Bam Adebayo’s Mom

Is going to be okay. Because Bam is getting paid. From ESPN News Services.

“The Miami Heat and Bam Adebayo have agreed to a five-year max extension, Adebayo’s agent, Alex Saratsis, told ESPN’s Zach Lowe. The deal includes escalator clauses that can take its total to $195 million over five years.”

Let’s not forget, social mobility is extremely low in the (dis)United States these days. And if one wants to improve their lot in life, education is still a much safer bet than professional sports. Neither of those two facts mean we can’t celebrate Bam’s and his mother’s changed fortunes.

“Adebayo had told The Associated Press during the NBA’s restart earlier this summer at Walt Disney World that his lone financial goal was to take care of his mother, Marilyn Blount. She raised him by herself in North Carolina, making about $15,000 a year from her multiple jobs and with the family calling a single-wide trailer their home.

‘That competitive nature comes out when I feel like I’m playing bad and when things aren’t going right,’ Adebayo said in the September interview with the AP. ‘I think about how she fought through struggle. … You see that for 18 years straight, you take that load on and feel that responsibility. And my responsibility is to provide for my mom, and the best way to make sure I can do that is to help us win.'”

Consider her provided for.

LeBron James > Michael Jordan

We kid ourselves when we think we know public figures—whether actors, politicians, or professional athletes. Hell, our next-door neighbors seem like the nicest people possible, but I have no idea what goes on in the privacy of their home. All of us have inner lives and see into the mirror dimly. Despite this, we can make tentative judgements about pro athletes in the media spotlight based upon what they say and do outside of competition.

For the life of me, I do not understand the American sport fan who makes judgements about athletes based entirely on statistics and championship titles. Forget whether an athlete treats people well, obeys the law, inspires fans, and uses their fame and fortune to help others also succeed. Character is irrelevant. Championship rings trump social consciousness.

This is odd. In real life we gravitate towards specific co-workers, friends, and family based upon holistic judgments about their personal attributes—are they kind, generous, positive, self-effacing, humorous, caring? But in sports, job competence trumps everything. That’s why, to the American sports fan, LeBron James isn’t even close to as good as Jordan—two NBA championships versus six.

In the game of life, LJ has MJ beat already. By miles. Many sports analysts are not taking LJ’s letter on face value*. Their cynicism makes them suspicious of his motives for taking his talents to Northeast Ohio. I’m prone to cynicism, but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt—he likes living in NE Ohio, feels a sense of obligation to the people and place that cheered for him before he was famous, and wants to inspire Cleveland third graders to also defy the odds of what society expects from them**.

And Jordan? He quit basketball to “spend more time with his family.” Immediately afterwards he signed a contract to play minor league baseball in a different state. What does he stand for besides basketball excellence? Gambling. Hanes underwear. Unbridled ego. Tennis shoes. Cash money.

Granted, I was a third grader in Northeast Ohio, so I might be biased, but LJ’s letter was so beautifully written I might ask my writing students to analyze it this fall. Then, for extra credit, he stuck it to Ann Coulter by acknowledging the World Cup final was a much more important athletic competition than any NBA championship series.

Call me naive if you must, but I’m down with LJ. And it’s important to note he’s not the only basketball superstar whose excellence is even more evident off the court. In sports, as in life, we should make holistic judgments. Magic and Durant (zero titles) also have Jordan beat by miles. There are lots of others.

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* I find this economist’s perspective interesting.

** I suspect there’s one other reason, that I haven’t heard a single person mention, why LeBron chose Cleveland. His wife wanted to return home.

March Madness and the Miami Heat

“Heat Lose 5 in a Row” reads the ESPN link. The reason? Their starters’ positive point differential is less than their bench player’s negative point differential. Turns out two superstars, one good player, and a bunch of below average players is not an equation for dominating.

Contrast the 2011 Heat with the 2001 Seattle Mariners who went 116-46 based on the GM’s philosophy of being above average at every position.

What does this have to do with March Madness? Well, when you’re filling out your brackets you have to distinguish between 2011 Miami Heat teams and 2001 Seattle Mariners teams.

For example, Arizona—2011 Miami Heat. Belmont—2001 Seattle Mariners.

Heard a great radio interview this week with Rick Byrd, the Belmont coach who has won 500 games in 25 years at Belmont. Imminently likeable dude whose 2008 team, despite their 15 seed, had the lead and the ball against Duke with 45 seconds left. Eleven of his players play at least 10 minutes and none play more than 25. Another coach says, “You could argue their second team is as talented as their first team.”

Another excerpt from a longer tribute to the Belmont Bruins. “Belmont’s bench averaged 40 points per game, the highest average in the country.”

I’m not saying they’re Final Four-bound, but look for a Belmont upset, or two, or three. I’ll be rooting for them. Just hope they don’t leave my Miami Heatish UCLA Bruins in ruins.

[postscript—Pressing Pause is especially big in the “O” states. Duck and Buckeye boosters, really sorry to hear the NCAA has come knocking. I’m sure it’s much ado about nothing. Why can’t they just leave all your student-athletes alone? Hang in there. Penalties expire.]