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The NBA’s new ‘Iron Man’ and the value of durability

Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges can add another nickname to his illustrious list.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Utah Jazz
Mikal Bridges has been the linchpin of the Suns’ success this season.
Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Preying Mantis. Inspector Go Go Gadget. The Warden.

Phoenix Suns swingman Mikal Bridges has had several nicknames throughout his career. But there is one that sticks out like a black sheep among the others:

Brittle.

To say this nickname is oxymoronic would be putting it lightly. While it dates back beyond his days at Villanova, the 25-year-old wing has shown over the past four years just how strong and resilient he is, physically and mentally.

Last night, Bridges marked his 82nd start of the season, one of only two players to do so along with fellow former Wildcat, Saddiq Bey of the Detroit Pistons. Bridges also secured his claim as this season’s leader in total minutes played with 2854 minutes, an average of 34.8 per game.

Historically, it’s a low mark for the NBA’s leader in minutes played. The 2021-2022 season is only the second full 82-game season in NBA history that did not result in at least one player crossing the 3000 minutes played mark, sharing the distinction with the 2014-2015 season. And even that season had 11 different players who started all 82 games.

So at a time when absences due to injury, illness, or ‘load management’ are so commonplace, it must be highlighted just how significant of an accomplishment this is.

Bridges’ resiliency comes from his attitude, something his coach could not be more grateful for.

“If [Mikal] played 47 minutes, he’d be wondering why he didn’t play 48,” Monty Williams said after last night’s game.

“I love it. I love guys who wanna play. I don’t want guys racing to the bench and hiding.”

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Phoenix Suns
Mikal Bridges leads by example game in and game out with his consistency.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This attitude of Bridges runs deep, beyond his years in the NBA. Because technically, Bridges has never missed a basketball game, at least not at the NBA or collegiate level. Bridges has played in each of the 331 regular-season and playoff games the Suns have played since he was drafted in 2018, and including his three years at Villanova, he has now played in 447 consecutive basketball games.

Now yes, these streaks may currently pale in comparison to the NBA’s record of 1,192 consecutive games played by 3-time NBA champion A.C. Green, the NBA’s original ‘Iron Man’.

But seriously. Find me another 25-year-old today that has never missed a day of work.

While it remains to be seen whether or not he will be recognized as this year’s Defensive Player of the Year, Bridges seems to be a lock to at least make his first appearance on one of the NBA’s All-Defense teams. This level of recognition feels overdue, and the same can be said for this coronation as the NBA's new ‘Iron Man’.

But for Bridges, while the awards and the recognition may be nice, they were never the motivation behind his play.

“Obviously, I want that [Defensive Player of the Year award]. But you know, control what you can control,” Bridges said after Friday’s victory over the Utah Jazz. “...Even if I don’t win, it doesn’t define who I am. I know that I guard every day, and my teammates and coaches know that.”