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InsideHoops NBA [Home]

"Samurai Boardsman" Fortson Fuels Sonics




/ Dec. 5, 2004

Danny FortsonThe 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 Swordsman?

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 Samurai legend.

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 He’s a former adjunct professor of mass communications and American foreign policy, and he can be reached at

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