All athletes, except maybe Bartolo Colon, work hard. When a player is singled out for their effortfulness, it's usually a reflection of how they look as they're doing what they do rather than the fact that they're actually out-exerting everyone else. (Oftentimes, how they look is white.) This is because bodies are varied and specific, and some appear smoother or goofier or more powerful than others as they move through space. James Harden drives the lane in his syncopated, feint-heavy fashion, and LeBron James beelines to the rim like he's magnetized to it. They each have their own style, and we come to appreciate or dislike their particular way of doing things.
One of the pleasures of fandom is becoming attuned to the rhythms of particular players, developing a sympathy with their bodies as they run, stutter, leap, spin, and dive. It's a thrill, to see a player begin a move and know where it's going before it ends, or even better, for that move to suddenly deviate from your expectation. It dazes you a bit. How did he do that? you think. And perhaps you imagine what it would be like to go up for a dunk, change your mind in mid-air, then lay the ball in left-handed. You do some pantomiming with your hands.
Corey Brewer inspires a strange awe. He makes you think what would it be like to have arms that weren't arms so much as pork tenderloins with broomsticks duct-taped to them? and how does his jersey always look two sizes too large, like he dropped 30 pounds between shootaround and tip-off? These aren't questions you ask about other basketball players. Corey Brewer is unique. This specialness would be something to celebrate if the experience of watching him wasn't so jaggedly unpleasant.
It's amazing he scores as much he does. (Brewer has averaged double figures in half of his eight professional seasons.) It's amazing he scores at all, because his offensive repertoire is a bare pantry. He has no mid-range game, and his three-point shot comes and goes the way a father prone to years-long cigarette runs does. Drive is not the word for the way he moves toward the bucket. More accurately, he gangles, often finishing his unwieldy journey by forgetting to bring the basketball with him, or slingshotting it off the backboard.
Brewer cuts a Buster Keaton-esque figure at times, like he's dodging the havoc his own body creates. He makes the simple look spectacular and the spectacular look impossible. But he's no Keaton. He crashes into the fruit stand as often as he avoids it. There's no finesse to Brewer's performances, no sense that he's doing anything on purpose. That he has the gall to talk any shit at all, let alone the quantity of yeah, that's right!-ing he dishes out on a nightly basis, smacks of blinkered self-awareness. He's a hairdryer that thinks it's an air cannon.
Brewer is a severe case, but the problem with him—let's throw "problem" in scare quotes here; he's an ugly player, not a corrupt politician—is the problem with all hustle guys: they make the game appear so difficult that we find it a minor miracle they're not terrible at it, and their struggle is treated as a virtue. A certain sort of fan likes—lionizes—these players because they stand in for the underdog and the ideal that ass-busting is a valid substitute for talent. Corey Brewer is the official athlete of the overzealous office drone who thinks he can summit the corporate ladder through sheer force of will. He's the bootstrap Republican's baller. He's a folk hero for beleaguered dum-dums and You Too Can Become a Millionaire assholes. He's depressing.
Give me arrogant polish over striving scrappitude any day. Give me the Clippers, I guess, who are the prissiest, most irksomely entitled team in the league, but at least have the capacity to produce beauty. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, sourpuss-ish as they can be, pull off the improbable with a rolling-out-of-bed languidness, which is something to fathom. Give me, ugh, Dwight Howard, who's a marvel even in his diminished state. Give me players with impeccable skills or absurd physical gifts, because I can do something with them. Players so preternaturally sublime—and industrious in their own right—have depth. They're the cosmos; you can burn one and expand your mind thinking about them. They're alien and limitless.
I understand Corey Brewer. He's interestingly built—he's not Matthew Dellavedova—but that build is the spangled cover of the sort of book you can buy at a Walgreens. There's no mystery to Brewer, only the raw obscenity of what's on the surface: lunging tie-ups, wayward jumpers, dribbles off the knee. There's a nobility to this, but just barely. It's not enough to redeem him. Corey Brewer is a long-armed eyesore. He's the cringe-inducing-est player in a series packed to the brim with unlikable sorts. It's an anti-achievement that suits him. He's worked hard for it.