The whole thing makes Marty Clarke laugh, this widespread notion heading into the NBA Finals that Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova is somehow a dirty player.
Clarke has known him for much of his life; he coached Dellavedova as a teenager in Australia, and he coached him at St. Mary's College in Moraga, and the only reason people are saying such things, Clarke insists, is because Dellavedova is laboring so hard and so consistently.
“There's absolutely nothing in Delly that's dirty,” Clarke, a St. Mary's assistant coach, said Monday. “He's only irritating because he works harder than you. It's not like he's doing anything outside the rules.”
The “Dellavedirty” craze comes to Oracle Arena for Game 1 on Thursday night, even though everyone from LeBron James to Cavs coach David Blatt to Dellavedova himself insists it's a bad rap that grew from two contentious Eastern Conference playoff series against Atlanta and Chicago.
“To call someone dirty is a pretty serious accusation,” Dellavedova said. “I wasn't happy with that. But you can't control what people think.”
So how would he describe his style? “You have to be able to put your nose in there and go get it,” he said. “I don't know how it is in America, but in Australia, the first thing you're taught is that if you want to be a good player, you've got to go win the ball.”
The talk reached the point that James, in a postgame news conference, felt the need to stick up for his mate. “Are we going to talk about us trying to win basketball games or about [the Hawks] trying to figure out a way that Matthew Dellavedova is this type of … this guy, he works his tail off every single day. He beats the odds, and he comes to play as hard as he can every single night. If they're focused on Delly, then they're focused on the wrong thing. I'm a little bit off about it because this is my guy, this is my teammate, and this is a guy that goes out and works his tail off every single night, and people are trying to give him a bad rap. He doesn't deserve it, and I don't like it.”
Clarke worked with a number of his home country's top players while coaching at the Australia Institute of Sport and serving as an assistant on the Australian National Team. Rarely, he says, has he come across a player with the inquisitive curiosity — the “insatiable appetite for learning”— that Dellavedova possesses. This was a guy who was a psychology major at St. Mary's, who would read books and articles about leadership and personal development, about nutrition and workout recovery, and then bring those articles to Clarke and ask him what he thought.
All of that, no doubt, has been a factor in Dellavedova succeeding in the NBA against the odds. Dellavedova didn't just contemplate these ideas. He put them into practice.
“He's a very, very, aggressive learner,” Clarke said.
And this aggression translates to his game. A couple of times, Dellavedova managed to infuriate both the Bulls and Hawks with plays that, some might argue, toed the line between aggression and annoyance. One of those tangles under the hoop led to the ejection of the Hawks' Al Horford; another ended with an injury to the Hawks' Kyle Korver. “There's gotta be a line at some point,” Horford said. “He's gotta learn.”
But that is how Dellavedova learned to play the game. He always dove after loose balls, and he always labored to work more than anyone else on the floor. In a sense, that's how Australians in the NBA tend to be, in part, Clarke said, because that inherent fighting spirit is an element of the national ethos. But it's also because Australian players often need to find a way to stand out in a league where they often don't have the same athleticism or high-level skills training as a European might. The same could be said for the Warriors' Andrew Bogut, another NBA player Clarke worked with (he calls Bogut “the big-man version of Delly”), and Bogut said this weekend that he tried to coax the Warriors to sign Dellavedova after the guard went undrafted in 2013.
General manager Bob Myers preferred to keep another backup point guard, Nemanja Nedovic, who played only 24 games for the Warriors and now is playing in Spain. If anyone is going to call out a dirty player, it's Bogut, who labeled Dwight Howard as such after the Houston series. He won't go there with Dellavedova.
“If he sees a loose ball, if he has to box out a guy bigger than him, he'll do so. I don't think he's intentionally trying to take guys' legs out,” Bogut said. “A guy you love to play with, I guess, and hate to play against. But I don't think he's dirty by any means.”
Said Clarke: “With Delly, what you see is what you get, so don't get offended by it, applaud it. As a player, you should think, 'If I can take a little bit of Delly away, I'll probably only better.'”
These are heady times not just for Dellavedova and Bogut and Australian basketball, but for St. Mary's, which has long had a pipeline to Australia and now will see one of its players win an NBA championship for the second consecutive year (last season it was the Spurs' Patty Mills). The publicity, and the recruiting boon, have been fantastic for the school, and for Clarke and head coach Randy Bennett, but the dilemma of who to root for in the Finals is torturous.
“This is awful,” Clarke said. “I've been asked that question a lot of times, and I still don't have a good answer for it.”