Labor day is a day to honor the ideals of hard work and sacrifice. To celebrate, here’s a list of players who never take a day off–not even holidays:
Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
You really didn’t think I would pick anybody else, did you? He was a nobody going into UCLA, and was still relatively unknown when Sam Presti picked him fourth overall in the 2008 NBA draft. Kobe Bryant–arguably the hardest working player of all-time–said he saw lots of similarities between he and Russ, no small praise from the Mamba:
Kobe said he sees “a ton” of similarities w/ him & Westbrook: “plays the game w/ such an energy, an aggressiveness. Needs to be appreciated”
— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) April 12, 2016
His highlight reel is defined by high-effort plays:
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant
There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said. His workout stories are legendary. He came into the league as an 18-year-old who was more athletic than anybody. He left the league with his body failing him, but he still managed to be effective. He put in work every off-season to add another facet to his game.
The only player whose work ethic rivaled Kobe’s is also the greatest player of all time, if that tells you anything.
Kobe is the only player on this list who isn’t active anymore. He gets a pass though, and it should be pretty obvious why.
Small Forward: Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler was given all the wrong cards. His father abandoned his family when Jimmy was just an infant. When he was 13, he was kicked out of his house by his mother who told him “I don’t like the look of you. You gotta go.”
He wasn’t highly recruited out of high school, and played at Tyler Junior College in Texas. After an impressive run there, he was listed as a two-star recruit and given a scholarship by Marquette. The theme of his career–being doubted at every step–continued, just barely avoiding a non-guaranteed salary as the 30th pick in the 2011 NBA draft. His opportunity came when Luol Deng went down with an injury, and the rest is history. He’s now the owner of a gold medal and one of the most lucrative salaries in the league.
Power Forward: Dirk Nowtizki
In a period where the conventional wisdom was that Europeans were ‘soft,’ Dirk emerged as a perennial all-star and one of the best scorers of all-time.
Mark Cuban on Nowitzki:
“Talent without effort is wasted talent. And while effort is the one thing you can control in your life, applying that effort intelligently is next on the list. What helped make Dirk special is not just how hard he worked, but how smart he worked. He didn’t just put in the hours, he had a plan for those hours and he knew just wanted he wanted to accomplish with them. That allowed him to not only become the great shooter that he is, but also to become a student of the game and to add something new to his game almost every year.”
Even at 38, Nowitzki is still a threat, and that’s thanks to his tireless work ethic.
Center: Kevin Garnett
Notice a trend? Three of the five players in this lineup are part of the old guard, the stars of the ’00s. Kobe has retired already; Nowitzki and Garnett are set to hang it up in the next few seasons. A single teardrop hits my keyboard.
Anyway, KG is one of the most intense players in the league–his eyeballs always seem to be on the verge of popping out of his head. His intensity off the court is apparently just as palpable as it is when he’s playing:
“..in February 2009 the coach sat down his future Hall of Famer. Not to skip a game. Rivers just wanted him to miss a practice.
“Coach, you don’t understand,” Garnett seethed. “If I’m sitting, they will see weakness.”
Relegated to the practice-facility sideline, pacing, growling and cursing to himself, Garnett pulled up suddenly, an idea churning, a maniacal grin creasing his face. He unleashed a howl; his teammates glanced in his direction. They knew something was about to happen.
This was, after all, the superstar who had once dropped to all fours and barked at Portland rookie point guard Jerryd Bayless; whose pregame ritual was a violent head-banging assault of, and concurrent conversation with, the basketball stanchion; who would years later express his umbrage at Dwight Howard’s post play by drilling him with an impromptu head-butt in the first quarter of a 2015 regular-season game against Houston.
Garnett, forbidden to take the floor by his own coach, had concocted his revenge: He would track the movements of power forward Leon Powe, the player who had replaced him in the lineup. As Powe pivoted, so did Garnett. As Powe leaped to grab a defensive rebound, Garnett launched himself to corral an imaginary ball. As Powe snapped an outlet pass, Garnett mimicked the motion, then sprinted up his slim sliver of sideline real estate as Powe filled the lane on the break. The players were mirror images: one on the court with a full complement of teammates, the other out of bounds, alone. Two men engaged in a bizarre basketball tango.
“KG,” Rivers barked, “if you keep doing this, I’m canceling practice for the whole team. That will hurt us.”
Garnett’s reverence for coaches was legendary, but still he turned his back on Rivers. He returned to his defensive stance, an isotope of intensity, crouched, palms outstretched, in complete concert with Powe. He was, in fact, becoming so adept at this warped dalliance he’d invented, he actually began to anticipate Powe’s movements, denying the entry pass to his invisible opponent before Powe thought of it.
Finally, an exasperated Rivers blew the whistle. “Go home,” Rivers instructed his team. Then he glared at Garnett. “I hope you’re happy.”