheet every night.
“He’s (Wallace) arguably the most important piece to our team,” Brook Lopez said. “When he’s there, his energy just does loads for us. You can’t really explain what he does.”
Wallace’s hustle and versatility – thus earning him his nickname – allowed the Nets to play small in trying to defend the Bulls Friday night. Wallace said that he focuses on getting rebounds and playing physically when he shifts from the three to the four.
“Luol Deng is a ridiculously difficult matchup,” P.J. Carlesimo said. “He (Wallace) made him work. I didn’t want to take Gerald out of the game because I didn’t want to have put somebody else on him (Deng).”
Before Friday’s game, Joe Johnson called Wallace one of the emotional leaders on the court who sets the example based on his energy. However, Wallace downplayed that credit and says he just goes about his business night-in and night-out.
“I just play basketball,” Wallace said. “You can call it however you see it, but I just enjoy the game of basketball. I go out there and play. Whatever the coaches or my teammates need me to do to help us win, they know I’ll do it at 110 percent and give my all. That’s just the enjoyment of the game I’ve loved since I was two years old.”
Crash’s teammates certainly appreciate his style of play. Though his hustle can sometimes put his health in jeopardy, he plays the game with intensity all the time.
“He’s doing the little things that nobody else wants to do,” Deron Williams said.
“It would really be scary so many nights if we did not have him to put on whoever it might be, whether it’s a mobile four, a scoring three or a scoring two,” Carlesimo said. “He gets that assignment so many times. It’s very, very difficult, but he does it extremely well.”
Wallace considers himself more of a “lead by example kind of guy” than a big talker. He said his teammates listen to him because they know he is giving maximum effort on every play.
“We’re very lucky to have a guy like him,” Lopez said. “When you see him doing what he does and sacrificing his body and making all the big plays, you have to follow him.”
Yet despite his great attitude on the court, Wallace will not settle on becoming complacent. He said he’s always looking to improve and admits that there are plenty of things the Nets could still work on as the season progresses towards the playoffs.
“Gerald’s not one of those guys who hangs his head,” Carlesimo said. “Gerald is one of those guys that plays at 180 miles an hour all the time. You know he’s going to do a good job chasing and fighting through bigs and going to the boards and doing the things that Gerald Wallace does.”
The Nets of course would love to have five players like “Crash,” but even having just one “Crash” gives the team a distinct advantage. “Crash” just needs to be weary about not “crashing” too hard as he attempts to stay healthy the rest of the way.
Jim Mancari is a Contributor to SNYNets.com. Follow him on Twitter @JMMancari.