Andrew Bogut, the starting center for the Golden State Warriors, was watching the Cleveland Cavaliers play the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference finals on television last week when a conversation among the analysts caught his attention.
They were talking about how Matthew Dellavedova, a guard for the Cavaliers and a fellow Australian, had grown up playing rugby, which Bogut knew was inaccurate. Bogut and Dellavedova had played Australian rules football as young men, and Australian rules football is not rugby. Bogut gets offended when people confuse the two.
“I encourage people that are ignorant to other countries that exist in the world to actually go on the Internet and look it up,” he said. “It’s quite frustrating.”
Bogut, much like Dellavedova, has retained various lessons from his days playing footie, as the sport is known in Australia, and applied them to his current profession. Bogut does not mind jostling for position. He is not averse to contact. In fact, he almost seems to enjoy absorbing his share of punishing blows when he is not doling them out.
“If you have to get your elbows dirty sometimes,” Bogut said, “you have to get your elbows dirty.”
The Warriors are more celebrated for their shot-making, but Bogut has helped anchor the team’s top-ranked defense throughout the season. Coach Steve Kerr is once again expected to lean on Bogut, all 7 feet and 245 pounds of him, as a rim protector when the Warriors face the Cavaliers in the N.B.A. finals beginning here Thursday night.
“I do like the versatility we have defensively,” Kerr said. “That’s one of the strengths of our team.”
A former No. 1 overall pick, Bogut has accepted a complementary role with the Warriors, averaging 5.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 24.4 minutes a game through the first three rounds of the playoffs. When the Warriors go small, Bogut sits without apparent complaint. When they want him to muck things up in the paint, he does so with delight.
Bogut said he was expecting his share of high-impact meetings with the Cavaliers’ LeBron James, who has been relying on penetration in lieu of a reliable jump shot (17.6 percent from 3-point range in the playoffs). Bogut has 931 career blocks, 20th among active players.
“He’s a wrecking ball coming down the middle,” Bogut said. “Hopefully, verticality will still be a legal rule in this series, where we can jump straight up and not get called for a foul.”
His public politicking of the officials came across as a veteran move on the eve of the series, not that anyone expects anything different from him at this stage of his career. But after 10 seasons in the league, Bogut will be making his first trip to the finals, an experience for him to savor.
He recalled growing up in Australia and revering players like Drazen Petrovic and Toni Kukoc — international stars who had made the leap to the N.B.A. Bogut and Kukoc overlapped briefly with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2005-6, when Bogut was a first-year player and Kukoc was nearing retirement. Bogut described the experience as special.
“He was one of my idols, because I had a similar frame to him when I was young,” Bogut said. “I was really skinny and lanky, and he was kind of the same.”
Bogut’s arrival in the N.B.A. — and his relative success — helped clear the path for more Australians to play basketball in the United States. Dellavedova and Patty Mills, who won an N.B.A. title last season with the San Antonio Spurs, both attended St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., about 10 miles east of Oakland.
“California schools always had an advantage as a pipeline for Australians because of the climate and because it’s closer to Australia,” said Bogut, who attended Utah. “It’s also kind of looked upon as being safer than the East Coast. For some reason, when we see crime on TV, it always seems to be in New York or out that ways.”
Bogut tends to speak his mind, so it is significant that he so willingly bought into the all-for-one attitude of the Warriors, who welcomed the return of Klay Thompson to practice Monday after he sustained a concussion last week against Houston in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. Thompson will be re-evaluated Tuesday and must pass the league’s concussion protocol before he is cleared to play Thursday in Game 1. He told reporters he expected to be on the court.
But while the spotlight has shone brightest on Stephen Curry and Thompson, members of the supporting cast — Bogut among them — have been instrumental. In the regular season, the Warriors limited opponents to a league-low 101.4 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball Reference.
Kerr, in his first season as coach, was able to persuade his players to accept their roles, some more diminished than others.
“Whenever you get a coach who’s not full of himself, it makes a huge difference,” Bogut said.
Bogut and Dellavedova are expected to be teammates this summer when the Australian national team faces New Zealand in an Olympic qualifier. Bogut said he understood the significance for Australia of having two homegrown players meeting in the N.B.A. finals.
“It’s good for basketball in Australia,” he said. “But to be honest, it doesn’t really matter to me who we play.”
In other words, it is time for him to get to work, dirty elbows and all.