NBA players are a different breed. They have all devoted countless hours to honing their talent, to the point where they are worthy of a place in the best league in the world. This is certainly something to be proud of, but the esteem in which it means they are held creates a large cohort of individuals with wildly disproportionate egos to the rest of society.
Of course, this is not the case for all players, and many of the egomaniacs are still lovely people – and fantastic players. Egomaniacs they remain, nonetheless, and this is plain to see in the way many make decisions about their careers.
Kyrie Irving’s search for personal success
Kyrie Irving is the latest in a long list of egomaniacs looking for greener grass on the other side. For three years, he has had the privilege of playing alongside the greatest player in the world. With LeBron, as well as Kevin Love and a solid supporting cast, he is guaranteed to progress deep into the playoffs for as long as they can keep the core of their current roster together.
Kyrie is willing to throw that away, though, because he no longer wants to be the second best player on his team. Presumably the proverbial devil’s advocate would be sitting on his shoulder, softly reminding him that he was still allowed to take more shots and spend more time in possession than the best player in the world last year. Apparently not.
This is symptomatic of a league in which many players are more concerned with their own standing in the league than with their team. Irving is, in the eyes of many, the best offensive talent in the NBA with the exception of Kevin Durant. And yet he wants to leave the second best team in the league to join a weaker rival, albeit one in which he will be the unequivocal top dog.
Russell Westbrook’s manic desire to dominate
Think Russell Westbrook. The man is a superstar, a deserved MVP who has taken his game to another level in the past year. It is often observed, however, that his manic offensive style is at times to the detriment of teammates, and this was even more apparent prior to last season, when he played with Durant.
Without doubt, Durant is more talented offensively than Westbrook. And yet when they played together, the two executed these roles in reverse – Westbrook as though he was an unstoppable scoring force, and Durant as second fiddle. Had Westbrook been willing, or able, to notice this lopsided setup, Oklahoma City probably wouldn’t have blown that 3-1 in the 2016 Western Conference finals against Golden State.
Westbrook has always had an unquestionable desire to win, maybe stronger than anyone else in the league. But with Durant around, this was a desire with a clause – he wanted to win on the back of his own performance.
Durant’s hunt for team success
Durant himself epitomised the polar opposite of egotism in his move to Golden State, and yet he faces more criticism than arguably anyone else in the league for it. The move demonstrated a clear desire to be a part of a highly functional system, and an incredible team, to the likely detriment of his own numbers.
Playing alongside offensive juggernauts in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson meant a certain drop in shots, and a probable dip in scoring. But, still, he did it, chasing the allure of team success over his own individual performance, even in the face of the onslaught of criticism which he no doubt knew was coming.
Perhaps we need to reconsider the way we judge NBA players. When individual’s demonstrate a clear prioritisation of their own career over team success, it should be called just that. Such an egotistical mode of thinking does not detract from these guys as players in the slightest, but it is accepted as the norm in the NBA in a way many other sports leagues would not. In contrast, Durant took the more humble route, wishing to be a part of an enjoyable and highly successful team environment – something for which he is widely admonished.
In the real world, egotism is chastised and humility is lauded. In the NBA, these roles are reversed.
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