I don’t have to go into the historic and societal depths of why, when it comes to the NBA Draft, NBA free agency or college basketball recruiting — or any other time high-profile, talented Black men are making high-profile decisions — us f*cking people in the news media suddenly turn into everybody’s parents. He needs to stay in school … He needs to go to school … He needs to shut up and accept whoever drafts him … He should sign with them … He shouldn’t sign with them … He should’ve taken less money and gone for a ring … He needs to hurry up and pick a college … If he’s smart, he’ll go to that college …
You know how it goes. And it’s not just The Media. I’ve always fought against the myth that The Media is some covert-ops group of 15 people holding secret meetings to decide how the world will be covered — I try to remind those I know that The Media is made up of real people. If anything, we’re just a reflection of the society we cover. That’s why The Media wants to be every athlete’s advisor, because that’s how our society works; we all think we know what’s best for everybody.
Yesterday, after Ron Artest agreed to sign with the Lakers and Trevor Ariza subsequently went to the Rockets, a wave of criticism came crashing on Ariza out of nowhere. Yahoo!Sports‘ Adrian Wojnarownski best reflected the tone of that criticism in a column where he went at Ariza and agent David Lee:
No, this wasn’t about the money, nor [Lee’s] client’s needs. This was a failed power play, an embarrassment of the highest order. Looking back, Ariza will rue the day. He’s a good player, but he’ll never be a star elsewhere. He’ll just be another player on another team.
“He was way too emotional about this,” said a league executive who had talked to Lee in recent days.
Yet, you can be a star without being a star with the Lakers. When L.A. is winning championships, the role players become commodities. They get endorsements. They get television careers. Ask Rick Fox. Or Derek Fisher. Ariza was an L.A. kid living a dream, 24 years old, a gifted, young talent on the defending champion, and his agent’s bluff backfired.
Notice how the 24-year-old now becomes a “kid.” Notice how we’re using corny movie-villain lines like “rue the day.” (It’s more effective if you say it with an eye patch and a hook on your left hand.)
Is it really that serious? Ariza didn’t sign away his NBA career yesterday. He’s going to start for the Rockets, where he’ll be a key contributor for a team that will regularly be in the playoff mix. (If not this year, then next year, when they’ve got a full season with whoever they trade T-Mac‘s contract for at the 2010 deadline, and after they’ve signed Chris Bosh.)
Because these sports contract disputes involve millions of dollars, it’s easy for the rest of us to take the, “Take whatever they’re offering and shut up” mindset. But you have to take the money out of it and bring it down to a human scale. In a way, Ariza’s agent is right. It is about respect. Whether you make $2.3 million or $23,000 at your job, if you played a big role in your team/company reaching a peak, you want to be rewarded. You want to make more than those you feel you’re better than. You want respect.
Besides, Trevor Ariza made himself $33 million yesterday; I don’t know anybody who considers that a bad day at the office.