What makes Chris Bosh soft?

“Mama there goes that Meme!” is a HoopSpeak.com feature in which Beckley Mason and Ethan Sherwood Strauss, like curious extraterrestrials, probe, abuse and ultimately learn from a popular media meme. In this special Heat edition, the guys look at what makes Chris Bosh soft.

Beckley: Hey there, Ethan, ever get the feeling that Chris Bosh is a subhuman creature who shouldn’t be allowed to trod the same floorboards as James Jones? I know he averaged 23.3 points and 10.4 rebounds on 50 percent shooting from 2008-10, and that almost everyone viewed him as a max player on the same level as Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. But this year he’s collecting only six boards in 34 minutes per game. After watching 130-pound Rajon Rondo go boom over Bosh’s trembling frame, I’m drawing the following conclusions: Chris Bosh is soft because he likes to shoot jump shots and get dunked on. Also, he should be traded for someone useful, like Kevin Willis or Popeye Jones or the newly Shaped-Up Karl Malone. What’s your take -- is this guy any good? Can he anchor the Heat’s front line, or will he simply drag LeBron and Wade’s season into the deep?

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images Sport

What is it about Chris Bosh's game that invites the "soft" label?

Ethan: Bosh has been losing cred since that “soft” label was sewn to his lapel. Or was it his ascot? Look, I don’t know a whole lot about this league, but I know that “soft” is bad. It’s feminine, and feminine is losing. And losing is bad. And feminine. And European.

We all know that Europeans are softies -- they lack our hearty American volksgeist, they flop till they drop, they have silly accents. That logic leaks into basketball, where we blame Vlade Divac for inventing a “womanly” foul-faking phenomenon that John Stockton had mastered from the womb. Chris Bosh isn’t European, though he did play in prissy Canada -- which neighbors wimpy Europe by the grace of clean streets and functioning health care. It doesn’t help that Bosh’s foreign-influenced Raptors might well have played defense in front of hula hoop rims.

Apparently, defense is “hard,” because the Raps are soft for lack of it. But the Heat have played amazing defense so far. Beckley, I’m confused. Does everybody hate Chris, due to his recently bad rebound rate? Do we judge grit, heart, hustle and hardness on the basis of board-ability? If that’s the case, then why is Dwight Howard lacking in fortitude when he’s mastered rebounding and defense?

Beckley: Well if Rihanna is to be trusted on such matters, being “hard” means you’re a combination of brilliant and resilient. Also, it’s good to have fan-mailers numbering at least 27 million (also known as the Selena Gomez line). But if we survey recent history, we find there are five surefire ways to be labeled “soft":

Smile too much

This is Dwight’s downfall. No matter how he chisels his righteous delts, until he trades in his megawatt grin for scowls and growls, he’ll just be a big teddy bear.

Avoid contact

The Vince Carter Curse. VC has great size and strength, but put him on his butt early and he has a tendency to wither over the course of a game.

Be European/play “like a Euro”

As you alluded above, Pau Gasol has often been ripped for the softness of his hands as much as an unwillingness to bang. Many have clumsily equated his grace with a disinterest in the brute tasks of a power forward (can also apply to South Americans).

Shoot too many jump shots

Dirk was the perfect confluence of softness when he first found stardom: Euro jump-shooting phenom who didn’t like to go to the rack (something he does very well these days by utilizing one of the most underrated first steps in the league). Also there’s the time in the 2007 playoffs when Stephen Jackson punked him like he was the new kid at Barry Farms. Now Dirk drops 30 with his opposition’s teeth lodged in his elbow and sports a snarling, Teutonic mean-mug, so he’s ditched that rep.

Scared of “the big moment”

This one is Vince Carter’s well-worn territory as well, see his gut-twisting choke job at the free throw line against the Celtics in last season’s playoffs.

Reviewing this list, it’s interesting to note that one of the “hardest” dudes around today, Kevin Garnett, qualified for items 2, 4 and 5 prior to his tenure in Boston. In fact, Bosh’s offensive game mimics the Big Ticket’s as much as any player in the league. But whereas KG’s body language says “I’ll punch your grandma!” Bosh’s seems to say “scoring is fun!”

Bosh is probably too skinny (he weighs only 15 pounds more than Wade) to ever be described as rugged, tough or bruising, but his quickness has historically compensated for the limitations of his sinewy frame. We can usually offer an approximate measure of a player’s willingness to go inside with the rock by how frequently he shoots at the rim. This season, only 25 percent of Bosh’s shots have come in the immediate basket area, compared to 33 percent in 2009 and 35 percent in 2010. When Bosh goes into his jab step dance, he isn’t boogieing to the bucket. It’s unreasonable to expect this relative waif to protect the tin, but can’t he at least use his preternatural quicks to attack the rack?

Ethan: I always assumed Rihanna was singing “Brazilian” instead of “resilient,” but that was as dumb as thinking Chris Bosh to be the only girl in the world. Speaking of resilient Brazilians, if the flailing, flopping Anderson Varejao isn’t soft, he’s an “energy guy.” Though foreign, Anderson hails from the species of non-scoring bigs who can escape critique of their masculinity through perceived “hard work.” These dudes hustle, take charges and do all the winning yeoman basketball stuff. When the plucky Energy Guy keeps rebounding his own missed shots, the fans roar as though Air Bud is nuzzling buzzer beaters. The masses love a scrappy striver far more than a polished Goliath. Lacking a sling, the next best way to knock perfect Pau is to impugn his machismo.

But, is there a logic which bigs get criticized? To quote the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein:

“For if you look at softness you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships ... I dunked on Chris Bosh in front of his girl.”

Unlike a yarnball, there’s no common soft thread here. Beckley, we’re stuck with your maddening rubric of definitions. Dwight Howard is physical granite, but that friendly face somehow undermines his shoulders? Dirk was ripped for rack avoidance, yet Robert Horry’s toughness was based on a career of timely, sleepily-heaved 3s? Just thinking about Kevin Garnett in this context fills my eyes with dark blood.

Like KG, Bosh scores 2, 4 and 5 on your list. He also could score a 1 though I stopped charting NBA player smiles ever since my girlfriend discovered the notes.

(Embarrassing Note No. 47: Kevin Durant smiles like a frolicking dolphin. I want to swim with him, my heart is an ocean.)

Anyway, the total rubric conveys that Chris might as well be a European Canadian from Brazil. At what point do we throw him into a lake to see if he floats?

As Bosh starts sinking, our mob might realize that he hasn’t been bad for the Heat. Chris has a near 19 Player Efficiency Rating (PER), and is second in total team plus-minus. He’s scoring efficiently and avoiding turnovers. The assault on his manhood is just a distraction from Spoelstra’s maddening assault on creativity. If Spo would merely bench Arroyo in favor of a lineup that features Wade, James, Jones, Bosh, Z/Haslem/Anthony, the Heat would redefine basketball. Instead, he’s wasting usage on 28 minutes of Carlos and Mario. As the losses pile up, we’ll keep piling on Bosh. Spoelstra’s insistence on playing the smallest Miami players is stoking ridicule of his tallest star.

Beckley: It does seem logical that a more avant-garde coaching philosophy would better exploit the Heat’s position-pulverizing, unprecedented combination of talent. But while Arroyo’s play may not pass the eye test, stats tell us he has the highest offensive efficiency rating and second-best defensive efficiency rating. So, at the very least, he’s not hurting the Heat.

Speaking of the ornery Viennese philosopher, I suspect Ludwig would sneeze at any attempt to analyze Bosh as an entity separate from the context of his Heat teammates. A month into the season, Bosh still juts out like an evocative but misused word in the syntax of the Heat’s offensive and defensive schemes. Bosh is still a top talent, but Miami still hasn’t made sense of how best to use him. Yet other players have also had their share of struggles. Notably, Wade has made some costly mental errors on defense and seems to be having just as much difficulty as Bosh has in finding rhythm in offense opportunities. Yet Wade’s play has been shrugged off; we know what he can do. Bosh still has to prove to a large population of viewers who’ve never seen him play that he’s worthy of the hype.

I expect Bosh to shed some of these unflattering linguistic associations only if the team finds its collective voice. Ten games in, it’s not too late for Bosh to have the last word.

Ethan: Not only is Wade a relative known quantity with a firm partner’s leeway, sports media tells me that the Heat are obviously his team. And Dwyane deserves your respect, because he made the real estate purchase back in the mid 2000s, when Midas couldn’t afford Miami prices.

I’m also wondering: Is Bosh suffering from what Stanford sociology professor Mark Granovetter called “the forbidden triad?” FT syndrome is the deterioration that occurs when the relationship between three people gets unbalanced. While Bosh-James-Wade may be cool with each other, the fans who use them as avatars are untethered to tact or mercy. Worshippers of LeBron and Dwyane look to the weaker third and see a skinny scapegoat. Chris is like the new roommate who talks just a little too much. It’s only a matter of time before the two other roomies conspire against Chris, and hiss gossip whispers about his enduring virginity. But yes, Beckley, I agree with you in the long term. Once the Heat get balanced, so too will the dialogue about poor, feminized Chris Bosh.