The first time I heard the name Spencer Dinwiddie in 2017, there was no splashy introduction. It was more of a drip. He emerged from the deep waters of anonymity and seeped into a murky puddle of inconsistency. Yet for an unknown like Dinwiddie, it was some drip.
It wasn’t embedded on the Brooklyn Nets’ season blueprint, but in a game against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, there was Dinwiddie, holding the ball at the logo in a make-or-break moment. Forty-six seconds left in the game and the Cavs up one, Dinwiddie took one dribble forward, then pulled up for a three-pointer about two, maybe three feet away from the line.
Two scenarios: 1) he misses, the Cavs get the rebound, escape with a win, Dinwiddie goes back to being a nobody, carry on, nothing to see here. Or, 2) he makes it, the Nets win, he breaks his personal career-high record of 20 points, and maaaaybe a few will notice Spencer Dinwiddie—the guy wearing No. 8, sporting a mini fro and perfectly-sculpted goatee, with an eye for big moments. Scenario 2 happened. And I noticed.
Dinwiddie wasn’t supposed to be noticed. The talent is there: smooth stroke with a loaded God complex, precise passing, clean dribbling. Unfortunately, the opportunity wasn’t. Brooklyn’s backcourt plans circled around Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell, then injuries to both scrapped those plans. And in came the 6’6” Dinwiddie, an extremely clutch, high IQ player hungry for a chance.
Before the highlights though, the Dinwiddie discography shows an ugly mess of bad breaks. The bulletpoints read like a basketball cautionary tale. Lottery pick dreams shattered because of injuries. Benched in a team stacked with guard. Traded then waived then shipped to the D-League. Dropped a career-high 22 points against LeBron’s Cavs, then followed it up with a 4-point clunker against the Knicks. I was hooked.
It’s hard to explain why we like the things we like, but it’s quite easy to recall when. Take the attachment to an obscure indie band, for instance. You listen to—or in indie-speak, you “discover”—one of their songs at the right moment and the music just hits you. It grabs you by the neck and won’t let go.
Maybe, after many listens, you realize they’re not even that good but you don’t care. The band is yours. At that magical moment you first hear them, they’re singing with you. To you. Discovering Dinwiddie, the NBA version of an obscure indie band, was a similar experience for me.
Liking Dinwiddie is easy. I was drawn to him because he ticks off all the boxes of a cult superhero. There’s the story of his struggles. There’s the big boy shots. It spirals from there. There’s his own sneaker brand, K8iros (pronounced “kyros”), and the 82 custom-made design for each and every regular season game. There’s the tidbit about his dreams of creating a full-on Iron Man suit when he retires (he’s planning to take engineering classes and hire a team). There’s the Siri nickname his teammates gave him (he’s a know-it-all who almost played college ball in Harvard). There’s his fire Twitter game. He’s an odd character with a trajectory that wasn’t plotted out in traditional ways.
Then there’s the very tangible thing that he’s doing right now in Brooklyn. With a healthy Russell manning point, Dinwiddie is back in his role as a super sub.
In a recent matchup against the LeBron-less Cavs, there was Dinwiddie, scoring on a dribble drive to give the Nets a 16-point lead with three minutes left in the game. He finished with 28, breaking the Nets franchise record for most 20-point games by a reserve. Days later, he dropped 23 points to shatter another record, surpassing Armen Gilliam with the most bench points in Nets history. He’s averaging 17 points and 5 assists off the bench. He’s scored 30 points or more four times as a sixth man.
To be honest, I came for the splashy stats, but stayed because of Dinwiddie’s value in building Brooklyn’s feel-good culture. He’s no alpha, but he’s the perfect symbol in a team of outcasts and overachievers working hard in trying to prove a point, trying to make the most of the opportunity. He’s a beacon of hope to those who have long struggled with misfortune and closed doors. He’s proof of the possibility: give them a chance and this happens. He’s an inspiration to those on the fringe. How he ended up where he is now is a healthy mix of hard work and stepping up at the right time.
Now, the stench of the 2014 trade is officially washed away, Brooklyn is playoff-bound (and having fun), and Dinwiddie flows like water.
The who is now irrelevant. The Dinwiddie question that I should be asking is where, as in where can he take the Brooklyn Nets? Where will he end up in the Greatest Sixth Man of All-Time discussion when this is over? And, perhaps much later on in the year 2039, where can I get the Dinwiddie Iron Man suit?