Guest Post: In Response – Can Rugby Have Swag?


Note: this is in response to this post on December 19.


I agree in theory… but I wonder whether the comparison is fair.

For me at least, the reason the NBA players are so intriguing is that their stories speak of an experience very alien to my own. They are extreme – we are constantly hearing of players stabbed (Pierce), family members shot (too many to name), suicides attempted and, most importantly and basically, massive hardships overcome to rise to the top of their sporting arena. This is human drama all bundled up and thrown down on court, splendid and terrible, for us to see. Delivered with no excuses, no apologies.

I imagine most All Blacks’ ‘stories’ are as, if not more, pedestrian than our own. We just don’t have the distance to romanticise growing up in Darfield. We couldn’t (or wouldn’t want to) live vicariously through them, or I certainly couldn’t/wouldn’t. I would be afraid that learning what drove our great players would be more disconcerting than their stony silence. Maybe their PR team know this, or maybe the attitude is just too ingrained in them to shake off. 

Look at the NBA version of stony silence – Tracey McGrady. It is all calculated and weird, and paired with his droopy eyes, it makes the other (and his own) team think he is half-asleep. Which he apparently is, until he drops 13 points in 35 seconds without so much as a twitch. Compelling viewing. Tears well etc. 

This is not to say that I am bagging rugby as boring per se, more trying to say that the players are products of their game, and furthermore the type of audience that game has to appeal to. 


Basketball and rugby, the games themselves, seem so fundamentally stylistically opposed. From my limited knowledge, rugby is all hard-grind and sustained physical contact. Man against man and the strongest prevail. Whereas, in ball there is so much room for wit, cunning, intrigue and deceit… the duck, the weave, the fake, the cross-over. Freedarko call it ‘swag’ – all I understand about that term is that its what is so seductive about watching (love them or hate them) Allen Iverson, Josh Smith, Rasheed Wallace, Rajon Rondo etc etc etc. Sure this individualism/flamboyance/swag is disgusting when misused (as in the case of Marbury, even Artest), but it’s the drawcard of basketball, its lifeblood.  

Swag would be cut down in New Zealand rugby, rubbished as show-pony-ism and benched for life. It just isn’t the game for that sort of individualism. And would we want to see it anyway? How would it manifest? I shudder to think. Did Carlos Spencer attempt swag? I hope there is a more convincing example out there.

– Sarah


1 Comment

Filed under Basketball, Guest Post, NBA, Rugby

One response to “Guest Post: In Response – Can Rugby Have Swag?

  1. David

    After my post, I thought of some more examples of individual expression in rugby – Spencer had it, but so did Merhtens in his own way. I mean, flipping the fingers to a very hostile South African crowd show’s some kind of personality. Oh, and Nonu wears eyeliner! Anton Oliver, admittedly self conciously, seemed to be on a one-man crusade to educate the public through the use of obscure vocabulary. But for some reason, it gets washed out on the field. Maybe it’s because, as you say, the game itself isn’t that welcoming of displays of the individual- players have traditionally been either hated or loved for displaying the gaul to attempt individualism. Spencer (outside of Auckland)? Hated. Zinzan Brooke? Loved. Don’t know why. But, the number of players who have put their own personality into onfield play is very small. Spencer, Zinzan Brooke, Fitzpatrick, Jeff Wilson… I’m not sure who else. So you are right, it might be more to do with the nature of each game than the off field antics of it’s players.
    I’m not sure if I agree that most players will have had lives just as pedestrian as ours, but I do agree New Zealand is so small that there’s very little in the way of mystery here. Everyone knows everyone, so for players to have the balls to stand above and say “I’m different” is harder. We have no idea what goes on in the ghetto of Chicago, but have some kind of idea what happens on the farms of Ashburton. Seems vaguely voyerestic, and mildly ivory tower-ish though. I’m not comfortable with it.

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