"Samurai Boardsman" Fortson Fuels Sonics
The surprising Seattle Supersonics, boasting a 14-3 record, sure can
shoot the rock. The long-range marksmanship of Ray Allen, Rashard
Lewis, Luke Ridnour and Vladimir Radmanovic have contributed mightily to
the turnaround of a team that appeared headed for another lottery pick.
But it’s not just the gunners who have sparked the Sonic resurgence.
Equal credit goes to a trio of relentless rebounders, led by the
fearless and fearsome “Samurai Boardsman.”
You may know him by his given name, Danny Fortson. But gaze upon him
now with fresh eyes. Note the bulk, the pony-tail (when he’s not in
pig-tails) and the don’t-mess-with-me- demeanor. Is he not the spitting
image of John Belushi’s Saturday Night Live character, the Samurai
Last season the Sonics were girlie men in the paint and on the boards.
Opposing teams outrebounded them by 3.3 rebounds a night.
After the season, the Sonics drafted a skinny high schooler with
long-range potential, but he could not be expected to fill the immediate
need for a proven warrior. Luckily, such a man was being shopped by
Dallas, and Seattle was buying.
Enter the Dragon.
For the bargain price of scrawny Calvin Booth, Seattle acquired a short,
stout, brute of a rebounding machine who, in Dallas, had struggled both
with his game and his hair. But a new home and a new ’do changed
everything. He’s wearing dreadlocks now, sometimes pulled back in
pig-tails, othertimes in that menacing pony-tail. Pick your poison.
With either look, the Samurai Boardsman is leading the way. The Sonics
have gone from 3.3 boards in the hole to 3.4 to the good — an astounding
sword-like swing of 6.7 rebounds a night.
In the entire NBA (through December 2), only Kevin Garnett tops Fortson
in the key stat “rebounds per 48 minutes” — 18.3 to 18.0. Fortson’s
tag-team partner, starting power forward Reggie Evans, is tied for fifth
with Shaq at 16.6 boards per 48 minutes. Another Sonic, Nick Collison,
is knocking at the top 20’s door.
Through 17 games, Fortson and his two apprentices are combining nightly
on 55.4 minutes and 19 rebounds — 7.3 off the offensive glass.
Like the Samurai Swordsman, who could do literally anything with that
sword, the Samurai Boardsman is a versatile hoopster. He’s scoring 9
points a game despite averaging a mere 17.9 minutes. And he’s as
accurate with his shot as Belushi was with that blade, sinking 49
percent from the floor and 89 percent from the stripe. Give the guy 36
minutes and you’ve got yourself 18 points. Of course, coach Nate
McMillan can’t give him 36 minutes because Fortson is a leader in
another category: fouls per 48 minutes (13.38).
The only possible explanation for so many whistles on the Samurai
Boardsman is the notorious anti-Japanese bias of NBA refs. It’s so bad
that the Phoenix Suns rarely play their rising star from the Land of the
Rising Sun, Yuta Tabuse.
But there’s an even more weightier matter facing Fortson.
Every Samurai must grapple with the question, “How much of me is too
much?” Like Belushi, Fortson has allowed his weight to fluctuate over
the years, as if he’s searching for the ideal poundage for pounding the
boards. Also like Belushi, he knows the value of a training diet rich
in energy-enhancing, sugar-coated carbs. We all recall the classic SNL
commercial featuring Belushi as a gold-medal decathlete extolling the
virtues of his own “breakfast of champions” — Chocolate Donuts.
It says here that if the Samurai Boardsman keeps his consumption of
Chocolate Donuts at a dozen per day, he will maintain the ideal balance
of girth and energy with which to lead his apprentices in a nightly
assault on the boards. Furthermore, he will lead these assaults
throughout the regular season and on into the month of June, ceasing
only when the Sonics have been crowned NBA champs — and Fortson a
Dennis Hans’s essays on basketball, foreign policy and many other
topics have appeared in a host of places, including the New York Times,
Washington Post, Miami Herald, Slate and
InsideHoops.com. He’s a former adjunct professor of mass communications
and American foreign policy, and he can be reached at