3. Carmelo Anthony, Michael Jordan, and the Rub
The 'rub' was introduced to us by William Shakespeare, but it was introduced to me by a former boss. He'd instruct me to ask the prospective client what 'the rub' was, in an effort to find out what was controlling the situation, and once you knew that you could basically try to get the client. Until you knew that, however, you'd have a better chance getting laid as a fantasy sports writer. Though, special note, if you fib about the exact definition of what a fantasy sports writer actually is, there is some opportunity there, but I digress
So when Carmelo Anthony
sat outside of his team's huddle and pouted like a child on Friday, and Amare Stoudemire
told him through the press to shutup, I said to myself, therein lies the rub.
The 'rub' in the NBA is that every team that has climbed to the top has had to take their lumps. The current Lakers had to lose to the Celtics, the Spurs had to lose to the Lakers all those years to truly attain greatness, the Pistons tried and tried and tried before beating the Lakers and Celtics, while the current Celtics had to beat – you guessed it, the Lakers. The Shaq/Kobe Lakers needed Michael Jordan
to get old and retire, while the Bulls needed to dispatch the Pistons and Lakers before they went on their run, and before that Pistons, Lakers, and Celtics did battle for a decade. Only the Heat, Rockets, and Spurs have paths to a title among recent champions that are suspect, as the latter two teams needed Michael Jordan
to retire and ended up beating less distinguished teams, though Houston won twice and the Spurs beat Patrick Ewing
's venerable Knicks. As for the Heat, they beat a Mavs team that lost to No. 8 seed Golden State the very next year in the first round of the playoffs, but Dwyane Wade
is still an ice-cold killer.
What did each of those teams have in common? A superstar that cares only about winning, period.
Yes, there were off the court shenanigans and they weren't all business (though tell that to Michael Jordan
) – when they got to the practice court there were no laughs. There wasn't a party planning committee being organized by a hanger-on, unless you were also getting it done, but even then it didn't come before business. There was also no discussion about who is or was 'the man.' You either were the man or you weren't. You either commanded the respect of your peers or you didn't. Most importantly, leadership arose from within all of the ranks, and was not a result of deference based on fear. Guys followed because they wanted to, not because they had to, and they certainly had no question about who they were following. Michael Jordan
, Magic Johnson
, Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Kobe Bryant
, Tim Duncan
, Kevin Garnett
, Ray Allen
, Joe Dumars
, Hakeem Olajuwon
, Larry Bird, Dwyane Wade
. Carmelo Anthony
. LeBron James
. Amare Stoudemire
. Dirk Nowitzki
, Dwight Howard
, Joe Johnson
Carmelo sat outside of his team's huddle on Friday, and Ty Lawson
openly talked on NBA TV the same night about how happy George Karl was since the trade. I'd put a monkey butler's wages on the fact that a secret party was thrown the day Melo was traded, and it ended with Karl doing the worm across a beer-strewn floor.
Why are they happy in Denver?
Because Melo takes bad shots, he doesn't play defense, and he cares more about himself than the team. LeBron? The man with the most pound-for-pound raw ability in the NBA will become the case study for all superstars to follow him, for better or for worse. Amare? He's a guy that was routinely criticized for talking out of the side of his mouth in Phoenix and for taking plays off. Dirk? The knock on him is that he was soft, and he probably will stay that way until he proves it on the big stage. Dwight? He's a case study in what wanting to have fun all the time gets you (hint: it's called not first place). Johnson? He just wants to stay out of everything as the 'just don't get me involved' type. He's also cool with Smoove 26-footers. On a side note, never trust the person that tells you they 'just don't want to get involved.' They do want to get involved, but they just don't agree with you.
So some of these players with titles fell into good situations on good teams and never had that one defining moment for all of us to see. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson
were cold-blooded from the day they stepped on the court and went to storied franchises. But some of them, including the G.O.A.T. Michael Jordan
, had to fall on their faces a little bit. But each of their teams, when they won, was a fierce machine with egos either in check or at least pointed in the right directions.
This is the challenge for these would-be champions. Can they have the confidence to do the right things? Can they know that they're 'the man,' but not need to prove it? Can they work to make others better, while also being the best themselves?
The Lakers, Spurs, and Celtics each have those players. Dwyane Wade
is one of those players, and so is Chauncey Billups
. Amare Stoudemire
is reaching a point in his career where winning is more important, and we're seeing a change in his perspective. Dirk Nowitzki
may be in a more limited role than ever before, but for some reason, you don't feel like the guy is so nervous anymore. Never before has Dallas felt so dangerous, either, including the two aforementioned years. Howard now makes commercials that say he's not all about fun, but you'll know when he's serious when his teammates speak in reverent terms. Like James, Howard has the physical tools to command a ring if his mind is right.
As for James, he needs to develop a killer instinct, and part of that will come with figuring out how to come to grips with his past. He either needs to embrace being the villain, or come full circle on what he did, but it can't be neither and it can't be both. Kobe stopped caring if people loved him after the Colorado ordeal, and while he has rehabilitated his image, he still thrives on showing people that they are wrong and he is right. LeBron did that when he went back to Cleveland, but that whole 'global icon' thing brings him back to caring about what you think.
Whether it was Kobe learning how to be a leader of his teammates, MJ learning that he needed to pass the ball, or each of the aforementioned 'winners' deciding at some point that it was all about a singular focus, tireless work ethic, and the will to lead men correctly – each of them did that, and absent of that they would have won nothing. Carmelo Anthony
is just the most recent player to find the spotlight that for whatever reason could not inspire greatness. James has been in that spotlight for a few years now. Somebody will break through, after all – Kobe, Ray, Kevin, Paul, Dwyane, Tim, Manu, and Tony aren't getting any younger. But it's more likely to be a guy like Kevin Durant
, who almost took off Heather Cox's head when she talked about his individual accomplishment of beating LeBron the other day. Tell me you're not laying $10 on the Thunder to win it all.
Guys on the Thunder are willing to break their neck for Durant, and also break their neck for Russell Westbrook
, Serge Ibaka
, Kendrick Perkins
, Thabo Sefolosha
, and James Harden
, too. They know KD is the man, and he knows that they are needed, too. It works that way and everyone has a role. Sitting outside a timeout huddle is no way to lead men. Neither is sticking to your guns when all of America knows you blew The Decision
. Nobody's signing up to follow that.
And therein lies the rub.