Merriam-Webster defines confidence as “a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers.”
If you want to be a true sports fan, you have to understand that this is the first and only definition of the word. At no point does “confidence” apply to being certain of anything other than yourself.
In athletics, though, there is an entirely new form of confidence that somehow becomes even more self-centered than normal. It is what happens when confidence is blended with sheer arrogance. Truthfully, it’s located somewhere between confidence and arrogance, but as you’ll learn, nobody in the world really understands it at all.
I of course am talking about Swagger, and if you want to be a sports fan, you have to understand exactly what Swagger is and what Swagger isn’t.
Today’s modern culture throws the word Swagger around to the point of being almost culturally meaningless, like “love” or “bipartisanship”. This is a shame, because a genuine Swagger is a fine thing to have and a wonderful term that could have had a very clear and fine definition but is clouded by….well, by these common misunderstandings of Swagger:
Swag is the most common term anyone uses at all these days. When somebody says they have “swag”, they are trying to say that they are awesome, but really what they’re saying is that their pants are stupid.
This term doesn’t actually have anything to do with sports, so we won’t really discuss it. Just know that if somebody says they have “Swag” and they are completely serious about it, then they are an idiot.
Also you can’t mention Swag and not include this Bieber outfit:
Here is the most common misunderstood form of Swagger when it comes to sports. Often, an athlete will claim to have Swagger when in reality, they simply love themselves. A lot. And they want more recognition.
9 times out of 10, the athlete who even openly claims to have Swagger is a mid-level athlete with delusions of grandeur. Take, for example, the man in the gif above: Shawn Kemp. At his peak, “The Reignman” was a dominant physical force, a high flying big man who routinely threw down nasty dunks like this one on poor Alton Lister.
The problem with Shawn Kemp, though, is that he wanted to celebrate every move with some sort of taunt and never wanted to do anything else. Kemp went on to have his NBA career cut short thanks to gaining ungodly amounts of weight when he should have been working out, and also his tendency to have a bunch of illegitimate children.
Other examples of this would be any athlete who has had a mild amount of success and wants to turn that into much more recognition than they deserve (i.e. Chris Johnson).
Tough Guy Arrogance
Dwyane Wade is a fine basketball player. Best I can tell, he is a fine human being, doing a lot of work for his hometown and giving to charity a lot. There’s not many things to dislike about Dwyane Wade, except for maybe the fact that his name is spelled juuuuuuust slightly wrong.
However, you will never see Wade smile outside of a Dove soap commercial. His on the court demeanor never changes from the photo above. It doesn’t matter what happens or what he accomplishes, he will always act as though he is being asked for change outside a bus station. Never any excitement. Never any joy. It is this expression at all times, as though basketball doesn’t actually mean anything to him at all.
His impact has been felt in many areas, in particular that of teammate Lebron James, who before playing with Wade looked like this:
But then quickly turned into this:
Nobody is entirely sure what the purpose of the Tough Guy Arrogance actually is. The only thing is communicates is indifference, which I guess is maybe good for brushing off haters, since they are a growing problem in sports today. But indifference is hardly ever actually helpful….
Comically Misplaced Arrogance
This is the best. THE BEST. Nothing in all of sports tops the arrogance of a kinda good but not really player who thinks he’s great and keeps running his mouth. You want a comedy gold mine? Look no further than this type of player. In particular, look no further than Antoine Walker.
Besides being the only player I can think of who refused to let a basketball game get in the way of a celebratory T-Rex Dance, Antoine goes down as being probably the only player who continually refused to do what he was best at doing. Most of the time, if a player isn’t a very good shooter but is good at other things, at some point in time and after years of coaches saying things like, “You aren’t a good shooter, please please do something else”, they will stop doing what they’re bad at and do more things they are good at. But not Antoine.
Antoine took great joy in not doing things he was actually good at, defying all logic. Despite his large size and his talent for scoring points really close to the basket, Antoine insisted on shooting long range shots. A lot of them. Constantly. And when asked about it, Antoine gave the greatest answer anyone could ever give:
“Antoine, why do you shoot so many 3 point shots?”
“Because they don’t have 4 point shots.”
Players like Antoine Walker come along once in a blue moon before they eventually make their way into bankruptcy. But when the Comically Arrogant Guy comes along, we just have to cherish them.
As mentioned before, true Swagger is halfway between confidence and arrogance. It’s confident enough to know what it can accomplish and be comfortable with that, but not quite arrogant enough to warrant constantly drawing attention to itself. It isn’t going to draw attention to itself, because normally it is accompanied by an accomplishment that draws enough attention to itself. It’s a little hard to describe, so perhaps a story would suffice:
In 1992, the NBA was looking at a Finals matchup between the Chicago Bulls and the Portland Trailblazers. This would mean a matchup between Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler, two premiere scorers at their position. This matchup was hyped up a tremendous amount, as people wanted to create a big rivalry between Jordan and Drexler.
Instead, Michael Jordan took all the rivalry talk and used it to simply become the greatest player ever. At the time, the biggest critique of his game is that he couldn’t hit outside shots, so in the first HALF of the first game of the Finals, he hit 6 three pointers and scored 35 points. After proving literally everyone wrong about everything and hitting his sixth long range shot, he turned to the broadcast table and shrugged, basically saying, “I don’t get it either. I guess I’m just the greatest of all time.”
He didn’t have to taunt his opponents, so he didn’t. He didn’t have to pound his chest and scream at the top of his lungs. He didn’t have to act like a big tough man to prove his testosterone level. He just had to shrug at it all.
See, that’s what Swagger really is: knowing the awesome things you can accomplish but not being a jerk about it. It’s not a cry for attention, though everyone who uses the word today means it as such. It’s actually a good thing. It’s a self-aware confidence.
So if you can understand what a truly confident athlete looks like, and not one who is a pompous jerk or a talented slacker, you can understand what true Swagger is. And that will put you one step closer to being a true sports fan.
To close, enjoy this dunk and reaction from DeAndre Jordan (no relation) for further appreciation of how to react when you accomplish something amazing.