Fans of the wacky musical comedy duo Flight of the Conchords recognize one of their signature hits, a song called “Business Time.”
Despite being very silly, “Business Time” is not for kids.
It’s about an amorous husband trying to get his wife in the mood. The song (and accompanying video) is funny because of the contrast between the sensuous musical subject matter and the decidedly unsexy, ordinary domestic activities surrounding it. Doing the laundry, separating the recycling … these are not activities normally depicted as foreplay in our modern culture.
Yet, many married women attest to the fact that with the right attitude, many of these can, in fact, set the mood quite nicely.
Which is another example of how many times the truth can be counter-intuitive.
But if you learn from it and take advantage, you can reap dividends.
How the sausage is made
In the same way, I’m hoping that there are young NBA fans who have been paying close attention to the league during this latest work stoppage.
See, some people think the lockout is a time for basketball fans to tune out and enjoy something else. And I’m sure a lot of us (myself included) could definitely stand to do less watching of physical activity, and more doing of it.
But for young ballplayers who aspire to greatness in the NBA or elsewhere, now is the best time to pay attention to the NBA. If I were 16 and could shoot from distance, I would be digging into as much coverage of the lockout as I could.
It might not be as fun or interesting as the game itself. But there’s the game … and then, there’s the game behind the game.
See, there’s a reason why when LeBron James was discussing his free agent plans in 2010, he kept referring to his team, and he wasn’t talking about his NBA coworkers in Cleveland. He was talking about his management team. He was talking about the team that helps him take care of his business. He was talking about business time … those things that happen behind the scenes that allow him to be the basketball-playing global icon he aspires to be.
And that’s one thing that LeBron deserves credit for. Whereas a lot of young ballers focus only on their game and pay accountants and managers to handle the rest, LeBron has been very hands-on regarding his image and his business matters. He understands that he’s not just managing a basketball career but a business career. And unlike a quick first step, business acumen can last well into one’s later years.
Professional basketball has always been a business, and it’s a testament to the power of flashy marketing that fans aren’t aware of this truth more often. But in a work stoppage, the business of the game is on center stage.
But now Labor Day, an oft-quoted negotiating deadline, has come and gone, the NBA preseason has been effectively canceled, and the traditional start of the regular season is fast approaching. Both the labor and ownership representatives must feel a sense of urgency to get a deal done in order to save the season. In the same way, young aspiring business professionals should also have a sense of urgency in understanding how this particular sausage gets made, before it gets swept back under the rug of marketing hype that will accompany the NBA’s inevitable return.
(Did I just sweep the sausage under the rug? Pardon my mixed metaphor.)
Central to the negotiations are questions about revenue sharing, player contracts, salary caps, age restrictions, and many other related issues. Getting a handle on these things can sharpen a young person’s business acumen.
And this kind of sharpening is crucial, because a good business sense is an essential for overall success in any field. Whether it’s basketball or basket-weaving, in order to be the best you have to learn not only the craft itself, but the way to turn that craft into a solid business. Many of the most successful figures are not necessarily the most talented, but the hardest working in their field.
Taking our talents beyond South Beach
Good business sense is essential in the kingdom of God, according to many of Jesus’ parables regarding the managing of money.
One of the more commonly preached is often referred to as the parable of the talents, which helps us to understand that the word “talent” was not always a reference to skill or aptitude, but actually meant a sum of money to be invested. Most NBA-caliber players intuitively understand that their talents, invested properly, can yield a great harvest over time. And many Christians today understand the principle that being faithful with a little can translate to being entrusted later with much.
But Jesus’ parable is not just about maximizing return, but also about taking to heart the urgency required in honoring the master. You also see this in the parable of the unjust steward, which is quite the head-scratcher compared to the other one. But in both cases, one of the resounding themes is the urgency with which the stewards act in response to the oversight of the master. Even though the unjust steward was shady in the way he brokered his freedom, his master was so impressed with the ingenuity that arose from his desperation.
What can we learn from these parables?
That the God of the Bible is both infinitely just and inexplicably merciful. And that for everyone, NBA players and middle managers alike, living in a reconciled manner with Him is not only the key to salvation and a life full of shalom, but if that weren’t enough … it also makes good business sense.
So when (or if) the NBA returns to arenas and TV sets across the nation, let’s rejoice. But while it’s still in lockout mode, let’s get our notebooks out.
Because, y’know, business time doesn’t last forever.
Growing up in Atlanta the emphasis in my home and church community, outside of a relationship with the God, was education. In fact, since slavery the black community has valued education as the means of economic empowerment and political liberation. Education is so powerful that slaves were forbidden to learn how to read and write for hundreds of years in this country. Many of us had parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles drill these words into our heads: “get an education.” Sadly, many black communities have been sabotaged with the deception of short-term gratification so that the empowerment brought through education is no longer valued. In the place of education has emerged an emphasis on entertainment and sports as the primary means of upward social mobility that many find troubling. In particular, an overemphasis on sports has dire consequences for black males.
In 2010, Dr. Krystal Beamon, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Arlington, wrote a fascinating article explaining the phenomena of black males being herded into sports. In “Are Sports Overemphasized in the Socialization Process of African American Males?,” Dr. Beamon explains that there has been elevated levels of sports socialization in the family, neighborhood, and media in the black community creating an overrepresentation of black males in certain sports. One of the results of this overemphasis, according to Beamon, is that black males may face consequences that are distinctly different from those who are not socialized as intensively toward athletics, such as lower levels of academic achievement, higher expectations for professional sports careers as a means to upward mobility, and lower levels of career maturity. In other words, the sports emphasis is putting black males at a disadvantage later on in the marketplace.
Much research has demonstrated that, compared to their white counterparts, black males are socialized by family and community members deliberately into sports, limiting their exposure to other hobbies, like reading, and to non-sports related role models early in life. In some families, for example, parents are more interested in basketball practice than homework completion or good grades. The overemphasis also continues to feed stereotypes about black men as athletes, and these stereotypes are exacerbated as the mass media limits projections of black males as working in professional, non-athletic, or non-entertainment vocations.
A recent NCAA study reports that high school athletes have a 0.03 percent chance of playing in the NBA and a 0.08 percent change of playing in the NFL. With these odds, many black males are being inadvertently sabotaged if their families and communities socialize them into sports as a way to become successful and escape poverty in the absence of forming them morally and educationally.
What is needed are new role models and peers that reinforce the virtues that form and shape character and equip young men to be successful in the marketplace, whether they play sports or not. If black males are to be protected from the sabotage of hopelessness, the pursuit of accelerated upward mobility, materialism, and so on, individual Christians have to get more involved in the lives of black youth to nurture a broader imagination for the purpose of one’s life beyond being famous, making money, and achieving physical prowess.
If education is not emphasized as the means of success, if learning is not celebrated, if the exploration of multiple hobbies and opportunities are not encouraged, we may be inadvertently setting a trap for self-destruction, because the consequences of not being prepared to participate in the global marketplace are serious.
Photo illustration by Mike O’Dowd.
IRONY OF DEFEAT: LeBron James leaves the court after his Miami Heat's disappointing loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the deciding game of the NBA Finals. (Newscom photo)
In sports, as in life, there are often small ironies that signify larger truths. And In the celebrated NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks, there was plenty of irony to go around.
For the uninitiated, the 2011 Finals, the league’s showcase playoff series, was a rematch of the 2006 series, which Miami won in convincing fashion by taking Game 6 on the road in Dallas. This year, Dallas won in convincing fashion by taking Game 6 on the road in Miami. The two biggest stars from that series, Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas and Dwyane Wade of Miami, were again pitted against one another, and both of them put together another string of impressive performances. Whereas Wade had been the bigger star in 2006, Nowitzki’s star shone brighter in 2011.
But Miami had been heavily favored going in, because of last year’s offseason signing of megastar LeBron James, widely considered the best player in the NBA. The Heat’s “Big Three” of James, Wade, and power forward Chris Bosh was supposed to trump the Mavericks’ lone star Nowitzki in both talent and star power. Conventional thinking in the NBA says that when the stakes are highest, the margin between winning and losing is usually measured by great players imposing their will over good players.
Yet, the overwhelming story of the series, aside from the rich sense of redemption and quality team basketball shown by the Mavericks, was the virtual disappearance of the Heat’s supposedly best player, LeBron James. In the fourth quarters of close games, when his team needed him most, LeBron played his worst basketball. When the situation demanded greatness, he was hardly adequate.
As Kevin Bacon said in A Few Good Men, these are the facts, and they are indisputable.
The Misnomer of “The Decision”
With this latest loss, LeBron James has become the most criticized and scrutinized player not only in professional basketball, but in all of American sports. The waves of criticism and scrutiny James receives on a daily basis have, with this loss, been amplified into an exponential tsunami.
And most of the vitriol is tied to his decision last summer to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and join forces with Wade and Bosh in Miami, a process that resulted in a one-hour television special on ESPN entitled The Decision. It was a calculated attempt at warmth and authenticity that instead came off looking vain, self-promoting, and ungracious. While popular opinion was split about whether or not he should have stayed in Cleveland, almost everyone agrees that it wasn’t so much the fact that he left, but the way that he left that rubbed people the wrong way.
So perhaps the greatest irony here (besides Bill Simmons’ nugget about LeBron’s primary agent and marketing partner being named Maverick Carter) is this:
Despite the jeers he’s received over The Decision, LeBron James’ current predicament is not the result of one particular decision, but rather of many decisions over time.
Our decisions, over time, become our character. And LeBron’s biggest point of weakness is not in his strategy or physicality, but in his character. He has exhibited a significant deficit in the areas of self-awareness and humility. And if he wants to take his game to the next level, in addition to working on his post moves and shooting, he needs to make investments into his character.
If he were a believer in Christ, he might want to try looking in the Bible.
In particular, he might look at the story of Samson.
Chosen One, Choosing Badly
Samson was an absolute beast of a man. We see in Judges 13-16 that he was blessed with not only incredible physical strength and stature, but he also possessed considerable cunning, a combination that made him quite attractive to the opposite sex. And the circumstances surrounding his birth, combined with the ease with which he defeated legions of foes, were evidence that his physical prowess was sprinkled with divine favor. He was, quite literally, the chosen one.
Despite these obvious advantages, Samson had a problem: He did not make good decisions. He continually reacted in impulsive ways that resulted in unforeseen consequences, and often failed to learn from those consequences. He allowed the attention and adulation of others to distort his thinking and cloud his judgment. In so doing, he repeatedly put himself at risk by compromising the principles and directives that were put in place to protect him.
These are many of the same responses we’ve seen from LeBron James. When he and teammate Dwyane Wade were caught mocking their flu-stricken opponent Nowitzki by mimicking his cough, it seemed like the cocky taunt of a frontrunner—inexplicable considering they had just been beaten in Game 4. And after the series concluded, James’ postgame comments were anything but gracious. When asked how he should respond to people who rooted for his team to fail, he contrasts his celebrity with what he assumes to be his haters’ pitiful, miserable plebeian existence. His whole comeback amounted to, “I’m LeBron James, and you’re not.”
We Are All Witnesses
The truth is, LeBron isn’t the first NBA player whose struggles with insecurity affected his public perception. Many have preceded him, and many will follow.
As a Trail Blazers fan during their last great playoff runs in the late ’90s and early 2000s, I was a fan of swingman Bonzi Wells of Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.
Or at least, I was a fan of his ability.
His antics were another story. Year after year, Bonzi’s reputation kept sinking lower and lower as a result of all his off-the-court controversy. Just when it seemed as though he’d figured out how to let his stellar play do the talking, he would flip-the-bird to a fan, or say he doesn’t care what fans think, or get into an altercation.
So I was grateful to run across this account of Wells’ new post-NBA life as an AAU coach, where he admits being humbled by many of his previous missteps. Even a knucklehead like Bonzi, given enough time and enough hard knocks, can finally get it. It’s nice to see people change for the better.
For Samson, it took losing his eyes and being paraded in front of his enemies before he had enough humility to call out to God in desperation. The Bible doesn’t explicitly say this, but I bet that Samson did some serious soul-searching after the Philistines had taken him hostage. And when he prayed to God for the strength for one final act, Samson wasn’t driven only by a blood vendetta, but by a sense of holy honor to avenge those who had dishonored the Lord.
(So it’s not turning the other cheek, but we’re talking about the Old Testament here. Work with me.)
Signs of Hope
I think I speak for most casual NBA fans when I say that’s what we all want for LeBron—for the young man to finally get it. When facing defeat, to humbly admit his shortcomings, and vow to do better if given a chance.
That is the kind of humility on display that team officials crave from their star players, and the kind of example we all can learn from. I know that if I had to endure the same level of scrutiny and criticism that LeBron endures every day, I would have a much harder time taking the high road all the time.
But if there’s one thing LeBron can learn from Samson, it’s that it’s never too late to be humbled. If he can learn how to operate with humility, and the early indications are that he’s making a little progress, it won’t be long before he’ll be rising up in big moments instead of shrinking back. Instead of being the most hated athlete, he’ll be among the most celebrated. After all, everyone loves a good comeback story.
And just like Samson, he’ll be able to finally leave the stage a winner.
I just hope he doesn’t do it against my Trail Blazers, because then I’ll have to start hating him all over again.
Many criticized Brigham Young University for suspending its star basketball player for having premarital sex. But the school’s courage in standing by its principles proves that winning is about more than advancing to the Final Four.
Prodigal Son?: Come this fall, LeBron James will leave blue-collar Cleveland, Ohio, for the sultry beaches of Miami.
Once upon a time, LeBron James was Northeast Ohio’s amazing basketball prodigy. Now, he seems more like its Prodigal Son.