L’eggo My Ego!

That pun will be lost on the youth.

Recently, while training indoors for next summer’s Tour de France, the DVR offered slim pickings, so I ended up watching an ESPN documentary about the mid-90s Orlando Magic. As the story goes, one year the Magic got to the NBA finals thanks to the play of two young superstars, Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. Then they got swept by the Houston Rockets in the Finals. The next year they got swept by the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Then Shaq left for Los Angeles largely because he couldn’t stand sharing the spotlight with his increasingly popular running mate. Twenty years older Shaq admits “it was ego” that got in the way of him staying, and realizing, the Magic’s obvious potential for championships.

Then after a couple of championships in LA, he left largely because he couldn’t stand sharing the spotlight with his equally, if not more popular, superstar teammate. Recently, he’s expressed regret that his “ego” got in the way then too. At the end of the film he says if he could do it all over again, he never would’ve left Orlando. He’s also expressed regret for leaving the Lakers when a few more rings were clearly within reach.

In the end, Shaq won half as many championships as he could’ve because he chose to be “the undisputed man” on lesser teams.

Daily it seems, I see examples of the downside of ego, both the more common male version, and the less familiar, female. Granted, more subtle and nuanced examples than the Big Aristotle’s, but still consequential. The challenge is for leaders to combine self confidence with a Buddhist-like selflessness. Whether star athletes, coaches, teachers, principals, pastors, politicians, or businesspeople. Leaders who don’t need credit for what their team’s accomplish. Leaders who let their legacies take care of itself.

Why did Shaq Daddy so desperately need the brightest spotlight? Why couldn’t he share the credit for his team’s success?

Why do we? Why can’t we?

imgres.jpg

Postscript. This just in. Adrian Wojnarowski on George Karl’s new book, Furious George. “Truth be told, Karl was everything he said he disdained about all his players, he was all about the next contract, all about the attention, and always about himself over the team.”

 

On Sports Promiscuity

Like Cassius Clay, I grew up in Louisville, KY. At five, six, seven years old, I fell asleep listening to Louie Dampier and Dan Issel of the ABA Kentucky Colonels kicking ass.

Then a move to Talmadge, OH, close to LeBron’s hometown of Akron. My game was similar to his so NE Ohioans took to calling me LeRon. In fourth, fifth grade I fell asleep listening to the tail end of Lenny Wilkens’ NBA career with the Cavs.

Then SoCal where I patterned my game after Magic Johnson* and in 1986 bought a scalped ticket to the sixth game of the NBA finals in which my Los Angeles Lakers finally beat the dreaded Celtics.

Conventional wisdom is stick with your home team, but conventional wisdom is wrong. Like gender and race, “home” is a fluid concept. We move, life changes, the only reason to stick with your childhood teams is nostalgia.

If you think the Cav’s amazing come from behind, not NBA orchestrated, championship unleashed millions of lifelong long-suffering fans, wait until the Cubbies playoff run this fall. Nearly everyone you know will claim to be a long-suffering Cubs fan and we’ll be subjected to endless profiles of truly ancient people who’ve been waiting since pre-history for the Cubs to win it all.

Apart from LeBron, none of the Cavs are from NE Ohio. Odds are few or none of the players on your favorite, hometown team that you’ve always been loyal to are from the hometown.

Felony arrest records are another reason why fan promiscuity makes way more sense than unconditional love and loyalty. After Kobe’s infamous visit to Colorado, I began losing that loving feeling for the Lakers.

Then my Sonics were sold by that Starbucks son of a bitch, the ultimate wake up call. If teams can disappear based upon the vagaries of capitalism, you’d be pretty stupid to pledge blind fidelity to any one of them.

Despite my NE Ohio street cred, I dug the Warrior vibe the last few years. I was finding the bandwagon pretty damn comfortable. Love the long ball, the team chemistry, the high tech ownership, Curry’s daughter. So when the college senior watched the game with me for Father’s Day, and asked who I wanted to win, I told her, “Really, I don’t know, I’ll be happy for either team.”

Forty plus years later, after watching the upset and emotional outpouring, I’m definitely a Cavs fan tonight. By October, that may very well change.

 

imgres.jpg

* One LA evening, the Gal Pal and I were standing in line at a Century City movie theatre when Magic got in line behind us. “Oh man, Magic Johnson sighting!” I said. Looking around hopelessly, “Where?!” “Ah, the only 6’9″ brother.”

The Art of Leadership

Watching the Golden State Warriors getting thumped by the New Orleans Pelicans. Game three of their first round NBA playoff series. End of the third, they’re down 20. First year coach Steve Kerr calls a time out. The network has a microphone in the huddle, so we get a master lesson in the art of leadership:

“Who lead the league in assists this year? We did. Who lead the league in scoring this year? We did. I don’t recognize the team playing out there. We have to move the ball and find the open man. Let’s go.”

Kerr’s calmness magnified the impact of his words. You’re mother was right, often it’s not what you say, but how you say it. It was the first time his team was getting schooled in the playoffs and he took the long view, knowing this was the earliest stages of a 16 step process. He had to save stronger emotion for the later, more consequential stages. Also, his calm communicated complete confidence that they could come back, which amazingly, they ultimately did.

The first four sentences are a positive reminder that they’re the best team in basketball.  “I don’t recognize the team playing out there,” is Kerr lowering the boom gracefully, subtly, and as effectively as possible. In other words, “That’s not the best team in basketball I’m accustomed to seeing.” Then finally, an ever so simple, two-part command, “Move the ball, find the open man.”

Effective leaders don’t overreact, they’re always bolstering the confidence of those they lead, and they communicate clearly. Just like the Warrior’s rookie coach.

Sports Report with a Touch of Mad Men

• Yes, I wrongly predicted a Wisconsin victory a few weeks back. Duke is the most Republican and Conservative of the ACC schools. Which may mean the political pendulum has swung which bodes poorly for HClinton.

• Last week my eldest daughter, in a temporary lapse of sanity, said she could “cream” me in the 500 freestyle. Both of us are traveling to Pensacola FL shortly, where competition pools are aplenty. Her personal record is 5:59, mine 6:18, but right now I’d be lucky to go 7 flat. However, since she puts the “dent” in sedentary these days, I like my chances. I’ve been out of the water for almost three weeks due to an overly ambitious surgeon, so I think I deserve a 50 yard head start. Only fair, right? Am I Wisconsin or Duke in this tilt?

• The two best teams in basketball are both in the Western Conference—the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs. Last night, instead of turning on the television, I sporadically checked the Clippers-Spurs boxscore. Am I the only one who does this, relies on internet updates because the t.v., at 15 feet away, is too far? It was Clips 30-Spurs 18 at the end of 1. (I’m going to go out on a limb and guess a few of the Clippers use marijuana on occasion, making Clips a most excellent nickname.) Then suddenly it was Spurs 37-Clips 35. Here’s the remarkable thing. The leading scorer for the Clippers had 11, but one Spur had 6, three had 5, and ELEVEN had scored. 12 assists to 8. For most teams, eleven guys don’t score all night. Pop and Kerr have the most diversified portfolios. The Spurs and Warriors move the ball better than any other team. And they keep their egos in check better than everyone else. Could be a great conference final. 12 on 12. I’m rooting for NoCal.

• Jordan Spieth won the Masters on Thursday, thereby challenging my entire competitive philosophy which is based on finishing stronger than your competitors. Turns out you don’t have to finish stronger than your competitors if you create enough separation in the early miles, rounds, innings, quarters.

• My US Open Golf tourney orientation is scheduled for a month from now when I’ll be kicking my daughters ass in a Pensacola FL pool. I’m on the Disability Access Volunteer Committee meaning I’ll be driving differently abled patrons out to designated places on the course in a golf cart. Turns out I can pick up my credentials after returning from the Peninsula. I still need to devise a plan to make it onto television. Thinking about a John 3:16 multicolored afro or an “accidental” cart accident where I somehow end up in the Sound. Or a combo. Let me know if you have a better idea. (Dear Disability Access Committee Chair, just kidding.)

• Saturday’s For the Heck of It impromptu half marathon, 1:42 which included a few walking breaks. There are two types of runners, Travis, DByrnes, and everyone besides me who religiously stop their watches whenever they stop, and me who programs it to pause after stopping for a few seconds, and doesn’t bother with it until finishing. Let’s call it 1:40 net. Kept a little in reserve meaning I’m in 1:36-37 shape.

• All eyes on Boston today and the 119th running of the marathon. Beautiful tradition. Props to the enlightened people of Mass for their resiliency and refusal to execute people.

• Mariners down 10-5, win 11-10. This isn’t your mother’s Mariners. If NCruz stays en fuego, there’s going to be a lot of little Nelsons running around the PNW.

• Mad Men. Megan’s sideways over the dissolution of the marriage. Don wants to make it right so he cooly writes her a check. For $1m. Remember it’s 1970. The vast majority of his net worth. Great scene that begs a question, has there ever been a less materialistic dude on television? He’s Ghandi if Ghandi was a Madison Avenue Ad man.

Stream of Semi-consciousness

• Skin cancer surgery last week. Fun stuff. It had been 2.5 years so I was overdo. The surgeon said I can’t swim for three weeks. I’ll give the scars two. I need a new doc, one who cares about my swim fitness.

• Olympia’s Spring Break meaning the running posse and wife have scattered to Oregon, California, and Mexico. Leaving the Labradude and me.

• Hope he likes the Masters.

• Why is the NBA obsessing about this year’s Most Valuable Player when basketball is a team sport?

• Today’s 38 mile solo training ride, 5 on, 5 off, Boston Harbor, Fishtrap, Lilly, Farmers Market, Cap Lake. 18.2mph w/ 1,400′ of el. I need more miles and more el.

• Why couldn’t baseball wait until the day after Easter to start the season?

• Why did Stacy Lewis hit such a poor chip on the 75th hole of the [Corporate Name Deleted] Major Championship? The world’s #2 player HAS to get that up and down 95% of the time.

• Take my daughter to work day. That’s the only way she can get a lift to the airport for her return flight to her college. Look for her in the PLU library. A young TSwift.

• I’m looking forward to listening to the NCAA championship game in the car to and from the airport. The more experienced Badgers wlll cut down the nets.

• Special Easter Dinner for the college sophomore, mac-n-cheese with ham in it. Peas on the side.

• To bad she won’t be on campus next Monday to heckle me when I give a lecture to students who’ve been admitted titled, “The High School to College Transition”.

• Is it hypocritical of me to a give a lecture when I don’t like lectures? The answer to that is probably. Depends how much time I use to lecture and how much for questions.

• Still missing moms.

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.

imgres

 

 

 

 

 

 

* 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.

Why the Donald Sterling Fiasco Won’t Initiate a Dialogue on Race

The headline read, “Hall of Famers expect league to support Sam”. Of course the league will support Michael Sam, the all All-American defense lineman at Missouri who is the first openly gay active player in the history of the NFL.

But not because NFL locker rooms are especially progressive places. Some players are sensitive to people’s differing sexual orientations, others are decidedly not. As the Donald Sterling illustrates, social media will silence the Decidedly Nots. Sterling went from owner of the Los Angeles Clippers to a pariah in 72 hours. Similarly, any player caught communicating homophobic things about Sam will immediately feel the full weight of instantaneous social media. And any hope for commercial endorsements will be dashed.

One thread of the Sterling coverage has been “If anything positive comes of this, we need to initiate a discussion on race”. There’s little chance of that because social media tends to create a mob mentality with everyone racing to tar and feather the offending homophobe or racist. That creates a chilling effect on what would help initiate a discussion on race—each of us reflecting honestly on how we pre-judge people different than us. Instead of introspection, we pile on the offending person like an unthinking football player ignoring the official’s whistle.

Unlike social media, education depends upon dialogue and dialogue requires that people trust their point of view will be respectfully listened to. The key is to distinguish between racist or homophobic thoughts, words, and actions. Excellent teachers learn to work sensitively with homophobic thoughts and words, but when it comes to hateful actions, of course people should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Excellent teachers learn to work with racist or homophobic thoughts and words by exploring their underlying root causes by asking students questions such as “Why do you believe that?” They know that seeing the world from other people’s points of view does not come naturally. They expand students’ worldviews by introducing them to unfamiliar people and places through literature, the arts, and sometimes travel. And by teaching students to substitute curiosity for negative preconceived notions, so that they too learn to ask others, “Why do you believe what you do?”