Lifestyle vs. love for the game

Lifestyle vs. love for the game


Lifestyle vs. love for the game

Remember when you were little? For starters, you were smaller. Hopefully you were smaller. That would be whack if you haven’t grown since you were 10. I digress. You were smaller, but your dreams were bigger. Right?

I remember sitting at a restaurant table at age 6, entertaining all the adults at the table. I was showing off my doctor skills by displaying which portions of my stomach were full.

“And this last part here, yeah, that’s not gonna be full until after dessert.”

Cue laughter and applause. It’s easy when you’re 6.

That’s right, if I said I wanted to be a doctor, people were charmed. Kids don’t usually know what goes into being doctors, though, and when I got older and realized that I’d have to go to school until my hair fell out (Grey’s Anatomy is a lie), I gave up on that dream. Also, kids don’t consider that you actually have to deal with blood. The doctor dream was brushed aside.

There was also the lawyer dream. This was another one that made Mom happy. I guess you could say I’m from the OJ Simpson generation. I kind of grew up with that trial, so I watched every black person in L.A. (the same ones who burned L.A. to the ground a year or two earlier) rejoice when Johnny Cochran and his “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” line got OJ off the hook. Heck, the OJ trial verdict was only the second thing I remember watching with my entire, extended family (the first was Giants v. Bills in the Super Bowl – we all know who won that one).

“One day, I want to be like Johnny Cochran.”

Everybody was so proud of me.

“He’s soooo smart!”

Yeah, I know everybody. I’ll be here all week.

Turns out that lawyers spend hours upon hours studying for trials that consume months and months of their lives. Their hours can be ridiculous. They have to pass the BAR, and everybody treats them like the friend with the pickup truck on moving day. Another dream job that kids really know nothing about.

There was however, another dream. I had just watched Michael Jordan win his third title, then he pulled a fast one and gave it up to pursue a career in baseball. That was a guy with no boundaries. He had his own shoes, he own hot dogs (they plump when you cook ‘em!), his own underwear, and a movie that was sure to make him the first person to ever dunk on an alien! My buddy had the Upper Deck basketball card of him in a White Sox Jersey that I wanted so bad that I would have stolen it if he had left it unattended.

I came home from school one day and somberly told my mom that my fifth grade teacher wanted to have a parent-teacher conference.

He’s gonna tell her about all the junk in my desk, for sure. And my homework, he’s definitely gonna nail me on that.

When my mom came home from the conference she was furious. I knew I was about to be grounded.

“He said that you’re doing really well in P.E. and that you should play more sports!”

This one didn’t make mom happy, but the dream was born.

“I’m gonna be an NBA player just like Michael Jordan.”

Now this was the dream that made sense. I would play basketball all day, then be rich and famous and do whatever I wanted the rest of the time. People would want to be like me and all the girls would want to be with me. I’m pretty sure that’s how every kid saw it. Even at age 12, I was in love with the lifestyle more than I was with the game. I didn’t really know what it took to be a good basketball player, but I knew that the rewards far exceeded those of the more conservative dreams.

Fast-forward 14 years and an incalculable amount of days.

Last night I was doing my usual TweetDeck twitter updates when @hoopshype posed a question:

What percentage of NBA players do you think like the lifestyle more than the game itself?

My kneejerk response was 90 percent. I tweeted it. Boom.

Then I sat back and thought about it further. I spent probably 10 minutes on it, which is about 9 minutes and 45 seconds longer than someone should spend thinking about a tweet, but the question was a little deeper than I originally thought.

What percentage of NBA players do you think like the lifestyle more than the game itself?

I decided that 90 percent is probably still correct, if not more. That’s because the NBA game is a lifestyle. There are only a few players who can separate the two, or even want to for that matter.

Basketball at its root is fundamentally different from every other sport. Pete Newell used to tell me, “It’s the only sport that you can train for by yourself. No one needs to pitch you a ball, or swing a bat, or quarterback your touchdown.”

It’s true, and because of that, basketball breeds a certain individualism and personal flair. Guys develop their game based on their own personality. Kids recognize the NBA players not just for “loving the game,” but for these indicators of their personal style.

When I was younger, I wanted to be an NBA player so that I could do the same thing. I wanted my own shoe that was based on my signature fade-away, that just happened to be the title of a movie I starred in next to Tom Hanks. We would get lost on an Island, with Spaulding, perfect. “Fade-Away.” Perfect. I never thought about going to practice at 6 am, about leading a team by example, about sacrificing personal gain for the glory of the game. Why should I have had to?

As an adult, I realize that there are even more perks than I ever thought possible when I was a kid. As an NBA player, your name is like its own currency. You don’t have to spend $2,000 to get bottle service in Las Vegas. You’re LeBron James. Guess what? Your name is on the flier. Even Mark Zuckerberg needs an invite to your table. Not only are you the hottest thing out, you earned it.

My senior year of high school, upon signing to play at Cal, one of my friends who knew how whack I was in high school, socially, said, “Rod, you’re going to get so much ass next year.”

Why would he say that and not something about how my dedication to the game is going to take me far? It’s because, generally speaking, people reference the perks of a job before they mention the job. The NBA is no different. NBA players are paid a salary, sure, but the social payment is much higher.

My friends now ask if they have what it takes to play ball overseas (they don’t), but they don’t ask because they love the game. They ask because they love my perceived lifestyle: tweeting all day, practicing for a little bit, then returning to the U.S. in the summer and blowing the money made all season. Even the guys I’ve played with overseas and in the D-League commonly say, “Man, I can’t do that 9 to 5.” Right? F that.

So, upon thinking about it further, I think the question was fundamentally the wrong question. Like “iRobot”, you gotta ask the right question to get the answer that you want.

What percentage of NBA players can separate the game from the lifestyle?

The question doesn’t ask which guys never embrace the NBA lifestyle, but instead asks which ones can separate the two. I think the fans would always say it’s a guy playing during a contract year. Nothing motivates people like the immediate threat of having it all taken away. I also think it’s those guys who win championships consistently. They know when to turn it off and turn it on. I truly believe that Kobe Bryant could go a month without food, water, or an iPad if it meant another championship. Kevin Garnett would give up trash talking for an hour if it meant two more rings. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!

Still, when the new GQ comes out and Kobe is dressed up like an Amish Eskimo, the fans, the kids, and the players will all be reminded of the other side of the game. They’ll all strive to be good enough to one day have their own GQ cover.

Of course, nothing is absolute, but if there are other hoopers out there like me, I’m pretty sure they love the lifestyle too. I’ve been envisioning this life since I was 12 years old: the travel, the money, the parties with people who other people consider to be important. It all comes with the territory. While I work on getting MVP of the Korean League (maybe?) this winter, it’s so that I can resuscitate the party this summer. Why not? I will have earned it.

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