NEW YORK — Shane Battier thinks before he speaks, summoning just the right words with a sufficient number of syllables to make his utterances as clear and colorful as possible. He's a quote artist, taking his time to paint the canvas, rarely responding to a question in a series of staccato fragments.
And then you ask him this: What's been the most stressful event of his NBA career, one that has already covered 12 seasons, one that he's seriously thinking of ending after this, his 13th?
"Oh," Battier said. "Game 7. Indiana. My first DNP."
That was June 3, 2013, a night on which the Miami Heat's championship aspirations were on the line—and a night on which one of their most respected, valuable players was watching from the sideline for all 48 minutes.
"That was, from a pride standpoint, a hurtful few days for me," Battier admitted to Bleacher Report this week. "It was low. It was probably the lowest I've been in my basketball career. And I know there were reasons for it. But the way I internalize it, it was the first time in my life a coach said, 'Our best chance of winning does not involve you.' And that's never happened to me before in my life. So from a professional standpoint, from a teammate standpoint, that was, it was hurtful."
It wasn't done lightly.
Battier had made a career-best 43 percent of his three-point attempts during the regular season, all while providing so many of the useful little things that have defined his NBA existence—taking the tough defensive assignments, sacrificing his body, serving as an on-court extension of his coach.
Through the first 15 games of the 2013 playoffs, however, he was making just 22.9 percent of his threes.
And David West, irritated by Battier's defense the previous postseason, was pushing him around.
This pushed Erik Spoelstra into an uncomfortable position. Over their first two seasons together, Spoelstra had stuck with Battier through some struggles. But in Game 5, he trimmed Battier's minutes to eight. In Game 6, he sliced that in half. And with Mike Miller, Battier's friend, exploiting the opportunity with some spirited play, Spoelstra chose to go further.
He chose to stash his security blanket, at least for a night.
That required a conversation.
How did he approach that?
"Quickly and to the point," Spoelstra said. "I didn't want to patronize him with coach-speak or a speech about intangibles or rah-rah. He's too intelligent for that; he's too experienced. It was a tough situation; there wasn't necessarily a right or wrong way to do it, it was just something we felt we had to do for that game, against that team.
"Those were tough moments that not only Shane had to go through, but also other guys had to go through, and I had to go through. It's one of the tough parts about this job. That's one of the responsibilities that I have to this team, no matter how much I care about each guy."
And this guy is really special to him.
"Everybody knows on this team how much I value Shane," Spoelstra said. "Because of the things that he does, 29 other coaches would value too. In our system, I value him times 10, because of those intangibles. It's the perfect fit."
Just not at that time. Not for that night.
"They are just coaching decisions," Spoelstra said. "Unfortunately, sometimes you are faced to have to make decisions like that, under pressure, and it's playoff circumstances. It's probably one of the toughest coaching decisions I've made. You don't know. Even now, you don't know if that's the right decision. Because Shane is such a big-game player."
Miller missed all three of his shots, but the Heat won by 23.
"Mike played well, but Shane could have responded, too," Spoelstra said. "That's the thing you don't like about this profession sometimes. Things could change in the next round. That's the thing about the playoffs. I say it all the time, but every game is different, every quarter is different. The momentum changes like that."
"But if you wait, right or wrong, the effect could be colossal."
So how did Battier handle it?
"I'm sure he probably tried to throw basketballs at me," Spoelstra said.
Heidi Battier had other plans.
"My wife said we're going to sing karaoke and drink beer," Battier said. "And that's why I married her. It was a dive bar in Coconut Grove. I sang "Don't Look Back in Anger" by Oasis. That was the way I handled it. And I don't think there's a better way."
In the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, Battier played only 28 minutes in the first four games and still struggled from deep, making just one of nine shots. But this time Spoelstra hung with him, even while finding time for Miller. In the final three games, Battier went 11-of-18, including 6-of-8 in Game 7.
Now he's back, a two-time NBA champion, one who has made eight of his 11 three-point attempts so far this preseason. With the end near, he claims he's "never been so carefree."
"What do I have to lose?" he asks.
He hasn't felt this way since he was ruling Durham.
"The reason why we had so much success at Duke is because we played carefree," Battier said. "It sounds weird, but Coach K gave us amazing freedom, and failure wasn't in our vocabulary. If we missed a shot, he said shoot it again. If we missed again, he said shoot it again. And part of the reason we were so successful was we had the ultimate green light and the ultimate freedom to play.
"And I think that might explain Duke guys in the NBA to an extent, is they don't get that freedom.... My liberation now is for a different reason, but I'm having fun. I came out here (Wednesday), and I wanted to fly around. People were laughing at me because I'm sprinting through the drills, but it's fun to me."
He believes he's already secured some sort of a legacy ("that Shane was the problem-solver, and always figured it out") and that he's better able to handle the "highs and lows" than ever before.
Game 7. Indiana. DNP.
That was the low of all lows.
From here, he sees more highs.
"I'm not saying I'm playing with the house money," Battier said. "But I'm playing with the house money. There's nothing anybody can write or say about me or judge me that I haven't heard before. And the fact (is) that I've done what I've done, I know what I'm capable of doing, and ultimately, that's all that matters to me."
And if some stress seeps in, it's nothing a little Oasis can't cure.
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