You either love him or you hate him.
If you’re an Ole Miss fan or a columnist in need of a topic sure to generate a response, you love him.
If you believe there’s a difference between showing emotion and showing your arse then you probably hate him.
Rebel basketball star Marshall Henderson is the boldest provocateur to hit a college basketball court since… well… uh. Who else has ever jumped on a scorer’s table at his conference’s tournament, taken a faux joint from his mouth and tossed it to the ground on national television, and snapped his jersey in the faces of opposing players, coaches and fans? Some might have done one. Henderson is the guy who’s done all. And more.
From his shark fin finger gesture after a made trey to his off-court insults — “They’re losers.” – to his on-the-verge-of-a-technical interactions with officials, there’s never been anyone quite so far over the top as Ole Miss’ talented gunner.
When I said over the weekend that I thought Henderson was the most classless player to ever take to the hardwood, a number of my friends in the media chafed. Yet when I asked them for the name of any other college basketballer who’s come close to doing as much taunting as Henderson has done I was met with stares.
Followed by a change of subjects.
The shame of it all is that Henderson is a phenomenal basketball player. His talents and energetic leadership should be the talk of the sporting world rather than his temperament. And if he showed any remorse at all for the actions that have led him through four schools (and jail) in four years, his would be one of those tried and true sports/redemption stories that we all love to sop up like Southern gravy. “He’s overcome so much and turned his life around,” we’d coo.
Instead, Henderson just throws his past in everyone’s face as part of his schtick. Sorry? Please. The arrest record is good for his rep, dudes.
But Henderson’s actions aren’t just fodder for water-cooler talk. They’re capable of inciting a riot. After rubbing a Friday night victory into the faces of Missouri’s team (and then complaining that the Tiger players weren’t good enough sports to shake his hand), Henderson had this to say:
“People take it so seriously that it’s funny for a little white guy like me to just come around, talk trash to people and the fans. Like, what are you going to do in the stands? What am I going to do on the court to you in the stands? It’s funny just to mess with people.”
Yes, it’s funny right up to the point that some ticked off fan in the crowd — say at Auburn, maybe — fails to reel in his own emotions and storms the court to trade fists with the biggest instigator this side of Woody Woodpecker. Oh, sure, Henderson would probably just pull a knife from his sock and cut the guy, but no one really wants to see that any more than they want to see fans and players to duke it out on the floor.
There’s a reason that 90% of Ole Miss basketball games feature officials cooling players’ tempers as the final buzzer nears. Henderson’s mouth and deeds get under the skin of his opponents. Now maybe that takes them off their game — advantage: Rebels — but at some point maybe that will lead to a postgame donnybrook. Don’t say you haven’t thought it possible.
Hell, it’s amazing that no foe to date has dropped a full dose of Kevin McHale on Mississippi’s agitating star:
Ironically, many believe that Henderson’s act is good for college basketball.
“Hey, folks are talking about the NCAA Tournament right now!” Yes, and folks usually pay the tourney no mind this time of year. Why if not for Henderson’s antics no one would be filling out brackets or entering office pools this year. Gotcha.
Look, for those who think there needs to be a bad boy for the good of the game, there’s already a sport for you. It’s called professional wrestling. Personally I’m about as interested in seeing classless behavior on a basketball court as I am in watching oversized guys in undersized trunks perform choreographed movements in a scripted sporting event. Which is to say not very.
The argument that college basketball needs a villain is a hollow one. Columnists and bloggers — here’s looking at me — may need a villain for the sake of copy, but who wants a firebrand running around in real life just for the sake of spicing things up?
“Jane, this is a lovely dinner, but we’re all getting a bit bored. Joe, could you climb up on the table and taunt Jane to make things more interesting?”
“Reverend, the service is moving a bit slowly today so we’ve asked Steve to periodically run by your pulpit and taunt you. Ya know, just to make things a bit more interesting.”
“Mrs. Flarnwell, your husband’s surgery is expected to be pretty routine… so to keep us on our toes we’ve asked Dr. Smythe-Smythe to call us losers while we operate. It’ll make the whole thing so much more interesting for us.”
Everyone has someone in their office who they just can’t stand. This is especially true in the media, where most of us are just jerks to begin with (hey, I read the messageboards). Well, I wonder how many of the media guys who’ve spat forth the “Henderson’s antics are good for the game” bunk have been as forgiving of the beatwriter or weekend anchor in their own office who behaves like a brat. From personal experience, I can tell you I’ve never heard anyone say: “Tom’s a poor writer and a full-on jerk, but darned if he doesn’t make our daily lives so much more interesting.”
Basketball doesn’t need a villain or a troublemaker. The sport needs better basketball players.
Ironically, Henderson is that. Too bad, then, that his classless, unnecessary taunts take the focus off his game.
College hoops needs more of his talent, less of his act.