Matt Bonner has been in the NBA for 11 years now. Most of his tenure in the league has been spent with the San Antonio Spurs. Over Bonner’s period of time in the league, oddly enough, he’s become somewhat a fixture on a great NBA team…and I need to admit that I’m confused by it all.
Now 34 years old, Bonner started his first game of the 2015-16 season on Monday night. Why? Well, why not?
Throughout his entire up-and-down and mostly up career, he’s been a player of some consequence because of a specific role he provides tremendously. For all the things he can’t do, Matt Bonner can help spread the floor. While that’s about all he does better than average, it’s helped keep him in the league this long.
Over his career, Bonner has managed to score 5.9 points per game while shooting over 41 percent from three, and he has a particular set of skills which makes Liam Neeson in Taken seem like a wimp in comparison. His skill? Spreading the floor and helping create space. With his minutes per game decreasing from 20 per game in the 2011-12 season to a mere 5.9 this one, it seems as if the end is near for our beloved Bonner, though.
Before the NBA had a plethora of large humans — such as Kristaps, Eyebrow and other nicknamed bigs — there weren’t a ton of giants able to shoot the ball from distance. Sure, there was (is) Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett and a few others, but by and large having a 6’10” member of the human species who could hit a jumper from 20-feet or more out was like having a unicorn grazing through your backyard — it was abnormal.
The amazing thing about Matt Bonner, who provided such a skill set well before so many others did, is that he still has a spot in the NBA during a time it seems like he should be easily replaceable. Nevertheless being a player, at his age and abilities, who continues to get somewhat meaningful run for a team coached by Darkman-reboot potential villain, Gregg Popovich.
That’s part of the fun of Matt Bonner. Part of his allure, our fun with him, is that he seems like a guy who should no longer be getting tangible NBA minutes. That has as much to do with his age and limited (but proficient) skill set as it does with the fact that he is, you know, white. Even better, I guess, he has a red hair. He looks “funny” to some people.
Rarely in the age of social media has a player become fodder for jokes, while being relatively important to their team, as much as Matt Bonner. That’s not to say he’s anything other than a role player, but when you couple his ability to shoot jumpers with his ability to be white, you get a beloved basketball player who’s universally loved.
Seriously. Go find me some negative Matt Bonner columns? Like, real ones. I will wait…
Instead, I imagine you stumbled across the slew of nicknames he has acquired over the years. Red Mamba, Red Rocket, the Sandwich Hunter — all real nicknames people have attached to a player who is mostly okay at basketball. In reality, Bonner’s career arc hasn’t been measured with his play on the court as much as it has been with the jokes and running tropes we’ve hurled around the Interwebs.
Unfortunately, while other white basketball players such as Jimmer Fredette and Nik Stauskas are given some strange benefit of the doubt, Bonner’s whiteness has taken away from anyone giving him real credit for having such sustainability as a professional basketball player.
It’s the complete opposite, really. While every white player coming out of college is subjected to WoW (white-on-white comparisons), and is afforded all sort of hyperbolic narratives in their wake, we’ve failed to acknowledge an 11-year veteran in favor of him being some sort of running joke, We do that, mind you, despite Bonner coming up huge in spots for the Spurs during key portions of postseason play.
Basically, because a few overzealous fans are clamoring for a white dude to be more than competent in the NBA, mediocre guys like Bonner are left to be running jokes. They’re waiting for their great white hope (Kevin Love is good, you guys), and they’ll willingly ignore solid white players in the league because they’re not the very best in the world. Granted, if we were to be honest with each other, being white shouldn’t be a prerequisite for your fandom allegiance anyway.
Man, that got off-topic quickly…
What I’m trying to say, in a strangely roundabout way, is that Matt Bonner probably deserves a wee-bit more praise for being one of the few players who can hold on in the league despite newer, better versions of guys with similar skill sets as him popping up as if they were a rigged game of whack-a-mole at the county fair.
If not that, then I guess he should at least be Liam Neeson’s sidekick in the Darkman reboot. He can be the hero who was wronged by his former mentor turned evildoer (Pop), and battles his guilt to help Darkman save the day or whatever.
My gawd, I turned on myself. Is no one safe from all the jokes at Matt Bonner’s expense?
Never mind. Disregard every single thing you read. Bonner clearly enjoys his slot in our lives. If he’s okay with it, then we all should be.
So who’s the next Larry Bird playing in college this year?