When you are born an artist, the world is a canvas. You engage in artistic endeavors for the love and personal contentment they grant you. If you can make a buck at it then great. I think this is how youths approach sports. They play for the love of the sport without a dime of compensation, and they can’t get enough. They strive for excellence for the intrinsic satisfaction they get for excelling at the art they love. When I was a youth I would swing a lead pipe to improve at baseball and practice with my left hand to improve at basketball, solely for the satisfaction I received from improving at the games I loved. But a funny thing happens on the road to stardom – players who reach elite status begin to play for far different reasons, or so it would seem. With today’s professional athletes it seems that intrinsic satisfaction is a distant third in the hierarchy of reasons to excel. What’s the top reason? Money you say? Nope – that takes the silver. The real reason of course is r-e-s-p-e-c-t!
I watch a lot of sports and I’m amazed, truly amazed at how often athletes talk about proving others wrong as a motivating force, or about getting the respect they deserve. Every player that is waived, traded, not drafted high enough, not voted to the all-star team, not fawned over by the pundits, not game planned against, etc. etc. makes it their personal mission to prove the naysayers wrong. Improve because you want to be the best at your craft? Nah! It’s all about showing people up.
The other day I saw an ESPN segment on Dwayne Wade. I watched for about 90 seconds and he mentioned getting the respect he deserves (“deserves” I say!) at least five times. The NBA finals MVP trophy from a couple years ago is getting old, nowadays if you talk about Lebron and Kobe and you don’t mention D-Wade in the same breath you are flat out dissing him. A few years ago I was going to collect examples of this syndrome for some future use but it was too much like work (little did I know I would someday be a guest blogger on “What would Den say?” and need the material). However, I do recall one particular example involving Dwight Howard after he had just become the first overall pick in the NBA draft by the Orlando Magic. Keep in mind, with global basketball culture that we now live in, there are advanced players in countries all over the world, and hundreds of elite players at major universities in the U.S. And yet, the Magic saw fit to draft a kid before anyone else in the aforementioned global pool of talent - despite the fact he had proven nothing beyond a high school level. So what's the first thing Dwight wants to talk about at his press conference? Is he happy to be the first pick? Is he excited to go to Orlando? Those questions will have to wait while he jabbers on about proving all the people wrong who didn’t think he should be the number 1 pick. Yes it’s true, there were some people on the planet who had the audacity to express an opinion that a high school kid was not the safest pick, no matter how many double-doubles he dropped on Ridgemont High. Shame on them!
Interestingly, Howard has probably since “proven” that he was the right choice. Call me naïve, but I’m going to believe he propelled himself to stardom for the love of the game, and not to prove wrong some talking heads on ESPN2.