Vegas Summer League, 2009. I'm watching the Milwaukee Bucks play the Dallas Mavericks and I hear a heckler start to go in on Brandon Jennings. At first he starts out by saying the usual insults, but then it gets rougher. He starts making cracks about Jennings' decision to go overseas, not being able to get into school, yada, yada, yada.
I always cringe when hecklers get personal like that. I'm not good at that part of being a fan. Anyway, while the fan was jawing as Jennings was at the line shooting free throws, I looked into the stands and spotted Alice Knox, Jennings' mother. I wondered how she felt about listening to a random guy in a gym heckling—judging—her son and his choices.
Before I knew it, I was seated beside Knox and we talked about heckling, her family's time in Italy while Jennings played there, how it can be tough when you have to listen to people get your son all wrong, but know there's nothing you can do to help besides support them off the floor.
Andray Blatche has been getting booed this season. Not on the road, though. Blatche has been getting booed by the Washington Wizards fans. Things haven't gone so smoothly in Washington this year. There hasn't been a lot to smile over, save for a John Wall double-double or JaVale McGee blooper reel highlight (and even McGee is gone, having been moved to Denver).
Blatche hasn't exactly done himself any favors, either. He's been out of shape, benched because of conditioning, something that shouldn't ever happen for an athlete whose profession is his body, save for those rehabbing an injury or returning from an extended lay-off. Still, the boos sting.
They don't just sting for Blatche, either. Blatche's mother Angela spoke with The Washington Post about the season her son has had and how it has affected him. In the process, she reminded us that every NBA player is also someone's son, and whether that criticism is deserved or not, it can be hard to swallow.
When I get out of the car in the garage [at Verizon Center] and I come up the stairs, I feel like I’m walking through my house. I feel like I’m at home. And when I went out to the game and I sat in my seat, when Andray touched the ball and I heard the fans boo, I can’t even tell you what my insides felt like. I was so upset, because I know where my son’s heart is.
Despite the natural reaction of a mother hurting for her son, Blatche's mother is doing the best thing anyone can do for him; she's being real, honest and telling him the truth, even when it isn't what he wants to hear. In a time when so many young, talented athletes are put on pedestals and treated like superheroes rather than humans, the truth often gets lost in the shuffle to please the athlete and give him an ego boost.
“She said, ‘They’re booing you because they know the potential that you have, the type of player that you can be,’” Blatche said. “She feels like I’m not doing everything I can do to be that player and I need to work harder and stay more focused. She said it’s no one’s fault but my own. It hurt a little, but sometimes you need the truth.”
Blatche's mom is his biggest fan. She's also his most important fan, because she's giving him the tough love that he needs. Wizards fans should be happy that someone who has Blatche's ear is giving the 25-year-old a dose of reality. Yes, the boos hurt. Yep, they're harsh. They're also happening because of things that he can control.
Regardless of how old we get, what our job descriptions say, or how much money we are (or are not) raking in, our mothers always know best. Even when we don't want to hear it. Luckily for Blatche, he seems to be taking ownership for his disappointing year. With ownership and responsibility comes the awareness and opportunity to change. The ball is in Blatche's court now.