Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Why must professional athletes be such bad sports?

I saw Tracy McGrady lose the series to Utah the other night and I felt he was a better sport than most but he was awfully down on himself. I think that many professional sports teams have such unrealistic expectations of themselves and the culture that's created by it sets a bad example.

I'm sure that many people admire the attitude of pretty much every NBA player I've seen interviewed who will say that all the individual accolades don't compare to a championship ring. They say they're career is measured by championships won and that sounds like the most politically correct thing to say in the world, and you can't really knock them for saying that, but let's be honest.....I'm sure many people would rather have Kevin Garnett, Reggie Miller, John Stockton, or Karl Malone's career (although those people made the finals) than Beno Udrih, Tyronne Lue or Mark Madsen. So a championship isn't all that matters.

What's more, you can't judge an individual athletes' merits on a championship because as much as we might like to romanticize the notion of the player carrying his team to a championship, it doesn't really exist. There have been pretty much no championships that have been won by a single star. A championship is won by putting the right pieces together. Jordan had Pippen, Duncan has had Robinson, Ginobli and Parker at various points, and people are neglecting the fact that with the additions of Larry Hughes and Donyell Marshall, Cleveland has one of the deepest benches in the league with Marshall, Snow, Damon Jones, Daniel Gibson and Anderson Varejo. If we'd like to knock ourselves back into reality and away from the romantic notions of the sport, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Ben Wallace, Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, Jason Kidd and Jermaine O'Neal are merely seperated as players by having front offices who were able to give them the right support at the right time and not by whether they've won a championship or led their team to the finals.

I understand the importance of a positive attitude and the need to shoot for the stars but you've got 30 teams and I don't like this attitude of 29 teams being losers. That's the professional athlete way of thinking, which in a way I can't complain about in the sense that at least they care about the game. If one charge about NBA players is that they're apathetic and only compare about the money so they can afford expensive jewelery and clubbing, than it's better that they're fixated on winning to the point where the press conferences show them getting depressed and feeling like failures if they don't.

In basketball, teams don't always win but you can appreciate what you've done right. Houston for instance, has made the playoffs for 3 of the last 4 years: that's something. They took it to 7 games, that's something else. That's better than sitting at home watching the play-offs. There was no sense in that locker room after the game or by the sports media of "well, the outcome was decided over a series of 7 games and it really could have gone either way." I used to be a cross-country and track runner for my high school team, and that's what a friend of mine once said to comfort me after he beat me in one race by a small margin and it gave me a great sense of perspective. I think the lesson Houston should have taken from their loss, was take it a sign that the team's doing well and move on and I think that's really the best lesson you can preach as a role model. Instead, the Houston organization fires the coach and will probably trade half the team away.

I have a belief and it's one that I'm often surprised isn't so universal as ethical values go. This belief is that I don't think people should be fired without due cause and I even feel this way about NBA Basketball Coaches even if they get paid millions of dollars. Even if Jeff Van Gundy was rehired by the Magic and he enjoys it there, I don't believe everything's ok. He should have had the chance to leave on his own terms.

Also, why did the Pacers just fire Rick Carlisle? The Pacers had an off-year: big deal. The Suns had an off-year in 2004 after making the playoffs in 2003. The year after that they won the West and made the conference finals with returning players as three of the four big pieces (I'm referring to Johnson, Marion, Stoudamire).

Why do GMs respond so melodramatically to one off-year and fire coaches who have proven to do more good than bad* to the team Aside from building up the Detroit team that won a championship, Carlisle led the Pacers to the playoffs in two of three seasons, and the 2004-2005 season and its first round upset in the playoffs was especially hard to pull off considering the infamous Ron Artest-Ben Wallace brawl in Auburn Hills. It's rediculous to think it was even Rick Carlisle's fault they didn't make the playoffs. I don't have exact numbers on me but it has been fairly apparent that when a team makes a big roster adjustment, it will usually take a significant amount of time for chemistry to be developed.

I think that when managers fire managers for what appears to be no legitimate reason, this sends an incredibly bad message to kids and all other athletes: "Either win, win, win or you're not good enough for the team." Trigger happy GMs and the mindset that victories are meaningless unless you win the big prize in the end is contributing to a culture of winning and losing that's becoming increasingly out of hand.

*i.e. Byron Scott in N.J. mid-season after leading his team to the finals twice, George Karl in Milwaulkee for one bad season, Paul Silas in Cleveland for one 12-game losing stretch with Cleveland, Flip Saunders

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