To Pollard, image is everything, and nothing

Former Jayhawk: Sacramento Kings center is more grounded and, uh, normal than he appears

By Gordon Monson, Salt Lake Tribune

The first thing you need to know about Sacramento Kings backup center Scot Pollard is this: He's not as weird as he looks. He's not a freak, not a madman, not even a rebel, at least not in the traditional sense.

He did fastbreak away from his family's religion -- the Mormon faith -- when he left home to go play ball at the University of Kansas. And he did get into trouble as a teen-ager, after moving from Murray, Utah, with his family to Del Mar, Calif., when he was 11, stumbling from petty mischief to grand theft, winding up doing some 500 hours of community service to pay his debt and reform his ways. He did paint his toenails in college. But he's no Dennis Rodman.

He's not bad, nor does he want to be bad. Ignore the mussed and multicolored hair, the ever-changing beard configurations -- from goatees to Van Dykes to double-thick chops to the Abe Lincoln look -- and the goofy Belushi Ninja warrior package.

It's all a facade. A joke. And the joke's on whomever buys into the crazy exterior image thing. But the joke is more comprehensive than just appearances.

Pollard is known in the NBA for his clever and colorful observations. Just the other day at practice, between Game 1 and Game 2 of the Utah Jazz-Kings first-round playoff series, reporters clumped around the 6-foot-11 quote machine, despite his lack of any kind of meaningful contribution in the previous game. "I didn't do s---," he blurted.

From there, he happily pontificated on any number of subjects, framed by his need to defend and rebound better on one side to his depths of interest in studying the lives of historical figures, such as Lincoln and Adolf Hitler on the other. "I feel a connection to Abe Lincoln," Pollard said. "In part, because we were both born on the same day: February 12."

Later, when asked about Jazz center Greg Ostertag's surprising performance in the first game, Pollard said of his former college teammate: "I know what happened to Greg. It's not like he did a lot of soul searching and decided to come to play. No. It's because (Jazz coach) Jerry Sloan kicked him in the ass."

Some of Pollard's answers were forthright and frank, especially those regarding the basics of playoff basketball. Some of them were silly, as though he was just pulling stuff out of the air as he went along, hoping for a reaction. Some were nothing short of opaque, especially those regarding more personal subjects. Which brings up the second thing about Pollard: He's a human contradiction.

Fan Favorite: After being drafted by Detroit and later released, he has spent the past three seasons in Sacramento, having successfully shaped a space for himself with the Kings as Vlade Divac's backup -- a standard, unspectacular role. On the whole, he has played effectively, banging under the boards, playing defense and improving. But, on account of his often outrageous appearance and his sense of humor and his ability and willingness to say things a certain way, Pollard has become a favorite with fans and reporters, too.

He stands, if not in the spotlight, squarely at center stage in Sacramento. He has made a name and an image for himself. As teammate Doug Christie puts it: "Scot's an individual. He does things different than the norm. He likes being himself." Problem is, according to Pollard, he doesn't really want to stand out.

"I'm an introvert," he says. "People think they know a lot about me. They think I want all this attention, that I'm wild and a partier. But I'm not. I don't like being recognized. I don't want or need attention for my ego. Eighty percent of what is most important to me is my wife and my child. People think my life is like an open book, but, to be honest, I rarely give a straight answer to anything. I'm comfortable being what I am, what my mom and dad raised me to be." Then, he adds, while scratching his head and rubbing a fluorescent hairdo that looks like a budding dogwood bush: "I believe in being honest."

Pollard once told the Sacramento Bee, when asked to reveal his real self, that he didn't know how to answer the question: "I don't know if there is a real me. I'm an actor. F--- it. I've got no personality. I change all the time. My appearance changes a lot and my personality changes a lot. I'm happy a lot, most of the times, and sometimes you can't talk to me." Even Pollard's wife, Mindy, calls him Jekyll and Hyde. There are other contradictions, too.

Through his childhood, even in college, Pollard disliked school. But he studied education at Kansas with the intention of becoming a teacher. Unlike his four brothers -- Alan, Carl, Mark and Neal, all over or near 7-foot in height and decently talented -- Scot says he didn't engage fully in basketball, did not work hard at the game, until after his father, Pearl, a star Utah prep and college player, died when Scot was in high school. Still, of the boys, he is the one who made it to the NBA and stuck. "Those guys were always bigger and better than me," he says.

Pollard now takes pleasure in his full-blown work ethic and his passionate play. "I work my ass off," he says. "And I like it when people acknowledge that." He also takes pride in Mindy and their 3-year-old daughter, Lolli. Another child is expected in the coming months.

"I love taking care of my family," he says. "It's one of the most important things to me, along with having fun, but not at the expense of others, and treating people with respect."

Family Ties: The family angle is compelling, in part because Pollard, the youngest child, is the only one of the five reared by parents Pearl and Marlyn -- they have a grown daughter named Lyne, too -- who walked away from the LDS faith. He attended church as a youth, but bailed quickly once on his own.

"As soon as I got out of the house, I wanted to do my own thing," Pollard has said. "I told my dad before he died that I wasn't going on a (church) mission. I said, 'Dad, it's not my thing. I'm not going to be a Mormon. As soon as I don't have to go to church anymore, I'm not going to go.'" Although Pollard considers some LDS beliefs "strange," he says the influence of stressing certain fundamental core values through his formative years has impacted him in a positive way.

"Part of the reason I think the way I do about my wife and daughter is because of my family being in that religion," he says. "There's no doubt, it's a part of who I am." There are other keystones, as well, although prying them out of Pollard is a difficult process. For such an oft-quoted NBA player, when it comes to significant matters, he grows evasive.

"I try to live my life like a child," he says. "I like to look at the things around me as though they are new. Even just driving to the arena, I appreciate the wind and other things. Whatever the world has to offer. I'm a pessimist by nature, but I'm happy. I'm pleasantly surprised when things aren't as bad as I thought they were going to be. I have a zest for life. I enjoy taking breaths every day. I'm grounded. I know what I want." But does Pollard know who he is?

"He's a fun guy, a great guy, he makes my job on the court easier," says Divac. "But, no, he does not know who he is, and that's the problem." Divac laughs when he speaks those words, but he speaks them, nonetheless. Maybe none of it matters.

Here's a third and final thing about Scot Pollard, the basketball player with the ever-funky look and the supposedly inward and surprisingly down-to-earth outlook: He's glad being him.

"I'm lucky because I'm happy," he says. "That's pretty good for me. I lead a charmed life." Now, if he can just make a few shots, block a few, and reel in a few boards for the Kings against the Jazz. "If I contribute anything," he says, "it will be better than what's happened so far."