Shabazz Muhammad is proving a good canary in the coal mine for figuring out if we've dispensed with the superstar-athlete-doesn't-care-about-team-play concern trolling as we've grown more sophisticated about the complexity of the NCAA and the intellectual laziness of humping tired sports cliches. We haven't, it turns out. The coal mine is still lethal.
From trumped up improper benefits scandals to a backpack so nice Pat Forde nearly called the cops, Muhammad, by his mere existence, has ruffled the easiest to ruffle feathers in the business. Now some sportswriters are literally demanding that Muhammad dive on a dog pile—prostrate himself out of sheer happiness—to prove he's not a Glory Boy. On Thursday night, Larry Drew II hit a game-winner to beat the University of Washington. Many of Drew's teammates dog-piled onto Drew, perhaps out of fear that they would be called frauds or have their very humanity questioned if they didn't. Muhammad, a college freshman, wasn't one of the players hugging Drew immediately after the shot, in view of the cameras. He explained that, and the fact that he was clapping for the ball on the final possession, to reporters after the game:
"Oh yeah, I wanted the ball. But Larry is such an aggressive player, and as soon as the ball went up I knew it was going to be good. Everybody was on him and attacking him and I knew Larry was going to have something broken or some scratches, so I was going to wait until he gets up to congratulate him. That was a big-time shot and we're all so happy that we won the game."
He also explained why he wasn't overjoyed in the moment. UCLA played like shit, and was lucky to escape with the victory:
"We definitely need another win where its solid and just to build off of our chemistry. The SC loss was so bad, and coming here with an ugly win — we'll take it, but we definitely need to look for a really solid win."
So: A kid with a good head on his shoulders and a reasonable perspective on a long season, or the surliest team cancer to ever exploit a university on his way to becoming a millionaire?
The latter narrative got rolling with this tweet from USA Today college football writer Dan Wolken:
Shabazz Muhammad (#15) doesn't seem too happy his teammate just hit a game-winner, does he? youtu.be/I8RLzGU5qK0— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) February 8, 2013
From there, it was all some sportswriters could do not to call in the body language expert.
And Thursday he showed that when the ball isn't in his hands, he will pout. As Drew dribbled the ball during the 10 seconds before hitting the game winner, Muhammad curled up to the top of the key and adamantly clapped his hands and stomped his feet calling for the ball.
After Drew's shot went in, most UCLA players dog-piled on top, but Muhammad casually walked past the pile with the look of a lover scorned, not even bothering to glance at the proceedings.
From, "UCLA Phenom Shabazz Muhammad Looked Irritated That His Teammate Made A Buzzer Beater", Business Insider:
After the game, some people began to notice that Shabazz Muhammad - one of the best freshmen in the country - looked a little less than excited about the whole thing.
He was clamoring for the ball at the beginning of the play. When the shot went in, he had no reaction, and he didn't join his teammates in the dog pile.
And less than 24 hours after the game, Muhammad's reaction before the bucket — calling, almost angrily, for the ball — and after — walking away without celebrating with his teammates — might actually have overshadowed the shot itself.
Muhammad's reaction to the play has made the rounds on ESPN, as sportswriters and regular onlookers alike have criticized him for his reaction. [...] "That was a big time shot," Muhammad said.
But was there a subtext in that final play?
Here's what he said after the game:
"Oh yeah, I wanted the ball, but Larry is such an aggressive player. When the ball went up I knew it was going to be good. Everyone was on him and attacking him and I knew he was either going to have something broken or come up with some scratches, so I was going to wait until he gets up to congratulate him. That was a big-time shot and we're all so happy that we won the game. "
So happy! Such joy! Such conscientiousness! Shabazz Muhammad is all about risk aversion, what with his ties to financial planners and all.
Here are the rules for Shabazz Muhammad, one of the 400 or so most talented basketball players in the world: Play for free, because the NBA bars you from joining up until you've done so for at least a year, even though you're legally an adult. Don't take money from a family friend to visit any of the colleges that you're going to have to play for, even when the NCAA gives you permission. When you arrive, don't use any fancy accessories, because that will arouse suspicion. Look inconspicuous—poor, if possible. And when you win, smile and jump around and shit, or writers will dissect your actions in a way that may well hurt your livelihood. Got that? Great. Have fun out there.