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Mamba mentality

Don't be surprised when Bulls bench star Brian Scalabrine strikes

  • Brian Scalabrine
Brian Scalabrine (Getty Images file )
March 27, 2012|By Georgia Garvey | RedEye

Brian Scalabrine—the "White Mamba," as fans and TV announcer Stacey King call him—just might be the most popular player on the Bulls.

The 34-year-old power forward, a member of the team's vaunted "Bench Mob," doesn't start, but when he comes into the game, regardless of how many minutes are left or what the score is, he's greeted with a rousing chorus of cheers loud enough to make even Derrick Rose jealous.

"You go to any arena that we've been to this year [and] he's a fan favorite; they scream his name," King said. "It's pretty cool and he's a great guy."

If it's a joke, Scalabrine's in on it.

Scratch that: If it's a joke, Scalabrine wrote it.

He says it all started with a Kobe Bryant shoe commercial early last year that called theL.A. Lakers star the "Black Mamba." A few days later, when Scalabrine made himself a version of Bryant's shoe on the Nike website, he put "White Mamba" on it on a whim.

"I was just like, 'The black mamba is the world's most deadliest snake, and I'm the world's most dormant snake. By far,'" he said, laughing. "There's no snake used less than me."

On the other hand, the Bulls know what they've got in Scalabrine. He's featured in pregame videos at the United Center and enjoys attention and name recognition probably not afforded most of the role players on the team. Despite the "White Mamba" T-shirts and the chants for "Scal-a-bree-ni" at games in Chicago and on the road, there's more to Scalabrine's game than his fan adoration. In fact, he doesn't care why fans love him as long as he helps the Bulls win.

Scalabrine came to the Bulls in 2010, after five seasons and a championship with the Boston Celtics. Though he's averaged only about four and a half minutes per game in Chicago, usually he's good for an assist or a rebound when he plays. And his contributions don't end on the court.

"It's more about putting the work in and making sure I'm here early. [It's about] asking guys, 'Hey, do you want to play one-on-one and get your game sharp before practice or do you want to go one-on-one before the game a little bit?'" Scalabrine said. "But on the same token, if anybody on our team—a big [man]—were to go down, I have to be ready to play. I don't take any days for granted. If I have just one opportunity to play, and if I can help my team win a game, then I don't want to ever pass that up."

Scalabrine's hard working, has a sense of humor and possesses something few professional athletes do: accessibility.

On a recent sunny day, he took his kids to play at a Skokie mall while his wife shopped.

"People couldn't believe that I would go to Old Orchard Mall and play on the dragons. Like, why would I do that? I look at them and say, 'Why would I not?' [Just] because I'm Scalabrine doesn't mean my kids don't like to go to parks and play. They do. And someone needs to watch them," he said. "I gotta watch the kids at the dragon. This is my life. This is what we do. It's simple, normal."

Simple. Normal.

In a game full of godlike men, Scalabrine seems closer to mere mortals, even if there's no way the dude missing the layup on the gym court could ever compete with him.

Count radio host Dan Patrick among the deluded guys who think they could be the White Mamba. Scalabrine said Patrick once asked former Celtics teammate Kevin Garnett if he could just "be the Scalabrine role" on the team.

"Garnett looked at him like, 'I don't think you really understand what it takes to be even him and what he does in this league. He's in the league for 10 years. You think this is easy? He's in the league for a reason.' " Scalabrine said. "I didn't win a contest or anything like that. I earned this."

As far as the nickname goes, Scalabrine might have written it, but he's got King to thank for it spreading like wildfire.

"It was just out of a spur-of-the-moment type thing," King said of his decision to use the name, which he vividly remembers as coming last year against the Washington Wizards. "He was isolating a guy, at the end of the game, by himself. He just took the guy one-on-one and scored."

The nickname might otherwise have died a quick, painless death.

"Stacey King just took it and went with it. And when he does that, it just goes to a whole other level," Scalabrine said. "I think people refer to me as the White Mamba more than any other name."

They're the perfect punctuation to a game, the nicknames and catchphrases King throws out to celebrate great plays. In January, the Bulls neared the end of a decisive win over Detroit when Scalabrine entered the game. After he made a bucket, the fans erupted—and so did King.

"That's what the fans came to see, baby!" King crowed. "They came to see good basketball, and the White Mamba strike!"

That's what he said

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