Trying to reason with Shane Battier’s final season

USA TODAY Sports

A 13-year career comes to an end this summer, whether in defeat or victory still anyone’s guess. But how you recall that career – as dirty, overrated, or as a consummate winner – isn’t as important to Shane Battier as long as he’s remembered as a good teammate.

Shane Battier is a terrible singer.

It's odd to look back at a player like Battier, one who has won multiple championships and achieved individual awards throughout his basketball career, and target his singing voice among so many other virtues. But the fact that we even know what he sounds like behind the microphone is a testament to the person he is, a virtue in and of itself.

For three years as a member of the Miami Heat, Battier's Take Charge Foundation has organized "Battioke," a charity event where players, coaches and front office staff take part in that great tradition of making a fool of yourself in public, especially if enough alcohol is present. It's enough of a challenge to get co-workers to sing their favorite big-hair rock ballad (Bon Jovi's royalties would exceed their record sales) at the local happy hour joint.

For superstar athletes, a group who has learned the necessity of being jaded almost immediately after mastering the crossover dribble, letting their guard down and relinquishing their carefully-crafted public personas to croak Barry White's "My First, My Last, My Everything" is nothing short of a miracle.

Who else but Battier - a brilliant, sneakily-effective player - could get both LeBron James and Heat president Pat Riley to grab the mic for charity?

As Shane admitted when describing the first event, "My teammates had no idea what it was about."

Miami fans might have been just as clueless about what Battier would bring to the Heat when he signed in 2011. But they've been singing his praises ever since.

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The 2011 postseason was a rough one for Heat fans. The Big Three experiment had blown up in the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. A year of hatred and mockery from 29 opposing fan bases and the majority of the media alike had ended in defeat, confetti and tears falling on the AmericanAirlines Arena floor in celebration of Miami's loss.

The NBA began its lockout shortly thereafter and the Heat, with its trio of superstars in their prime, was generally considered to have the most to lose if the labor negotiations dragged on too long.

The work stoppage ended on December 8 and a shortened regular season was announced. That same day, the first that allowed free agents to begin signing with other teams, Battier made this announcement via Twitter:

The Lockout gave me a lots (sic) of time to consider what was important to me at this stage of my life and career. Over the last week, I've played out every scenario in my head over and over. It always came back to one thing for me: a winning role. I am appreciative of all the kind words and recruiting pitches over the last week, thank you!!

This was a (sic) exciting process and after much deliberation, I would like to quote the great poet Jimmy Buffett and take my chances "Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season"

Down. In. Miami. Let's Go #Heat!!!!!

It was the first good news Heat fans had received in months, a sign that perhaps not all was lost. But it was a blurry one, and received with mixed emotions.

Battier, as a Duke alum, is in a category of player that college basketball fans love to hate. Coupled with his seemingly-annoying tendency to draw charges (or some say flop repeatedly) as well as his championship pedigree and Shane might very well be one of the most despised players in college history, second to another Blue Devil pretty boy (and ex-Heat player), Christian Laettner.

He was the sixth overall pick in the 2001 draft but, like so many other Blue Devils before him, he hadn't achieved superstar status or achieved the level of success he was accustomed to. For a man who won two state titles in high school and competed for four NCAA championships (winning one) while at Duke, maybe his Winning Well was already dried up.

After 10 years in the NBA, Battier's skills might have also started to erode. He wasn't the kind of player to single-handedly turn a franchise around; his talents were elite but still complementary. Would his ability to harass perimeter players continue in Miami? Could he support LeBron James off the bench and provide a scoring spark as well as defense? Can you still take a charge if you're a step too slow?

Nearly three seasons later, those questions have all been answered, positively, time and again.

Battier has achieved a significant following in Miami, his blue-collar approach nearly antithetical to South Florida's glittering superficiality. And, with the Big Three handling the bulk of the offense as well as the media scrutiny, he has seamlessly balanced a team that is incorrectly viewed by many as too top-heavy in talent.

Occasionally, he even excels beyond his more proficient teammates to remind us that he has been a great individual and team player for nearly two decades:

Beyond his statistic contributions, Battier has shown, Miami Heat players and fans alike, what it means to be a leader.

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It all started with the Super Bowl.

After only a year, the story has become the stuff of NBA legend. The Heat were scheduled to play the Toronto Raptors on February 3, 2013; the date of Super Bowl XLVII. With the Raptors game scheduled for early afternoon and a flight to Charlotte (for the second game of a back-to-back set) later that day, missing the matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers seemed inevitable. Until Miami's front office made it, um, evitable.

They arranged for the players to see the Big Game from a Toronto sports bar. The event was unifying, a team building exercise of the highest order, with crunching tackles and tight passes replacing PowerPoint presentations and monotonous speeches.

Later that night, on a team bus to the airport, Battier delivered what has become known as "the speech." The exact content has never been revealed as Chris Bosh and other Heat players have said, "You just had to be there."

The gist of it was, according to Battier, about "the virtues of teamwork, brotherhood and staying in the moment." But, after beating the Bobcats the next night - as well as the next 25 opponents - the moment became written in the NBA history books.

While the capacity to win 27 straight games took more than one player, the whole team has credited Battier's speech as the inspiration that started the whole process.

It says something clearly about Battier that he's been involved in the NBA's second- and third-longest winning streaks. But he won't brag - that's not his style.

Perhaps the loudest statement about Shane was his response regarding what has made him proudest on his basketball résumé:

"Talk to my teammates. Ask them. Everywhere I have gone, they'll say I was a good teammate. I help."

Two Heat championships later - and a third among this season's goals - and his help has been immeasurable.

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Fresh off a beating, both figurative in literal, from the Indiana Pacers, Battier closed this chapter of his book of basketball where it all began.

He was in Detroit with his Heat teammates, in town to take on the Pistons and touring the Country Day campus where he won his high school championships.

Later that evening, Battier said that he would be retiring at season's end, barring "an act of God."

He was reminiscing about the Detroit "Bad Boys" that would be honored at halftime of the Heat game, the championship teams that played rugged - some say dirty - defense on their way to two titles. Shane explained, not surprisingly, he was a huge fan of those Pistons teams, adding, "I like to think I'm a throwback player and a gritty player, and all the tricks that I learned, I learned from the Bad Boys."

For some, that statement seals his doom, cementing his reputation as a player that has thrived on being cheap and dirty. But for Battier, it was more about his respect for the Pistons and "how hard they played and how tough they were."

And there it is, in microcosm, the perception of Shane Battier. If he's on your side, as part of your team, you appreciate him as a player, tenacious and dedicated to winning above all else. Sometimes, that effort is so consuming that opponents - and their fans - resent and condemn you.

But, as he's explained before, he's "not surprised by his success" but he's "overachieved well beyond his original goals and dreams."

Battier's career is reminiscent of former Knicks player Bill Bradley, the Rhodes Scholar, Princeton graduate, U.S. Senator and, for good measure, NBA Hall-of-Famer. Blending academic wisdom with a high-basketball I.Q., they've both been complementary pieces on historically-great teams. Moreover, they serve as role models, disproving the notion of the "dumb jock" while constantly pushing their limits, beyond the boundaries of society's limited perceptions.

For Battier, it's summed rather neatly in his personal motto: "Do well. And do good."

His retirement might wind up impacting the Heat's title chances just as much as the possible exodus of his Big Three teammates.

If only an "act of God" can keep him on the roster, perhaps it's time for Heat fans to start praying.

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