Open Letter to Dwight Howard & Chris Paul
The NBA is in turmoil because Dwight Howard and Chris Paul want to win a championship but that’s nothing new. It’s just an incontrovertible fact about professional sports: Except for professional cycling, players say that the ultimate goal of theirs is winning a team championship and that nearly everything else (i.e. pride of a job well done, a scoring title, civic pride, making it far in the playoffs, etc.) is secondary.
The striking thing is that they all share the same belief system and the keyword here is all. You’ll never see an athlete at a post-game interview saying “Yes, the team lost, but I’m pleased with how I did” or “Yes, we lost in the 3rd round of the playoffs, but hey, isn’t that so much better than losing in the 2nd round?” Aside from having the effect of making nearly all sports interviews boring, this is also a pretty good tip-off to the fact that all athletes deliver that same clichéd line about wanting to win a championship because it’s what their handlers want them to say.
Take LeBron James’ reasoning when he went to Miami: “I know that I’ll never be considered among the greatest whoever played the game unless I win an NBA championship.” Look closely here, kids: He didn’t say he wanted a championship but that he was just trying to fulfill people’s expectations of him as a “Great player.” When the Decision came out, people hated LeBron’s character for all kinds of reasons but LeBron doesn’t really have any character to criticize.
The stakes are too high for him to be anything other than what people want him to be. When it comes down to it, the only thing we can really hate LeBron for is simply misinterpreting the mandate of the people: Apparently, LeBron learned that the people rank being true to your hometown above winning a championship. But how could he tell? All we kept yelling in his ear for seven years was “Win a championship or you don’t measure up to our expectations.”
All NBA players including Dwight Howard and Chris Paul are basically of that mold. They generally got this far by being highly obedient to their coaches’ visions and highly driven to be champions. Free-thinking adults who deduced that winning could be defined on their own grounds would mostly be weeded out of the system (that certainly explains our fascination with Ron Artest).
As a result what we have are superstar athletes responsible for selling their image to the public, they are relying on us to define what it is they should be aiming for. So with that in mind let me address Dwight and Chris right here and now.