For me, Jack Haley is the standard of what a 12th man should be.
I was born in 1987, so I was just old enough to have memories of Haley in a San Antonio Spurs jersey from 1993-1995. I remember him waving a towel at the end of the bench, jumping up and down and doing everything he could to will his team to victory without actually stepping on the court. Even then, at the ripe age of six, I understood that it was a good thing when Haley entered the game - it meant it was over.
Haley understood his role in the NBA. He never played basketball in high school and only averaged 3.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and had a career high of 12 points at UCLA. Clearly he was no All-Star, but it's amazing how the NBA comes calling when you are 6'10''. Haley embraced his spot on the end of the bench. In a 1990 article in the New York Times, Haley said that his family had two rules: "Go for greatness" and "If you don't have any fun in life, blame yourself".
Haley sure did his best to have fun in life. He appeared in the movies Eddie and Rebound, and if you look closely you will see him in Aerosmith's music video for Love in an Elevator. He wasn't content with just sitting around and relaxing knowing that he made the NBA. During one offseason he sang back-up vocals for MC Hammer in two concerts.
This zest for life came across in how he carried himself in his basketball career. Fans fall in love with the 12th man because it's easy to see us in them. Everybody has been down at the gym at some point in their life, sinking a couple threes, making a nice pass here, setting a solid pick there and thought, "Hey, I could play with the big boys". First off, no you can't. But then again, Haley proved that maybe you can. Of course it helps to be blessed with exceptional height. However, Haley had no real strengths or basketball background. He made it to the NBA by diving for every loose ball, fouling hard, cheering loud and being a great teammate. Sounds like things I could do.
Haley even turned his talents as a teammate into a championship ring with the Chicago Bulls in 1996. The Bulls acquired Haley after a stellar season with the Spurs where he averaged 2.4 points and 0.9 rebounds in 31 games. They didn't want him for his talents on the court, obviously, but for his friendship with Dennis Rodman. Yes, that Dennis Rodman. Haley was considered Rodman's best friend and the Bulls wanted him to keep Rodman under control. Haley only played in one game that season, scoring five points and grabbing two rebounds. More intriguing, at least to me, is how Rodman chose Haley as his confidant. What did they have to talk about? They obviously weren't discussing tattoo's, hair coloring and marrying oneself. On the surface, that had to be one of the oddest friendships in history.
Haley once said that he could be the "Michael Jordan of 12th men". If Jordan is the greatest player of all time, the one talent that everybody else is compared to, then Haley just might be the Michael Jordan of 12th men for his towel-waving, lack of talent and the ability to keep Rodman, of all people, happy. That's what I'm looking for in my 12th man.