Don’t box me in

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Talented, divisive, driven: Andrew Bogut is back and ready to play

At a time when most sportsmen tend to utter stage-managed drivel, the National Basketball League’s star recruit is never afraid to speak his mind. Just don’t assume you know which way he leans.

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The Sydney Kings practice session begins at 9am sharp, and coach Andrew Gaze calls the shots. “Heels to arse!” he cries. “Sumos to the baseline!” he barks. “Now karaokes to the centre line!” (Whatever that means.)

It’s about six weeks before the October 11 start of the National Basketball League’s 2018/19 season, and the players dutifully obey – performing every calf-raise and leg-swing, high skip and crab-walk, defensive slide and double-hand dribble. Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney’s Olympic Park fills with the deafening peal of high-top sneakers on wood, but it’s not enough to drown out Gaze, who urges his men to “drive deep”, “push here” and “flatten there” – imploring them to “look in” and “strangle out”, pause, pick and penetrate.

The team seems unified in action, too. They’re gelling. That’s good. The Kings’ roster has a few new players to integrate this season, but none so experienced or talented, divisive or driven, praised or maligned as the recruit Gaze is goading right now. “Come on, Bogey!” he bellows. “Get those bloody knees up!”

Andrew Bogut, 33, is an undeniable presence. Standing 213 centimetres, he is simply, stunningly monstrous. On defence – in that area under the backboard they call “the paint” – Bogut rises to block shots and basically shuts out the light, like a human eclipse. On offence, he receives the ball then runs, dribbles, leaps and dunks – going from crouched to upright to elongated and airborne in three quick steps. Viewed in profile, as Bogut rises, the play looks like an athletic version of that illustration of evolution, The March of Progress. His infamous fiery side emerges, too, in an argument over an errant knee. Did he foul someone? Was he fouled? Is the defence or offence calling the infractions, or the coaches? Gaze and Bogut are face to face, pointing jabby fingers, until the big man ends it with a spittle-flecked roar: “Well, just call the f…ing fouls!”

Later, teammate Daniel Kickert will wave off that dispute as something he welcomes from Bogut. “It can be a great thing, pissing someone off, bringing out all the feelings,” Kickert says. “Confrontation gets a bad reputation.”

Kickert might be talking about the fracas, but he could just as easily be chatting about the life Bogut leads, which is (and always has been) punctuated by opinion and outburst. Bogut is perhaps the most outspoken athlete in Australia, and he is now home after 13 years playing in America’s elite National Basketball Association, earning an estimated $115 million in total and amassing 374,000 followers on Twitter, who adore his forthright and eclectic missives.

In just one recent fortnight, Bogut found time to mock the ABC, question the venue for the AFL grand final, and defend a cartoon many saw as racist. He says he has no time for the far right (“idiot white dudes with tiki torches”), but he reserves far more of his ire for the far left. He views political correctness, for instance, as a major issue, but cultural appropriation as a non-issue. Long-term stances include his veiled contempt for concepts like “triggering” or “safe spaces”. And don’t get him started on snowflakes. Or virtue signalling. Or outrage.

Consequently, many of the headlines he draws are blunt declaratory statements: “Andrew Bogut denies being a white supremacist”. Or “Andrew Bogut goes full alt-right, finally”. Or “Andrew Bogut is now a King, but he’s not a leader”. Sometimes his very name is twisted into an insult: Andrew Bigot. This is, however, a reductive view. Ask Bogut for his view on a handful of pivotal wedge issues, as I did, and you might be surprised by his answers. He seems eager to debate, occasionally changes his mind, and interacts with his haters. His tone is playful, too, even when dismissive. (“You a bust” writes one. “You a bad at grammar,” he replies.)

Now that he’s back in Australia, representing both the Kings and the NBL, the question arises whether he’ll become as predictably bland as most local athletes, or if Brand Bogut will remain defiant. The answer probably lies within two further questions: from where does this need to argue and rail actually spring? And if Bogey is a bomb waiting to go off, what exactly lit the fuse?

Click here to read the full story from Good Weekend on October 12, 2018

Photos by Tim Bauer

 

 

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