Note: In an SB Nation first, each team site will be contributing an article on a cult favorite player today. Check out more around the network by visiting our NBA blogs, and searching on Twitter for the hashtag #NBACultClassics.
I'm probably not doing this right. The spirit of SBNation Cult Classics is supposed to be about a player who's appreciation by fans far exceeds his talent on the court. If I'm being proper, it should be about Brian Scalabrine. But it's not for a few reasons:
2) Scal owns similar status already for Celtics and maybe even Nets fans.
3) I didn't really much enjoy the Scalabrine love at the United Center, so it's hard to gush over it.
Instead, I'll take to what seems (to me) more like a BlogaBull cult classic. Not a career, or even a season, but merely a special performance by a middling player. It still was special, but only in just how unexpectedly terrible it was. And though the actual game result retreated into the forest that is an 82-game campaign...it was memorable: The time Viktor Khryapa tried to guard LeBron.
The day was March 31st, 2007, a Saturday afternoon game nationally televised on ESPN between what was then two top Eastern Conference contenders. The Bulls hosted the Cavs at their Skilesian peak, their record at 43-31 with a roster completely devoid of a superstar-caliber player and with a bench that was all sorts of grit over talent.
LeBron had just scored his first FG a few minutes into the 2nd quarter, the Bulls down three but keeping their opponent's best player in check. Then, head coach Scott Skiles made a substitution that completely turned the game around and stuck in BaB reader's minds for years.
Lower back spasms landed Adrian Griffin on the inactive list, which led to a rare Viktor Khryapa sighting. The forward played 3:51 and LeBron James torched him for seven points in 75 seconds during the second quarter.
"That got LeBron going," teammate Donyell Marshall said.
"I took a little gamble that they would take LeBron out and I could bring [Luol Deng] back, which ultimately they did," Skiles said. "But after he got, like, three baskets."
It wasn't so much the numbers (the Bulls were only -4 in that 3:51) as it was actually seeing the horrifying images displayed on the screen.
James x Bulls (31.03.07) (via linelson)
Three completely different moves: a drive, a post-up, and a jumper, and Viktor Khryapa looked equally hopeless against all three.
The Bulls went on to lose in overtime. As per BaB tradition, since it was a weekend game I didn't bother posting a recap. Tyrus Thomas had one of those great games you hoped (and in my case, still do!) would signal more, Ben Gordon took on a ridiculous scoring load only to miss key shots down the stretch, but for whatever reason that sequence by Khryapa was what really stuck out. It even was facetiously remarked upon in a Sun-Times (regional) column after the Bulls season had ended as a potential missed opportunity to get the #2 seed (and possible extra playoff advancement) that year.
Being destroyed by LeBron wasn't unique to Khryapa in the league or even in that highlight. But just the degree of which it happened, and the surprise of seeing him getting that chance at all (he only played 7 mpg in 33 games that season)...I remember when seeing him line up after that timeout expecting the worst, and somehow getting worse than that. It all combined into something memorable and kind of hilarious.
Khryapa was a 'Cult Classic' here in various other ways, too. He was always associated with aforementioned hero Tyrus Thomas as part of some kind of twisted justification for that draft-day trade of LaMarcus Aldridge. He was still young and had a pulse, and thus earned a 'potential' label himself. His name and nationality allowed for such fairly-weak nicknames like 'Veektor' and 'Khryappy'.
But he never really gained a foothold here, and a little over a year after that most-horrible stint was bought out by the Bulls before his rookie contract even ended. We were pretty sad. Khryapa's been pretty successful in Europe though, and part of the Russian national team that just won Bronze.
(And the first comment on KC's post that fateful day wondered why the Bulls would waste an expiring contract like that. The more things change...)