What An Opportunity

What do we want from athletes?

In Sports on April 11, 2012 at 6:02 am

Avid NBA fans should be aware of the situation occurring in Orlando. Dwight Howard, the franchise’s star player, was publicly repudiated when his coach, Stan Van Gundy, told the media that Howard had told management to fire him. (The moment got even better when Howard came out to the interview after said news, and put his arms around his coach and tried to make a joke. Not making that up. Seriously, it’s the most awkward thing ever. Van Gundy’s face is priceless. Look it up… I can wait).

This latest piece of news comes in a season to forget for Magic fans (not to mention that whole “losing-to-the-Wizards-who-are-not-quite-the-Bobcats-but-still” thing). Other tidbits along this road of misfortune for the Magic includes Howard’s desire to be traded, not be traded, traded, sign an extension, sign-and-trade, and finally waiving his right to opt out of his contract after this season. As a Lakers fan, I think he’s coming to us, but that’s another opinion for another day. Here is another situation where a superstar seems to be holding a franchise hostage, leveraging his apparent ability and skill against the team to get what he wants. But a deeper question exists – what do we want from him? Or any other immensely talented athlete, for that matter? I mean, he’s wrong… right? He’s wrong to do all these things. He’s immature. Childish. Spoiled.

Anybody remember “The Decision”? I do. Not because i watched it or anything; I was at a slow pitch softball game waiting with my teammates (and the other team, mind you) for the news to come via text. Lebron James – arguably the best player on the planet, in his prime, with two MVPs, a Finals appearance, multiple playoff appearances, and a brand that was worldwide – was a free agent and choosing a team in an hour-long special on ESPN. I mean, that’s a scene from a movie, right? Everybody had their opinion and the vitriol was widespread. In minutes, the lovable boy was the hated man. What a decision. He was immature. Childish. Spoiled.

But why? What would you do with all that talent, money, and media focus? Maybe that’s why we hated it so much; because it was not the “right” thing to do. It’s not what we would do in that situation. Because we know what we would do in that situation.

Both Howard and James were drafted as saviors for floundering franchises. They represented the dreams of organizations, fans, and a sports league looking to regain stature after the black mark of the “Malice in the Palace” (occurred after James was drafted), and from a controversy concerning corrupt officiating in the 2002 Western Conference Finals (insert Lakers-are-cheaters joke here). It also didn’t help that James grew up in Akron, Ohio and was drafted by the local Cleveland Cavaliers. He was The King. The Chosen One. The next Jordan. He was 18.

We grew to love their personalities. I love Lebron’s Nike commercials (funny how those went away when he joined the Heat). This Vitamin Water commercial with Dwight Howard is still one of my favorites (check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izyOKeySyXg). We loved watching them growing as players, working in the offseason, loving what they did, but most of all, winning. We love winners. They were like us, but much, much more wealthy. And much better at basketball. Somewhere that changed. They became immature. Childish. Spoiled.

Now, Lebron needs more moves. A two-time MVP, with two Finals appearances, eight all-star appearances, and a scoring title needs to add more to his offensive game (forget about that Olympic gold medal). By the way, his numbers for this season are as follows: 26.8 ppg, 8 rpg, and 6.4 apg ,with an efficiency rate that is through the roof while shooting over 50% from the field. But he needs to be more. He needs more rings. More championships. More moments of “clutchness”. Because that’s what we would do with all that talent. That’s what we would do with that team. At the age of 27.

Howard needs more moves too. He’s too big not to be dominant. The 3-time defensive player of the year with six all-star appearances needs to be better offensively. Be a better leader. Be better. Because of all that money, all that muscle, all those ridiculous dunks… he should be dominant.

They should both be like Kobe. A leader. A winner. Five rings. Finals MVP. Dominant. But we choose to forget when Kobe got Shaq traded. When he was a malcontent without Phil Jackson and a supporting cast. We forget because he’s a winner. He’s “clutch”. The Black Mamba.

In other sports, we see the dominance that James and Howard should have. How a Messi can dominate soccer as he has over the past few years. How Ronaldo has proven himself on the pitch, the fastest player to 100 goals in La Liga. Or in an individual sport, Usain Bolt. A runner who is widely considered “the fastest man alive”, a world record holder who “puts in the work.” Individuals with immense talent and affluence translating that into a quantifiable measure: winning. What do we want from athletes? Dominance.

Why do we want this? I really don’t know. And I’m talking about the best of the best. Not just your run-of-the-mill guys; the once-in-a-generation guys. The guys that are Hall of Famers the minute they’re drafted (as if we really know). Are we projecting our wishes on them? Probably. We want them to be the best at all times because they have to be. They’re too good not to be. But more than that, they have to be perfect. Contribute to the community. Humorous, yet driven. Passionate, yet passive. Because that’s what we would do in their situation. If we had that talent and money, we would have taken that shot and made this pass. We would have said this and not that. Because in some way, as a fan who somehow contributes to your wealth by buying your brand or watching your games, you have to accomplish the goals I would accomplish if I were you. Because winning is the only way to measure greatness. Because greatness is not enough.

Or is possible that we are missing something.

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