In seventh grade I went out for the junior high boys’ basketball team. Since I attended a small private school, no cuts were made, so I automatically got to be on the team (this is the only thing that gave me any hope in athletics). I spent most of that season as the scorekeeper, which looking back speaks volumes to me about my actual playing ability. I continued playing basketball through my junior high and high school years. I learned a lot about the game, but I was never able to transfer that knowledge into playing ability. I sure did try hard though. While I sat the bench most of the time, I did play on some pretty good teams. We won the league championship all four of my high school years, made good runs in the playoffs and were even ranked in our division a couple of times.
Learning the game of basketball during these years made me very interested in watching it on TV. I watched a lot of college and professional basketball. Southern California was a great place to be a basketball fan. The Lakers of the ’80s and early ’90s seemed to rule the NBA with the leadership of Magic Johnson and Kareem. UCLA was a major contender in college hoops, making several playoff bids and winning the Tournament in 1995. I had a lot of respect for those teams. They played hard. They worked as a team. I knew I would never reach their level of playing ability or fame, but it was a lot of fun watching them.
Then one day while watching NBA Inside Stuff, I saw an interview with Charles Barkley. He said something that ruffled a lot of feathers back then and still bothers me today. His infamous words, “I am not a role model,” still echo in my mind. He was saying that even though he was a great player, he didn’t want kids looking up to him. He didn’t want to be the example.
As ironic as it is, it seems that many in the NBA listened to “Sir” Charles and decided to say the same thing, perhaps not in their words, but in their actions. The league began filling up with bad boys and hooligans. Many players came in with a higher number of tattoos and piercings than points they scored in a game. An increasing number of players were dropping out of college, heeding the call of the almighty dollar. Some complained about contracts or playing time during interviews. Several names popped up in the headlines, followed by stories of arrests and criminal charges. This phenomenon was not limited to the NBA. It was happening all over the wide world of sports.
These up-and-comers are not only entertaining us, they are teaching us a whole new set of values. Push only as hard as you want to and complain a lot if you don’t get enough minutes. Look out for number one, and if it helps the team, great. If not, who cares—you got your stats, and that’s all that matters. Fight for bigger contracts to furnish an obscenely lavish lifestyle. Who needs an education when you can go make lots of money playing in the big leagues? After all, having a ball in your hand will get you a lot more money a lot more quickly than a college degree will.
As much as I still love the game of basketball, I don’t like watching it much anymore. In all honesty, I don’t like watching many sports at all. The games—basketball and baseball especially—have become saturated with selfish, arrogant college dropouts with criminal records. Perhaps this is an over generalization, but this has turned me from a die-hard fan into a cynical casual observer.
It’s unfortunate that so many professional athletes have taken Barkley’s words to heart. Growing up, I remember so many great athletes who could have been—and rightly were—elevated to hero status. Guys like Cal Ripkin who played more than 2,000 consecutive games, showing that playing hard and being consistent has its rewards. Or John Stockton, who holds the seemingly unbreakable assist record in the NBA, showing that it pays to give the other guy the ball. Or Patrick Roy, on his way to breaking every go altending record in the NHL, another great example of hard work and consistency.
These, among so many others, have been stellar athletes on the field or court, as well as good examples in the community. They taught us to give 110 percent effort, to be a team player and to give selflessly to those who need the extra help. They made the games fun to watch, and made me proud to be a fan. If only there were more of these guys out there.
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