If you can’t comprehend or come to terms with why Hassan Whiteside sometimes lashes out under the rim, why he sometimes seems ready to fight the world, some context is in order.
Consider this: Almost five years before Whiteside dominated Wesley Johnson, Ed Davis and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers with 18 points and 25 rebounds Wednesday night, the NBA told Whiteside those guys and more than 30 others were better than him. Johnson was taken No. 4 in the 2010 NBA Draft, Davis No.13, while Whiteside slid to the second round. As Whiteside’s career took him further and further from the NBA — to the D-League, to Lebanon, to China — every day turned into a reminder of that slight.
Consider this: When Whiteside signed with the Heat, the confidence he shows on the court was there in droves. But even his family tried to downplay his expectations. “Watch, I’m going to lead the league in blocks,” Whiteside texted one of his five brothers. His brother responded with a more attainable challenge. “Give me 10 double-doubles and one triple-double,” he offered.
Thirty-three games later, Whiteside has that triple-double, 15 double-doubles, and would sit second in the league in blocks with 2.45 per game if he qualified. Whiteside would have to had played in 70 percent of his team’s games for that, impossible thanks to his late start. Even if he plays in all 22 of the Heat’s remaining regular-season games, he will fall short of the 58 games needed to qualify among league leaders. But he has more than proved his point.
Consider this: Now that he’s a star, teams are desperately scrapping for ways to stop him. The leading strategy: Hit him, get him riled up, get him out of his head and out of the game. So not only is Whiteside getting smacked, slapped and elbowed by design, he sees the targeting as ordered attacks by the same people who spent the last half-decade disrespecting him from afar.
“I remember everything,” Whiteside said, fighting back tears of joy during another celebratory post-game interview. “Things work in mysterious ways. I had just been laughed at for so long, man. Underrated, forgotten about, all that.”
The guy who was ejected and fined for tackling Phoenix’s Alex Len earlier in the week was the same guy getting choked up after proving once again that the world shouldn’t have slept on him. There’s a lot of room for emotion in that 7-foot, 265-pound body, and it runs the entire spectrum.
There is the gratitude and submissive amazement that comes courtesy of an unlikely dream accomplished and realized.
“I’m just blessed,” said Whiteside, who’s averaging 11.1 points and 10.1 rebounds. “A year ago, I was talking about it, and now I’m showing people I can do this. Ya’ll know my story. I went from being in North Carolina just talking about what I can do in the NBA, and everybody laughing at me. Now I have you guys [the media] here.”
There is the tendency to scratch hindsight’s told-you-so itch, the natural result of a chip big enough to fit the shoulders of such a wide wingspan.
“I worked out for the Lakers,” Whiteside said after the Heat topped Los Angeles 100-94. “I thought they could use me, damn!”
And there is the ambition of a man who sees stardom in his grasp and wants the responsibility that comes with it.
“Want to apologize to all the heat fans N fans of mine for the way I shot from the free throw line,” Whiteside tweeted after going 6 for 13 from the stripe, even though he made three in the final 15 seconds to seal the victory. “You deserve a better performance #goodwin.”
It’s generally difficult to top performances that end with a teammate comparing you to Shaquille O’Neal, which is what Goran Dragic did with Whiteside after the win.
“It’s so easy for him to get 20 and 10, it’s unbelievable,” Dragic said. “He can play this kind of game every night, it looks so easy.”
It’s also easy for Whiteside’s emotions to get the better of him because of the roller-coaster nature of his career and teams now targeting him. He received another technical foul Wednesday, a day after the NBA fined him $15,000 for the altercation with Len.
But when he channels those emotions, as he did during the last three minutes Wednesday, Whiteside has been nothing short of magic. The Heat will need his tricks to continue clinging to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings.