Tuesday, August 14, 2007

More Thoughts on Head Cases: What's the difference between Rasheed Wallace and Michael Jordan?

After posting my original piece on head cases, I was disturbed by just how little difference there seemed to be between in the mental states of many of the NBA's best players and the NBA's biggest liabilities.

After all, many of the legends surrounding none other than Michael Jordan highlight just how well he fit into the description of a "Sprewell"; he played every scrimmage like his life was on the line, he got his first coaches fired, psychologically destroyed Kwame Brown, and he spent much of his time in Chicago in an open vendetta with the team's GM, Jerry Krause. He thirsted to make the game personal, and would take anything resembling a slight against him and turn it into an unforgivable challenge to his abilities, which he would always subsequently avenge. His pathological competitiveness has carried over to his personal life, and he has what many would call a serious addiction to gambling.

And yet for all Michael Jordan's flaws, we hold him up as the perfect example of how an athlete should think and act. Tiger Woods currently holds Jordan's old position as America's most revered athlete. (Quick note: I didn't need "Who's Now?" to figure that out. As a sports blogger, I am officially required to take at least one cheap shot at "Who's Now?" I will now return to the post.) Anyways, by all accounts, Tiger has Jordan's personality; as has been discussed this week, he plays with religious zeal when anyone makes any sort of comment about his possible lack of greatness, and he works ceaselessly out of a pure need to win. And if you don't think Tiger's a little high-strung, read about what happens when a camera goes off during his swing.

Hyper-competitiveness is often what breeds greatness; of today's NBA superstars, I would say that KG, Kobe, Gilbert Arenas, and AI are all nuts; what's more, most fans wish that their best players thought like those guys do.

However, it's that same all-encompassing drive and insecurity that defines many of the NBA's biggest "team cancers": Rasheed Wallace, Latrell Sprewell, Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, et cetera.-their inability to be laid-back about the game leads to trade demands, technical fouls, and off-court incidents.

So what is the difference between the great and the cancers? I would contend that it's not as big as people think. I think that the Kobes of the world and the Artests of the world are wired more or less the same; the difference is that without superstar talent, superstar drive can be destructive.

Nobody driven like the people mentioned in this article is able to cope with the fact that they are anything but great; they work tirelessly to become so, and effectively invest all of themselves into being great.

For guys like Tiger, MJ, and Kobe, that's not a huge problem, since their work pays off, and helps to make them among the best athletes in the world. But what happens to people who don't become the best? Quite simply, they create an alternate reality where they are as great as they demand themselves to be, and it is in that alternate reality that problems occur.

In order to square up what people like Rasheed Wallace need to be true (that they're the best) with what often occurs in real life (losing games), they create excuses, and focus their competitive energy on blaming everyone else; coaches, referees, teammates, the league, anybody. This leads to friction, and makes them a bona fide Sprewell head case. Thank you and good night.

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