I'll tell you one thing, though, I watch the NBA, and while this might be the most exciting season in a long time, it sure isn't because of the love of the game.
Money, cars, jewelry, status, houses, getting out of the ghetto, proving all the doubters wrong, to be a millionaire, to get a shoe deal, to buy your mother a house, to be better than your father, your brother, your sister or to be a celebrity: All pretty good reasons to become a professional basketball player.
Also all are pretty soulless; all make for an empty existence.
Most kids say it growing up: “I'm gonna play in the NBA. I'm gonna hit the game-winning shot. I'm gonna have my own shoes and I'm gonna have fans that come to my games wearing my jersey cheering for me from the stands. Yeah. That's gonna be me.”
How many of us, though, go along quietly just playing the game for the love? How many play because it doesn't matter if they get a diamond encrusted necklace or a new Ferrari? How many play, just because playing ball is their everything?
All of us...when we're kids, when we pick up the ball for the first time and hear the sweetest sound in the world. The sound of the ball falling through the rim untouched and passing through the net to create the sound we all know as a “swish.”
Do you remember it? The first time you picked up a ball? How many NBA players still remember it?
Do they even remember the feeling of slowly bringing the ball up from the hip while keeping their eyes fixed on the basket. Their hands. The Ball. One hand on the side, the other in the back ready to set the ball free in the air to the only place you can imagine it going...through that orange rim.
I don't think they do. I don't think they remember their first shot, their first win or the first time they fell asleep holding their ball. It's more likely that they remember when they signed their first contract to play in the NBA. This is what pains me.
Maybe I'm spoiled because I grew up in a time when there were no seven-year, $120 million contracts. There was, as Pat Riley says, winning or misery. How many of these millionaire NBA players really truly feel bad when they lose?
How many of them really value winning? How many of them can truly, in their heart, value a win or feel misery at a loss when they're a millionaire either way? Money has made it a soulless sport.
Players play to get great stats so they can get a better deal, a bigger contract, a more lucrative endorsement or even to go play for another team.
Another team? Really? Where's the loyalty? Where's the loyalty to the team that drafted you, nurtured you, taught you, supported you, applauded your successes and was there for you in your failures?
I'll tell you where it is. It's gone!
Some look at Joakim Noah getting a reported $60 million for five years and say he's not worth it. He's not an “elite player.”
To them I say two things.
When doctors, nurses and teachers make less than a professional athlete, in any sport, there's something wrong. And you can't put a price on heart and soul. I watch that kid play ball and he makes me feel something that I don't feel often enough when watching the NBA, I feel inspired.
Sure, you can make advertising campaigns around the passion and emotion of the game, but at the end of the day, where are the players that actually care about the game and not the rewards that come with it.
Boston fans will point to Kevin Garnett. LA fans will point to Ron Artest. San Antonio fans will point to Tim Duncan. They're all good examples of players that play with heart, however, there is only one guy that night after night makes me proud to love basketball and especially proud to be a Chicago Bulls fan.
It's Joakim Noah that kids should be looking to as a role model. Not because he makes millions of dollars, but because his passion for the game is inspiring, unquestionable and a thing of beauty to behold.
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