Chris Bosh and Dirk Nowitzki

What makes us define an NBA player as “soft”? Is it a lack of willingness to fight for tough rebounds or dive for loose balls? Is it an apparent inability to make key shots in clutch moments? Whatever the basis, few high-profile NBA players have been labelled as “soft” as frequently as Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Bosh have throughout their careers.

When I type the words “Dirk Nowitzki is” or “Chris Bosh is” in Google’s search field, “soft” appears as a suggested auto-complete for both players. Whether or not this is a fair perception is debatable, but the fact that this perception is prevalent is inarguable. They’re not elite rebounders or defenders, they both rely primarily on jump shots for their scoring, and neither one of them has won a championship. Do these characteristics mean that they deserved to be called out as soft players?

Considering the way Nowitzki and Bosh have performed so far in the 2011 playoffs, a variety of different descriptors come to mind at the moment: “deadly”, “dominant” and “elite” are a few of them. Nowitzki continues to play at an incredibly high level as he is one win away from leading the Mavericks to the Finals, while Bosh has surprised many of his critics by averaging over 24 points per game on 66 percent shooting in three games against the Bulls’ tough defense.

Maybe it will take a championship for either of these players to shed their “soft” label. Nevermind that Nowitzki has been one of the league’s best playoff performers over the past decade or the fact that neither player was provided with a championship-caliber supporting cast before this season — I’m supposed to accept the prevalent belief that their lack of toughness has been the main reason they haven’t achieved greater post-season success.

You know what I think is soft? Using “soft” as a catch-all description for players who don’t play, look or act the way we’ve come to expect from the positions they play. Nowitzki and Bosh don’t ply their trades in the fashion of many old-school, successful big men, but that doesn’t diminish the level of their overall effectiveness.  Neither the Mavs nor the Heat would have made it this far in the 2011 playoffs without their significant contributions and if they meet in the Finals, the champion won’t be determined by which team is less soft.

The playing styles and off-court personae of Nowitzki and Bosh haven’t always presented them as the type of battle-hardened warriors we are conditioned to expect on our champions, but there’s more than one way to achieve ultimate victory in this game — lest we forget, Pau Gasol has two rings. All that really matters is which team ends up with 16 playoff wins, regardless of how they got there. As Yoda might say: “Win or do not win, there is no ‘soft’.”

Comments (21)

  1. just gonna gloss over that “soft” is 7th for dirk and 2nd for bosh. and the rest of boshs are just mean.

  2. Great point, I agree.

  3. Nice article Scott. I think, at least I hope, when people call them ‘soft’ they’re referring to some type of gritty game that a Dennis Rodman, Charles Barkley, or Bill Laimbeer had back in the day (there are countless other examples). As you correctly point out, why does it matter how you win, just as long as you win?

    I think these were also criticisms of Bosh and Nowitzki as to explain why they hadn’t won a title, and why they couldn’t be the #1 guy on their own team.

  4. i think a pretty good measure of softness is when players average fewer rebounds than they should given their size. by that definition these guys aren’t really soft, but someone like eddy curry is. he’s also a little soft around the waist tho, so, you know.

  5. Interestingly, autocompletes Nowitzki with ‘stats’, ‘girlfriend’, ‘twitter’ and ‘wife’.

  6. I think when it comes to these two it’s obvious Chris Bosh receives most of the flame. I big reason is his lackadaisical defense and effort on their end. Dirk’s game is just unfamiliar to many like you said above.

  7. It’s an interesting subject because there are a bunch of attributes that can get thrown into that word, and also because you rarely hear it being used with guards. So if you consider:

    - Mental toughness / play in the clutch
    - Not shying away from contact (rebounding, getting to the line, hustle, giving hard fouls, etc.)
    - Playing through an injury

    With Bosh, he always got to the line and rebounded at a decent clip for his size, but then you remember how he wilted against Garnett and Rasheed for so long, or Mikki Moore in that playoff series with NJ (but he still had his clutch moments). Fairly or not, people also questioned his ability or willingness to play through pain (especially last year). Whatever the case, you can easily argue that Boozer is a lot softer than Bosh but because Boozer looks tougher, he may never be called soft.

    In the end, it’s winning that matters, as Pau will tell anyone.

  8. I feel that anyone who reads this blog is informed enough about basketball to not make the mistake of calling dirk “soft”.

  9. I don’t believe that being soft and an elite player are related at all. Maybe in terms of complete skills, that I hope all professionals strive for, it would matter. Sometimes being soft you get from-behind blocks, poke-around steals or put yourself in a position to rebound over the opposition.
    Both players are legit elite players no matter people say. But when Bosh said something like, “why are you diving around my legs for a loose ball?” that makes that dinosaur softer than a beanie baby wrapped in marshmallows!

  10. I don’t know about Dirk being soft even though he’s been labeled as that. Is it his fault for not wanting to drive it in when he knows he’s unstoppable from mid-range? His game may be mostly jumpers, but before the jumper he posts up. He’s a pretty aggressive post player and I don’t think that’s soft. Bosh, on the other hand, is just the wide open recipient of passes which allow him to shoot with basically no one around him. Dirk works for his shots, Bosh doesn’t. On the defensive end, Dirk and Bosh are somewhat identical but the edge goes to Nowitzki because at least he tries and occasionally, does block shots. Long story short, Dirk is not soft.

  11. C’mon, you compare The Dirk and Likeabosh? Come on.

  12. dirk plays SOFT on defense.
    dont try and say he is not.

  13. Bosh makes Dirk look like an elite defender. Let’s just put it like that. Bosh is marshmallow-y on both ends.

  14. Mr.S did you not see Bosh destroy the Bulls defense last game? I think he clearly worked for his shots, and his free throw attempts. The label soft put onto any player is annoying. Players just have different styles. At the end of the day Bosh gets it done. He was awesome in Toronto, and he is doing well adjusting to a new role. Going from the teams star player to being the teams third option is tough in any sport, but it seems like he is adjusting as the playoffs go on, and adjusting quite well. The hate on Bosh has to stop he is a great player!

  15. Spencer: What I saw was LeBron and Wade destroying the defense, thus making the defense collapse and therefore those two kicking it out to a wide open Bosh many times. Granted, Bosh knocked down those shots, I’ll give him that, but it wasn’t because he was working hard for it. Yeah, he gets it done, I never said he didn’t. Oh defense though, Carlos Boozer had his way with Bosh as well. So there you go….

  16. I can’t find a better video of this play… but this play solidified Dirk as “soft” for me. Looking back at the box score, I am amazed Dirk dropped 31-11-6 and had 3 blocks. All that was lost on this play:

    The MVP season (he really deserved at least one in his career) being punctuated by the destruction by the warriors in the playoffs didn’t help him breaking out. Or the previous dismissal (collapse?) at the hands of the Heat in the finals.

    But watching Dirk this post-season is really making me respect the guy a lot more. The big dunks, the un-erring shooting, and making any who guards him look helpless… I’m not sure it’s fair to call this a “new Dirk”, but as his skills (and numbers) have been somewhat constant… It seems to me he has found a new hunger. Dirk in that video clip made me sad. Dirk this past week has amazed me.

  17. You don’t know what “soft” means?

    Don’t pretend Carefoot, you give us everything to unserstand it: it’s a big man who mostly plays out of the paint.

    Jump-shooting offense, low rebound numbers and inadequate D are just the characteristics of a player who’s not an inside big.
    And battles go down inside (for position, for rebound), so players who don’t come off winning in those battles are labelled soft. That does not make them lesser players.

    It has nothing to do with “mental toughness” as in making the clutch shot. No one would have called Karl Malone soft, but he was obviously mentally soft, coming up short in key moments.

    Now whetther it’s fair or not to call a j-shooting, low rebounding, average-defender big “soft” is up to debate. It would seem to me that it means that those players are not willing to “get dirty” in the paint, while the truth is that they may be unnefficient at it.

    So don’t pretend you don’t understand the notion just to spur off debate. You understand it perfectly well, it just annoys you.

  18. Hmmm….perhaps these “soft” big men just have a different mentality than the other bigs, maybe they don’t have that physical and dirty attribute that some bigs do or maybe they don’t want to get in the moshpit that is the paint and suffer a career ending injury, who knows? If you’re going to be soft though, at least be a productive soft guy. The way I see it it’s bad to be Andrea Bargani soft and then there’s Chris Bosh soft. Guess which one is the better soft.

  19. Breyzh: I think “soft” means different things to different people, and I think it’s a term that gets thrown around way too often these days as a way to dismiss players that don’t fit a particular macho stereotype. Wayne Gretzky was considered soft in his era but he was still the best player on four Stanley Cup winning teams.

    I guess my point is that it’s weak to call Dirk and Bosh soft when they’ve accomplished as much as they have and when they’ve stepped up the way they have in these playoffs. I understand why these guys are considered soft, to an extent, I just don’t think it’s particularly valid or relevant right now, if it ever was.

  20. @ Carefoot


    Now why did you have to bring up hockey, you silly canadian :p

  21. I cant agree with the point that Dirk has never had the supporting cast in place to win a championship…with his supporting cast and his 67 win Mavs a few years back, he has definitly had multiple chances to win a championship.
    Bosh has never had the supporting cast to win a championship, and he never will, because even if he wins this year it is not because of HIS supporting cast, it is because he is a part of a supporting cast. As well as Bosh is playing in these playoffs, it really doesnt matter, he will never (ever) be an elite go-to player because he is a third banana on a team that was constructed by players in a schoolyard fashion, with the best players all ganging up so they can win.
    As for the soft term, it is used in so many ways that i really dont think it means very much anymore. Pau Gasol is soft? He is probably the second best big man in the league. Dirk is soft? he might be the best power forward of the decade. Bosh is soft? He is a great player, just not the superstar leader Toronto thought he could be.
    Anybody could be soft, cept Joakim Noah.

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