He shows up to the gym before anyone else. He drills every item in his skill set into the ground. He attends community events with kids willingly, without so much as a groan. Once the ball goes up, nobody outworks him.
Teammates admire him. Coaches appreciate him. Opponents respect him.
Then, when asked what they think, close to one in four fans vote to “trash” him.
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In part because he has bounced around so much — four teams in nine NBA seasons — Bass’ work ethic never has been fully appreciated by the public. Consistency and professionalism typically only become recognized with time. For Bass, who will turn 29 this month, the process is more than 14 years in the making.
“Since I was like 15 years old, once I set the goal to get to the NBA, I locked in,” Bass said. “I just made it my life. I spent countless hours in the gym. Once I got to the league, I looked to the vets, guys like Mark Jackson, my first year in the league, his work ethic was through the roof. I just kind of mocked him, developed a routine and just kept it going.”
Within the Boston Celtics, Bass rose this season from a bit player to one of the most valued employees. He developed into a veteran leader and was honored with the 2014 Red Auerbach award, which recognizes the player who most exemplifies the spirit of the Celtics on the court and off.
Through a difficult season, Bass exhibited qualities that first-year coach Brad Stevens said “we really need to embrace” — even if it meant Bass’ daily regimen more often than not ended with a Celtics loss.
“To be honest with you, whatever the situation might be, whether we’re rebuilding or a championship team, I’m on board,” Bass said. “It doesn’t matter, I’m with my team. Whatever the team is, I’m treating it like it’s a championship team anyway. I don’t care if we’ve got all rookies or all players who can’t play. I’m treating it like we’re trying to win every night.
“That’s how I approach the game. I don’t look at it like we’re rebuilding or anything like that. I don’t get caught up in that.”
Bass certainly is no franchise cornerstone. Despite massive strides as defender, he is not a great rebounder and is somewhat rigid offensively. Yet he shot 56 percent from his mid-range sweet spot of 10 to 16 feet and posted a 111.0 offensive rating on a bad offensive team. Nearing 30, he still speaks about improving his game.
“Even though I work on my offense like I’m going to get the ball every play down, I understand what my strength is,” Bass said. “I understand what got me here. All I want to do is keep getting better. Next year will be my 10th year, but that’s still going to be a year to prove I’m still taking my game to the next level.”
While some players coast by on talent or alienate teammates, Bass’ determination never changes. Maybe next season he will reach that “next level” — the level at which fans finally begin to recognize the quiet, resolved veteran who keeps showing up to do his job.