It’s Christmas Eve here in Los Angeles. In some parts of the world it is already Christmas morning, and bright-eyed children are ripping away wrapping paper like a defensive lineman bull-rushing a quarterback.
This is one holiday that is all about the children and all about the joys of youth. It’s somewhat paradoxical, but when you’re young, you wish you were older. Then when you’re older, you wish you were younger.
They say children grow up fast nowadays. I suppose it’s true physically and biologically, but not when it comes to maturity.
Maturity is a process of evolving, and processes take time. All of nature is locked into this process; so is man, whether he likes it or not. And that includes avid sports fans, writers, and commentators alike.
Ever since the dawn of instant coffee and TV dinners, man has been on a mad rush toward instant gratification. “I want it, and I want it right now!”
And in most cases, he gets it. Hence, the iPhone, the iPod Touch, the Blackberry. You name it and man gets it, and he gets it right now.
All except for one thing—maturity.
It’s the same in sports. The fan wants to see heroics, and he wants to see them right now. So, it is up to owners, athletic directors, and coaches to have players who can deliver the Flavor of the Day—Instant Heroics.
I give to you the case of Andrew Bynum. A bewildering case, indeed, for Lakers fans. Most of them are impatiently waiting for Bynum to turn into the second coming of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
First of all, Bynum is not Abdul-Jabbar. Andrew Bynum is Andrew Bynum. That’s who he is and who he will remain.
Whether or not he becomes a mature Andrew Bynum remains to be seen. If you ask him why he isn’t an NBA All-Star, he will probably say that he is still young.
And he would be absolutely correct. Bynum is still a boy playing among men. A very, very long boy at that, but a boy nevertheless.
And look at the men around him. Although not as tall as Andrew, they are the giants of basketball: All-Stars Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Ron Artest, the head of the NBA Players Association and one of the best clutch shooters in the game, Derek Fisher, and a man who has finally matured into a fine all-around player, Lamar Odom.
If you are just average, playing with those five will make you look way less than average. That is certainly the case with Bynum.
The other thing is simply that he needs time to mature. It’s a process. You cannot rush it, no matter how badly fans need instant gratification.
Bynum is a very rich boy as well. He will have $50 million to play with over the next three years. So, fans think he should perk up instantly and turn into a nightly double-double machine much like Pau Gasol.
Nope. It doesn’t work that way. You cannot throw money at a process and expect it to mature overnight. Go throw $50 million at a seedling in the forest. Then come back in a year and see if it has matured into a full-grown tree.
On Christmas Day, the Lakers take on the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was the matchup that David Stern hoped would come to fruition last summer in the NBA Finals, but Cleveland never made it that far.
So, Stern instead has given NBA fans everywhere a Christmas present by scheduling the Lakers against the Cavaliers on this joyous day. It is the "Kobe vs. LeBron" matchup. Not the Muppets, but the real deal.
It is the return of Shaquille O’Neal to the Staples Center, where he and Kobe Bryant won three championships together.
But Kobe and LeBron or Kobe and Shaq will not be the key matchups. Instead, it will be Shaq versus Andrew. The man against the boy. Goliath against David.
Bynum may be asleep in his bed this Christmas Eve, but he won’t be dreaming of sugarplums and reindeer. He knows that Shaq is coming to town, and there will be nowhere to hide.
But is Bynum mature enough at this point to know that he must not meet Shaq head on? Does he realize that he must play down his urge to give the Staples Center fans their daily dose of instant gratification and out-muscle Shaq?
Has Bynum grown smart enough to outmaneuver Shaq and make the old giant work? Does he have the savvy of a young Muhammad Ali taking on the fearful Sonny Listen?
Maybe; maybe not. Only time will tell. Maturing is a process. So, chill out and enjoy the game.