What Have We Learned?

  1. A sentence I never thought I’d write. The Phoenix Suns are seven wins away from winning the NBA Championship.
  2. In the US Open, the 36 and 54 hole leaders are meaningless.
  3. Louis Oostuhizen is as down-to-earth and classy as they come.
  4. The Seattle Mariners own the Tampa Bay Rays.
  5. Minor sports have feelings too. US Track and Field and US Swimming deserve more and better coverage.  Imagine swimming 1500 meters in 14:46. “Okay, we’re gonna do 15 100’s on the 59.” LOL.
  6. I did not qualify for the Olympics, but the next trials are only three years away.

Mo’ Money, Less Effort

People who think money is the only true motivator in the workplace have a lot of explaining to do when it comes to professional basketball player Blake Griffin.

Until yesterday, Griffin, 31, played for the Detroit Pistons on a 2 year/$75,553,024 contract for an annual average salary of $37,776,512.

What did the lowly Pistons get for that? 12 points and 5 rebounds a game. Griffin’s anemic productivity is partly the result of a previous injury that cost him some athleticism, but mostly, NBA analysts say, because he wasn’t motivated given the Pistons’ futility.

Imagine being the Pistons owner and having to deal with the fact that $37,776,512 wasn’t enough for Griffin to play hard. All the king’s ransom bought was consistent mediocrity.

No wonder the Pistons let him go to the Eastern Conference leading Brooklyn Nets. Now apparently, he’s motivated, and is going to try to be some sort of facsimile of his former All-Star self.

Sometimes, Often, when it comes to exorbitant compensation in professional sports and other fields, there’s a definite point of diminishing returns.

Are You Not Jazzed?

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The hottest basketball team in the world is quietly positioning themselves for the #1 seed in the Western Conference. Of course, whether winning or losing, by default, a Salt Lake City-based team is quiet.

Dig this box score from last night’s 132-100 victory over the 18-12 Portland Trailblazers. The starters scored 67, the bench 65. They made over half of the 55 3’s they took. Super impressive, but one blemish, the starters turned it over too much.

How do the flashy teams everyone always talks about beat the Jazz in a seven game series given their bench and three-point shooting?

Postscript: Upon further review, imagine being Georges Niang. Pre-game, coach says, “I’m only gonna play you 16 minutes tonight.” “Okay then,” you think to yourself, “I’m going to jack it up from everywhere and get us 21 points.”

The Main Challenge For the Brooklyn Nets’ New Big Three

Jesse Washington says its character.

“In all fairness, there’s more to Harden’s and Irving’s character than basketball. Irving is a generous and passionate advocate for social justice. Harden helped buy food for 5,000 Houston families during the pandemic. But when it comes to their profession, they seem entitled. Which makes it hard for any partnership to work.”

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.

Paragraph To Ponder

“After the Lakers’ disappointing flame-out last season, general manager Rob Pelinka was under pressure to assemble a roster after holding out for, then missing on, Kawhi Leonard. He didn’t bring in a third star, but it’s worth noting that Alex Caruso, Rajon Rondo, Markieff Morris and Dwight Howard (!) made up just 7 percent of the team’s salary cap, while ultimately contributing far more than that to the Lakers’ championship run.”

From “LeBron And AD Are The Heroes. But The Sum Of This Lakers Club Was More Than Its Superstar Parts”.

And The Winner Is

In the (dis)United States, politics has become an intense, zero-sum competition. No one is ever changing their mind again. Neighbors signal their team affiliation with signage like TikTok’s Tony and Ezekiel.

We’ve become way too competitive for our own good, and yet, to differing degrees, we’re wired for competition. So what are we to do?

There are lots of different non-political ways to get our competition fix. We should turn our attention to them.

Professional soccer is alive and kicking. As is professional basketball and golf. Maybe we should argue about the Lakers and Clippers chances of winning it all. Or Milwaukee’s? Or be like the young dude on Harrison who when he saw Blanca and me ride up to him Tuesday morn, dug down and rode especially hard to make sure we knew he was faster. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. That’s the spirit.

Psychologists refer to it as displacement.

Or compete with those closest to you. Who does more of the household work or runs more of the errands or listens better? That always ends well. Or see if you can choose the fastest check-out line at the grocery store like me. Or be the driver who gets the most miles per gallon for your model of car like me. Or see who can save the most money in a month by not eating out and other self-imposed austerity measures. Or see who can collect the most masks. Or see who knows the most people at the farmer’s market.

If we just turn off the cable news and unplug from our devices, the possibilities are endless.

I’ll start. No more politics for me. For at least a few hours.

 

 

 

The GOAT, But At What Cost?

The Last Dance, the ten episode Michael Jordan/Chicago Bulls documentary, was a  welcomed oasis in the live sports desert some of us are wandering aimlessly in.

But even at eightish hours, it felt woefully incomplete in that it ignored the the costs of ultimate professional success on personal well-being.

The doc’s one overarching insight was that Jordan’s work ethic, drive, and competitiveness were unparalleled; as a result, none of his teammates ever measured up. And so he beat them down, to the point that they had no affection for him.

Here’s Noam Scheiber describing the dynamic in The New York Times:

“As Jordan himself said of his teammates in ‘The Last Dance,’: ‘I’m going to ridicule you until you get on the same level as me. And if you don’t get on the same level, then it’s going to be hell for you.’

More than 15 years after Jordan retired from professional basketball — for the third time — the mix of power and grace he displayed on the court remains a breathless thrill. But his leadership style, such as it was, feels outdated.

In the intervening years, a chorus of experts has warned employers, investors and board members against tolerating such cruel or demeaning behavior. Academics and government officials have used terms like ‘toxic worker’ or ‘superstar harasser’ in preaching vigilance against flawed if seemingly talented performers.

‘Every organization needs the ‘no-asshole rule’ because meanspirited people do massive damage to victims, bystanders who suffer the ripple effects, organizational performance, and themselves,’ Robert Sutton, a Stanford University management professor, wrote in a 2007 best seller named for that rule.

Watching the Michael Jordan depicted in ‘The Last Dance’ presents a paradox of sorts: The Bulls dominate the league. Yet Jordan is frequently meanspirited. He appears to make light of one teammate’s migraine and uses words like ‘dumbass,’ or more foul-mouthed epithets, to refer to others. He doles out postgame abuse as easily as high fives, complaining, ‘You couldn’t make a damn jump shot all night long.’ He seems to delight in embarrassing a teammate on camera.

One struggles to know whom to believe: the experts or your lying eyes.

According to the studies Mr. Sutton cites in his book, the problems with toxic workers range from the obvious to the subtle. Their belligerence creates costly distractions. Their treatment of co-workers increases turnover and absenteeism. When the demoralized colleagues do show up, they perform apathetically.”

Hey Scheiber, it’s very easy to decide who to believe, IF the question is professional success. Jordan took one of the worst franchises in the league and almost single-handedly turned it into a historic dynasty with six NBA championships. The ends justify the means. Professionally.

But personal success is an altogether different question, and I contend at least as important a one. The little bit of light the doc shined on Jordan’s personal life was telling. In particular, he didn’t have meaningful relationships with his teammates. They seemed largely a means to an end, championship rings, a historic legacy. Steve Kerr, who attributed it to his unrivaled fame, said Jordan lived separately from his teammates, but Kerr also acknowledged there was an “emotional” distance. The picture of Jordan sitting alone of the bus with headphones on spoke volumes.

The question that went unexamined is whether Jordan was too competitive for his own good OFF the court. Interpersonal success hinges on one’s ability to cooperate with others. Can someone as hyper-competitive as Jordan, who at one point admitted to “having a competition problem” throw a switch when the stadium lights go off?

We never hear from his first wife. Or his adult children in any meaningful way.

But we do hear from his teammates and competitors. Yesterday I listened to a podcast interview with Wright Thompson who has a piece out about Jordan’s family history. Talking about Jordan’s relationship with some of his security guards and staff, Thompson said he is intensely loyal, once you’re in his circle of friendship, you’re in it for life.

Tell that to Charles Barkley, who after criticizing Jordan for making some poor decisions as owner of the Charlotte Hornets, was deemed persona non grata.* Formerly friends, they haven’t spoken since and Barkley doesn’t expect to reconcile with Jordan.

Fast forward from the bus. The enduring image of present day MJ is sitting alone in his mansion with his drink and cigar in hand. He’s considered by most the greatest basketball player of all time.** The GOAT. His net worth is $2b. And yet, it’s unclear how rich he is when it comes to meaningful friendships.

Through the imperfect, incomplete lens of the doc, Jordan doesn’t appear to have any regrets, and of course, every one gets to decide for themselves how to balance their work and non-work lives. And maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he’s living large not just professionally, but personally. Maybe he’s surrounded by people who know him well and who love him unconditionally and who he knows and loves back.

In which case, nevermind.

*Barkley wasn’t exactly making news.

** The increasingly tiresome GOAT debate is whether LeBron is Jordan’s equal. Three-point hysteria aside, I might start my team with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.