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Essay: Chuck Hayes Is Still A Hero

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Chuck Hayes is the same height as Michael Jordan. Yet he’s routinely matched up against centers and power forwards as he begins his eighth season in the NBA. It begs the question: how does a guy that stands only* 6’6″ hold his own with the big boys of the league? With thighs that could crush a piece of steel, that’s how; with a 250 pound torso that’s as immovable as Stonehenge; and with great defensive footwork and an ability to crowd opponents who are silly enough to pick up their dribble.

Primarily though, it’s those thighs and big butt that serve as the foundation for Hayes’ ability to defend so well on the low block.  David West found out the hard way a couple nights ago, even though his Pacers ended up winning the game in double overtime.

At the end of regulation, with the score tied at 91, the ball was inbounded to West at the top of the arc. West tried to barrel past Hayes for a game-winning shot more in his range. He couldn’t though, as Hayes stayed in front of him and ceded nothing. In exasperation over Chuck’s immovable presence, West fired up a desperate three-point attempt that impotently crashed against the backboard as the teams headed to overtime.

West was passed the ball again with three minutes left in the first overtime, but this time he stood on the right elbow, in his offensive wheelhouse.  After receiving the rock from his own baseline, West took two dribbles left towards the free throw line. Again, there’s Chuck Hayes planted firmly on those Olympian thighs. West is forced to toss up a meek shot with Hayes right in his mug, exerting his will by merely existing. Hayes’ position left West with no alternative but to take a fadeaway jumper that barely glanced off the front of the rim, with Sacramento collecting the rebound.

With two minutes to go in the final overtime, West had the ball on the right hand side. With Hayes on his back, West again attempted to muscle his way into the paint. David West is not a small man, and he’s as tough and strong as most anyone in the NBA, but he was unable move Hayes much further beyond a few feet into the paint. He even slipped past Hayes to the left for a short glimmer at the rim, but Hayes relentlessly bodied him, using all of his weight to throw West off course. And in return, West missed an twelve-footer with Sacramento grabbing the board. Yes, Indiana won the game at the end of that second overtime, but not because of Chuck Hayes (more because Aaron Brooks and Marcus Thornton seem to be in a dick measuring dispute).

These displays of individual defensive tenacity are the reason Chuck Hayes is in the NBA. He’s not particularly fast, or long, or young (there isn’t a basketball pundit alive that would say he has “great upside”), but what Hayes does have is an impressive physical presence. Grown man strength is the best phrase for it.

Hayes’ combination of upper body girth and lower body burliness allows him to bang bodies in the paint when his height would normally be reserved for an off guard. Even though Hayes is 6’6″, quite tall in comparison with the common man, he combines that stature with a low center of gravity. Those thunder thighs provide Hayes an immovable lower support system. So when a Dwight Howard, an Andrew Bynum, a Roy Hibbert, or, yes, a David West, try to bully their way past the short guy who’s guarding them, they’re usually left with no other option but to fade away and hope to get a shot over the top of Hayes. Rarely are they successful.

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