By: Sam Meyerkopf / @euro_adventures
They are big and thick. Years and years of hardwood pounding have turned them into indestructible forces. They’ve weathered the Russian snow and the Spanish sun. These calves are the foundation of not only Erazem Lorbek’s body and game, but of the whole Barcelona team.
The Catalan squad’s team follows Xavi Pascual’s instructions very closely. He preaches tough defense and frustrating, systematic offense. At the base of all this is Lorbek. Barcelona passes and passes and passes some more until that shot clock has nearly run out. They swing the ball from right to left, inside to outside, looking for the perfect set up. And as that ball flies around the court, its preferred final destination is usually standing patiently on the right block or settled on the wing with both feet behind the arc, both hands open and both eyes focused directly on the rim. The ball passes through the last few stops on its current journey before closing in on the big Slovenian, who’s gotten himself open thanks to solid off-ball screens and diligent zigs and zags atop those two magical calves.
Then the rock glides into Erazem’s hands, which know what to do with it: if he’s in the post, it’s a couple dribbles into a powerful half hook shot; on the wing and it’s a perfectly lined up set shot from long distance. No matter the shot, Lorbek’s barely getting his feet off the ground. Only his heels raise, powered by those giant calves that lift the rest of his body as he effortlessly flicks the ball towards the hoop.
When those big ol’ calves are fully energized and working at top performance levels, Barcelona looks unstoppable. Lorbek’s ability to swish in treys and then post people near the rim gives Barca’s opponents a defensive dilemma. If a guard slides over to contest a three or a big rotates to deny an entry pass, Barcelona’s other offensive weapons have so much room to work with that they all reach a whole new level of dangerous.
This Barcelona team is not currently constructed to play the most beautiful basketball or have a flashy offense. They just run their system to perfection and always play at a certain level of consistency. And that’s just fine with Pascual, because even if shots aren’t falling or if another team is out hustling them, there is something they can always fall back on: half court defense.
Victor Sada is always going to be a pesky ball hawk at the top of the key, Pete Mickeal and Chuck Eidson are going to be physically frustrating the other teams’ wings, CJ Wallace will be diving on the floor after balls, and an assortment of Boniface N’Dong, Lorbek, Kosta Perovic, and Fran Vazquez will hang out around the basket protecting the rim.
Olympiacos’ collection of bigs from Joey Dorsey and Kyle Hines to the guys that have to play bigger like Kostas Papanikalou and Georgios Printezis, will not phase Barcelona’s post men. The Barcelona paint players know that as much as these Olympiacos guys want to run around them and jump over them, they are the more seasoned competitors. They have more experience, more height, more girth, and stronger defensive presences. Even if you can quickly slip by them at times for a layup or try to sky above them for a board, over the course of an entire game, the thickness of Erazem’s calves will outperform even the sporadic springiness of younger legs.
It’s not the part of the body you stare at when someone walks by or marvel at on magazine covers. Just like Erazem Lorbek and Barcelona, the game in, game out production of his calves aren’t about looks and frills. They provide the concrete structure on which championships are built. They may not be sexy and you might get bored watching, but Erazem’s calves—just like Barca—are going to keep on chugging along, constantly and effectively.