Can a mean streak be developed?

From the Ninetyfourums, this was an exchange I found fascinating.  A reader, chicos, wrote:

McHale has the reputation of developing bigs. But I don’t think Thabeet is mean (or crazy) enough to be a real contributor to any team. In this league people talk about toughness, which is just code for borderline cheap tricks and a willingness to bang bodies. Chandler looked like he was about to fight half of the Thunder’s bigs on every play. I think Thabeet wilts under the pressure of playoff veterans playing him “tough.”

A reader, Jeby, replied:

Thabeet may not be “mean” by nature, but “meanness” can be learned. I live about ten miles from where Kevin Garnett grew up in SC. People tell stories around here about how players would go out of their way to agitate him on the court in high school, but he was too polite to react.

After enough scouts told him he needed to change, he developed a Jekyll/Hyde complex for when he stepped on the court.

You can learn meanness, you can learn offensive/defensive sets, and you can learn to make smart basketball decisions.

You can’t learn 7’3.” You also can’t teach a [i]desire to improve. As long as Thabeet displays those two qualities on his own (he’s got the first pretty much nailed down), I think he’s salvageable.

This is interesting because since the start of the Francis era, personality reformation is a concept to which I’ve given great thought.  Can basketball personality traits be developed/changed with time?

We wondered if Steve Francis would ever gain composure and maturity with age.  It never happened but it’s not something out of the ordinary for guards.  It happened for Cuttino Mobley.

But what about big men?  Since Yao Ming was drafted, I’ve wondered if it was possible for big men to develop desire or a mean streak.  It never happened for the late Eddie Griffin or Stromile Swift. Now, we find ourselves in a similar situation with Jordan Hill and Hasheem Thabeet on the roster.  We place hopes upon them suddenly getting “it” and developing desire or a mean streak. But I ask – has it ever happened?  Guys learn to calm down or play smarter.  But are there examples of big men in NBA history who came in with little desire or toughness and later accrued it?

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