(Reuters) - Lost in the season-long hype of the Golden State Warriors’ All-Star cast is Javale McGee, a journeyman few rarely hear about but who has proven to be an indispensable part of the team’s quest for an NBA title.
Prior to joining the Warriors this season, McGee was best known for his frequent appearances on the TNT “Inside the NBA” segment “Shaqtin’ A Fool,” where Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal highlights on court blunders.
The 29-year-old, 7-foot (2.13 m) center was mercilessly mocked on the segment for years, and it eventually earned him a reputation as a low-IQ player that few teams were eager to sign.
“When you’re in this position where someone on national TV is making fun of you night after night, it’s not the greatest thing for your reputation,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said earlier this year.
“I can tell you I had a preconceived notion of Javale before he got here that turned out to be totally false and a lot of that was because of what goes on with Shaq’s ‘Shaqtin’ A Fool.’”
An opening for McGee came about during the offseason, when the Warriors lost two key big men as part of the deal that brought All-Star Kevin Durant to the team.
That created an opening for a backup center who would not command a massive salary – someone like McGee.
Warriors forward Andre Iguodala, who had played with McGee on the Denver Nuggets, gave him a full-throated recommendation and the coaches agreed to bring him on board.
Since then, McGee’s ability to block shots on defense and dunk lob passes with authority on offense has made the self-described “energy guy” a fan favorite.
“As soon as he steps on the floor, he makes an instant impact and you can feel it,” Warriors point guard and two-time reigning league MVP Stephen Curry said earlier this season. “It helps us.”
The peak of McGee’s career came in the Warriors’ second game of the 2017 playoffs, when he scored 15 points on perfect 7-of-7 shooting against the Portland Trail Blazers, whipping the home crowd into a frenzy.
But a bigger tests awaits in the second round where McGee and the Warriors will face off against the Utah Jazz and their 7-foot-1 center Rudy Gobert starting later on Tuesday.
Win or lose, one thing is for sure - no one is laughing at McGee anymore.
Reporting by Rory Carroll in San Francisco; Editing by Frank Pingue