- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2006

The value of Michael Ruffin cannot be measured in simple statistical terms.

His numbers could serve as an indictment if you did not look beyond his 107 fouls and 61 points this season.

Ruffin is neither a scorer nor a perimeter player who distributes the ball to teammates. Ruffin is a hard body with a powerful basketball intellect. He recognizes what he is not and embraces what he is. He has come to be the finisher of the Wizards.

He enters the game in the fourth quarter to provide resolve to a team that sometimes is cursed by the lack of a physical presence.

Ruffin employs his body as a blunt instrument. He is the player who goes to the floor in pursuit of a loose ball. He leads the team in floor burns and screens that actually alter the path of a defender. He is the grit of a team that prefers to be pretty.

Ruffin rarely shows a trace of emotion on the floor. This, too, is part of his armor. He never allows the opposition to judge whether he is elated or frustrated. No one gets into his head. He gets into your head.

The 76ers resorted to the hack-a-Ruff yesterday, which is becoming a sign of victory in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood.

Ruffin is Shaq-like at the free throw line, which is to say his trips there are always an adventure.

If he were as loquacious as Shaq, Ruffin would say, “I make them when they count.”

Ruffin did convert consecutive free throws with 2:49 left, which merely stoked the befuddled looks of the 76ers.

Ruffin finished with four points and four rebounds in 17 minutes, plus held his spot on the floor against a slashing Allen Iverson on two occasions. Iverson crumpled to the floor both times, and Ruffin appeared impervious to it, as if standing in line at the grocery store.

Ruffin rarely makes a mistake with the ball. Whenever he grabs an offensive rebound, his first instinct is to pass the ball to the perimeter in order to start the offense again. He refuses to commit a bad play after a good one, which is a proclivity of the team’s post players.

Eddie Jordan and the coaching staff have come to rely on Ruffin more and more because of his efficiency. He might make eight solid plays during his time in a game and not have one negative attached to him. That is no easy accomplishment.

Ruffin has a center’s spirit stuffed in a 6-foot-8 frame. He routinely defends those who are taller than him and defends well. He considers surrendering a layup a personal attack to his integrity. It just will not happen if he can help it.

His fouls are not mean-spirited. He is no goon. He just plays the game with tenacity, as he must. His raw conviction is the essence of his NBA relevance.

Ruffin finally has found a home on Fun Street. There is a genuine appreciation of his selflessness and business-like temperament. His next celebration after a dunk shot will be the first of his career.

Ruffin does not ask to be lauded. He never would speak out of turn. He understands his good fortune to be in the NBA. He has been waived twice in the NBA and spent parts of two seasons in Spain.

His is the odyssey of the quintessential role player, of one team’s discard becoming another team’s treasure.

His defensive-minded toughness is especially worthy to a team that can be porous, depending on which five players are on the floor.

Ruffin goes into the game to make the three or four plays that have no statistical merit in a box score: taking a charge, deflecting a pass and setting a bone-jarring pick.

It is not highlights stuff. But it is the kind of stuff that sometimes is the difference between winning and losing, as Jordan and the Wizards know only too well.


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