Remember Marshall Henderson, OK? Next time your friends, your fraternity bros, your buddies at work or the bar or wherever they congregate get to congregating and castigating and hating on whoever it is we've decided is the most dislikable player in college basketball, remember Marshall Henderson. And then ask yourself, "Why do we dislike this guy? He's not Marshall Henderson."
Remember how you treated J.J. Redick and Tyler Hansbrough. Remember what you said about Adam Morrison and Shane Battier. Remember how you felt about Joakim Noah.
Why? Why did you hate those guys? Because they were good? Because they tried so damn hard? Because of their jersey? Their coach? Their demographics?
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Do any of those reasons make sense to you?
In light of Marshall Henderson?
In Marshall Henderson we've been given an anti-hero worthy of our time, a cocky and rude and flawed and good -- oh yes, so very good -- player sneering and screaming and taunting his way into the national conversation. At Auburn they despise him for this. At Florida they despise him for this. At Kentucky they despise him for this.
When so many places have different and yet legitimate reasons to despise a player, it's not everyone else. It's you. And he's The One -- the most disliked guy in college basketball. Henderson is, or was.
Now that Ole Miss has been dispatched from the NCAA tournament, another will come along. Whoever it is, he won't be Marshall Henderson. Nobody is Marshall Henderson. He's like one of those heels in professional wrestling, in nylon undies and rippling muscles and grabbing the microphone and talking trash to everyone in the building. When it happens in rassling, it's an act.
Marshall Henderson is a jerk, for real.
Sunday night he walked off the court at the Sprint Center in Kansas City with a special salute for the crowd: two middle fingers, aimed at everyone. Afterward Henderson said he had been victimized by someone in the crowd, someone who said "your sister's a whore." Henderson said another fan, unless it was the same fan, brought up cocaine. (Henderson reportedly has tested positive for coke.)
Let's give Henderson the benefit of the doubt. Let's assume that someone in the crowd did yell something horrendous about his sister. Let's assume someone did taunt him about cocaine. Let's even assume that they were different people, and then let's go one step farther: Let's assume it was a handful of people yelling about his sister, and handful of people yelling about his past.
He's still wrong. Still a heel. Still a jerk.
Flipping off the entire arena?
There were 18,498 people in the crowd. Were they all yelling about his sister and his cocaine? No. Of course not. A handful were yelling at him. At most, two big handfuls.
Does that deserve two big middle fingers to a crowd of 18,498?
Obviously not, but then Marshall Henderson has never been one for self-control. There was the game at Ole Miss when someone in the home crowd threw ice onto the court, and Henderson scooped it up and fired a fastball back in the direction from which it came. What are the odds he hit the very person who threw the ice? What are the odds he hit someone else? Watch this video of the incident. He goes from irate to giggling in seconds.
Henderson often seems like two different people, like so many athletes do. There's the Marshall you see on the court, when the competitive juices are flowing and the endorphins are pumping, and there's the other one, the one who sat next to Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy on Saturday and did an interview on national television where he seemed so sweet, so young. That Marshall Henderson looked vulnerable. He looked 17. He looked like a kid with his whole future in front of him, a kid you could root for.
The Marshall Henderson on the court, sneering and taunting and flipping off 18,498 mostly innocent people?
That's not a kid you can root for. That's not a kid with a great future in front of him, either. And listen, I speak from experience. Here I'll speak not about Marshall Henderson, but to him.
Kid, I've been you. Worse, I've been you in my late 30s and very early 40s. I've been angry and combative and defensive, and unlike you I didn't have crowds yelling at me. On Twitter, on the radio, in person ... give me a chance to show the audience, whether it's one person or a whole lot more than that, how tough I can be and boom! I took it. And it felt good. You know how it feels. So do I. And then one day, if you're lucky, you'll come awfully damn close to going too far, as I did a few times. You won't go too far, not if you're lucky, but you'll come close to the line, and you'll see what's on the other side, and you'll want no part of that.
You're at that line now, Marshall Henderson. Look at the other side. See those people cheering you on, Ole Miss students and fans? They're not rooting for you. They're rooting for the concept of you, the rebel who doesn't give a f---, but they're not the crowd you want. They're the people who see two kids in the schoolyard squaring up, and instead of trying to calm the situation they're screaming "fight!" and getting ready to upload video to YouTube.
What happens next with Marshall Henderson is up to him. He's 22 years old -- a grown man, if a very young and obviously immature one. Maybe he returns to college for his senior season and uses that year in the cocoon to grow up. Maybe he turns pro, which would be the worst thing he could do. I've seen high school kids, back when they could turn pro at age 18, more prepared emotionally for the NBA than 22-year-old Marshall Henderson is. And it would be even worse if he goes overseas, where there won't be a soul who gives a damn what he does so long as he shows up for games.
Can you see Marshall Henderson in Europe, with money to spend and time to kill and nobody to care enough to just say no?
That's his decision. What happens next in the NCAA tournament, and our search for The One, is up to you. We have to dislike somebody, and there are 16 teams from which to choose him, though you and I both know who The One will be. It will be point guard Aaron Craft of Ohio State.
Craft is perfect. He plays the right position. He plays with the right amount of effort. And he has the right demographics. Why those demographics elicit such dislike, I can't say. But earnest Aaron Craft is the one we're going to hate. He's a younger, better Steve Wojciechowski.
But Aaron Craft is no Marshall Henderson. Remember that when you and your bros get together to watch the rest of the tournament.
He's no Marshall Henderson.