ironman (ī'ərn-mān') A male athlete of remarkable endurance or durability. (Source: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
SALT LAKE CITY — Cue the Black Sabbath music. Dust off Robert Downey Jr.'s gold and maroon high-tech costume. And channel those triathlete and Cal Ripken Jr. vibes.
Three Utah Jazz players this season are positioning themselves to be ironmen, which could be defined in NBA terms as male athletes of remarkable endurance and durability who play in every single game.
Paul Millsap, Ronnie Brewer and Wesley Matthews are the only guys on Utah's roster who've seen action in all 49 Jazz outings this season heading into tonight's game in Los Angeles against the Clippers.
"We're the fortunate ones," Millsap said, "to be able to do that due to (our) strength, a little luck, just how we play."
If you're the superstitious type and worry that this article might put a jinx on these three, think twice before hurrying to find a block of wood to knock.
The Jazz had four players who'd logged action in every 2009-10 game up until two weeks ago. Then, in an unfortunate twist (or strain) of irony, Carlos Boozer hurt his right calf the day after he jokingly told media members to "knock on wood" as he tapped his head while speaking about his up-to-then injury-free season.
Rest assured, none of the three Jazz players did any similar rituals to ward off injury curses at practice Monday while talking about their relatively healthy seasons.
The way they talk about their love for playing, it will take more than a silly jinx to keep them off the court anyway. Heck, Brewer partially dislocated his right pinkie finger and bruised both a rib and his back in the past month, and he's still plugging along.
Brewer has the current longest consecutive-games played streak of Jazz players at 106, dating back to December of 2008, so he's learning how to gut it out and exorcise excuses. (Former Ute guard Andre Miller of Portland leads the NBA with 583 straight appearances, and ex-Jazz guard Derek Fisher of the Lakers is next with a streak of 383.)
"I could be like, 'My finger's hurt; my back's hurt; I had a bruise on my leg,' " said Brewer, who played in 81 games last season. "I could sit out, but you've got to play through some adversity, play through some pain, and I think it just builds character."
Matthews is not about to let some bumps and bruises keep him from getting in the mix while his coach keeps calling his name during his dream of a rookie season.
"I'm a competitor," Matthews said. "No matter how tired I may be, banged up, whatever it is, I want to be out there, because I know other people are tired and banged up, too."
The undrafted 23-year-old rookie also pointed out how a difference exists in hoops "between playing hurt and injured."
One — playing injured — puts your body at risk of damage.
The other — playing hurt — requires sucking it up and battling through discomfort.
"I think everybody in this league is hurt … and it's just fighting through it," Matthews said. "It's just mind over matter and pushing and just playing."
Pardon Jerry Sloan, but he isn't exactly impressed that three of his players have recorded playing time in every game — a good indication of how he feels that 10 of his 13 guys have missed action for various excused reasons.
The 22nd-year Jazz coach remembers when being an NBA ironman wasn't such a rarity.
Asked about the subject, Sloan quickly drifts away into John Stockton and Karl Malone memory territory, and understandably so. Stockton didn't miss a single game in 17 of his 19 NBA seasons and only sat out 22 of 1,526 games. The Mailman was a comparative slacker, only playing in every game in 10 seasons.
They weren't his only perfect-attendance pupils from yesteryear. Thurl Bailey punched the clock 82 times in five seasons; and Mark Eaton, Mike Brown and Howard Eisley hit the court night after night, rinse and repeat 82 times, four years apiece. Even Raul Lopez, whose NBA career fizzled due to injuries, has an 82-game season on his resume.
"How hard is it? I wouldn't think it's hard," Sloan said of playing every game. "This is basketball. It's not like they're going to prison or anything."
The key, he believes, is staying in tip-top shape like a certain dynastic duo used to do and toughing it out despite being tired, walking wounded, and eventually becoming old.
"They went and played through all that stuff," Sloan said. "That's what makes you a better player if you play through it."
Luck certainly plays an important role, too.
Peer pressure also did during the Stockton and Malone days.
Consider this: The injury-plagued 2008-09 Jazz squad snapped what had been a three-decades-long streak of having at least one player see action in every game.
Between 1987-88 and 2000-01, the Jazz only had two seasons when fewer than three players played in all 82, and two guys filled up the "G" column in both of those down years.
Ironically, Stockton missed four games when the Jazz had the most players get P.T. in every regular-season outing. That happened in 1989-90, when a team-record six guys appeared in all 82, including Bailey, Brown, Eaton, Malone, Blue Edwards and Darrell Griffith.
Only four current Jazz players — Millsap and Mehmet Okur (two each), and Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko (one apiece) — have hit the peak. Boozer, infamously, has missed about one-third of his 459 possible Jazz games due to injuries.
Millsap had never missed a game in his entire competitive basketball life before being sidelined with a knee injury in December of 2008, snapping a 194-game streak that started on Day 1 of his rookie year.
"I don't like to miss games for anything. I love to play the game," said the power forward, who's played in 91 straight games. "It means a lot to be out there on the court. You never know when it's your last time out there on the court, so I try to take advantage of it as much as possible."22 comments on this story
Millsap, who became $32 million richer last summer, takes playing regularly all the more seriously because of the financial aspect.
"I never believed in sitting out a game, especially now that you're getting paid for it," he added. "I feel like you should get out there and give your hundred-percent effort. If you're not healthy, get out there and do what you can."
Spoken like a true ironman.