- Derek Steiner
MAD MAN: How Mike Conley is the Jon Hamm of the NBA
*Photo via USA Today
On his eighth try, Jon Hamm finally won the Emmy for Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his portrayal of Don Draper in Mad Men, a show that will go down in history as one of the tentpoles of Golden Era of television. Well if the show’s really all that great, why’d it take Hamm eight tries to get the golden statue?
Same question applies to Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies. Going into his 9th season, Conley has been the floor general for a Memphis team that’s made the playoffs five straight years. He’s respected amongst his teammates, coaches, and fans, yet he’s never been selected to an All-Star team. Is this his year to be the Jon Hamm of the NBA? To answer that question, maybe we can gain some insight into what Hamm had to endure to get to the Promised Land.
For the majority of Mad Men’s run, Hamm’s been up against the force they call Heisenberg (Bryan Cranston, winner of 4 Emmys in 6 tries against Hamm). In NBA terms, Walter White represents the “Super Star” category. Those flashy point guards who have the endorsements, the TV commercials, the jersey sales. They are Chris Paul and Steph Curry. Love Breaking Bad or hate it, you know that Cranston will be get the respect he rightfully deserves. Paul and Curry are locks – insane numbers, dominating performers, fierce competitors. No arguing here. What other hurdles are in the way of awards glory?
Perhaps it’s a wildly talented, yet inconsistent star? In 2012 Damian Lewis won the Emmy for his portrayal of Nicholas Brody in Homeland. A show who’s explosive first season (spoiler alert?) lead many critics to include Homeland right up there with Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Sopranos as a prime example of TV’s “Golden Age”. Unfortunately the subsequent seasons reversed that thinking. In the NBA, Damian Lewis is Russell Westbrook. A major talent on a team that couldn’t seem to get it together. All the parts had been there: super star talent (Claire Danes being the Kevin Durant), but they’re always stuck with their Dana Brody (Kendrick Perkins) or the incredible to watch, but not on this show Jessica Brody (Reggie Jackson).
*Photo via Getty Images
In 2011, Kyle Chandler won the Emmy for his Coach Taylor role in Friday Night Lights. Like some observers have claimed of Hamm’s win, this decision was more out of respect for the show overall than the actual actor that particular year. If you believe that’s true, then Chandler is Tony Parker. An All Star selection more for being an integral piece on an incredible team. Like Chandler, Parker is a major talent, but were it not for a vehicle like Popovich’s Spurs, would he be in the conversation? Can you imagine a Charlotte Bobcat Tony Parker racking up All-Star appearances? Exactly.
Lastly, in 2013, Hamm, Cranston, and Lewis were all blindsided by a Jeff Daniels win for the Newsroom – a humdrum show propelled by the pedigree of the talent behind the camera. No knock against Daniels, but anyone who says he deserved that Emmy is a liar or really, really, really wanted that Dumb and Dumber sequel (Are you happy?!) See Daniels is Damian Lillard, purely because Lillard was selected on the merit of the written word. Academy Award winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin created and wrote the Newsroom. Using Sorkin’s words, Daniels acted his way to an Emmy win. One upping Sorkin, Damian decided to take it upon himself to do his own writing. So good job Damian, work those voters.
So what’s this all-mean for Mike Conley? Jack squat. Conley just wants to win ball games. Accolades are gravy, but not his focus. That’s for us to worry about. Sure the guy deserves some recognition. Though he may seem unassuming and quiet, he’s a fierce competitor, a leader by example. To anyone who doesn’t think he’s a star, go back and watch Game 2 of the Western Conference Semis versus Golden State. Ten days after suffering multiple facial fractures, eight days after having a titanium plate surgically inserted into his face, Conley scores 22 points and leads the Grizzlies to a road win, evening up the series. To describe his performance as ‘gutsy’ would be an understatement. A Clipper player would’ve booked a two month stay at the Four Seasons to recover from an injury like that. Mike Conley just wanted to get back on the court.
That’s what real superstars do. They compete. Everything else is just noise. Jon Hamm went to work everyday, creating an iconic role for a monumental show. Mike Conley hits the gym, focusing on being the glue for one of the most consistent and successful teams in the NBA. Twenty years from now, when you look back at Mad Men, you’ll see Jon Hamm as Don Draper. Not the Emmy. We’ll all look back at these Memphis Grizzlies and remember Mike Conley, under that mask, broken face and all. All-Star or not, he’s the Memphis Grizzlies.