Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player I've ever seen. Not the greatest person, the greatest basketball player. Why do I say that? He had great skills. He made the players around him better. He had great desire. I remember watching a game in the playoffs where Jordan had the flu. Scottie Pippen had to help him off the court when time-outs were called, but when the game started back up, Jordan wanted to play, and did, and did well. Another reason Jordan was great is that, although he left college for the NBA draft, he did finish his degree.
Jordan hasn't fared as well in other pursuits. He wasn't great in baseball, when he left basketball to try it for a year. He is reputed to gamble a lot. He served as an executive for the Washington Wizards NBA team for a while. No doubt he did some things well, but some not so well. One decision he made hasn't worked out. He selected Kwame Brown as the first player taken in the 2001 draft--not just by the Wizards, but the first player in the entire draft. Last week, several years, and several million dollars later, the Wizards told Brown that he wasn't going to be part of the rest of their playoff season. He hadn't been a team player. He didn't really help his team. The team won their first playoff series in many years, beating Jordan's old team, the Chicago Bulls, with Brown absent during the last few games. Somebody failed.
The Wizards could use another big man. They are playing the Miami Heat, who have Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning, two really good big men, in the middle.
Kwame Brown was the first number one draft pick drafted straight out of high school. Other players had been drafted out of high school, without going to college, but none were the very first player taken.
This story has several lessons in it.
One lesson is that talent and potential aren't all that it takes to be successful. Dedication is more important. Unselfishness is more important.
Another lesson is that maturity matters. There have been players who never went to college who have been successful. Kevin Garnett is one such. But there have been some other flops. It has been suggested that the NBA shouldn't draft players who are too young to have finished college. As a society, we emphasize youth way too much. They're our future, sure, but they shouldn't be the ones telling us how to act and what to do, or, rather, we, as a society, shouldn't be as dependent on them for leadership.
Another lesson is that we, as a society, have our priorities messed up, worse than Kwame Brown has messed up his basketball career. When we pay people who take care of our kids, and try to fix the messes we make, like teachers, social workers, and policemen, so little, and so much to people who entertain us, there's something wrong. Kwame Brown made more in a year or two than a social worker, or a policeman, a day care worker, or a public school teacher, will make in a lifetime. Of course, it isn't just athletes, or just other kinds of entertainers, but we also pay many of our CEO's more than anyone could possibly deserve. We have our priorities messed up, and we idolize big paychecks. These are serious problems.
I wish Kwame Brown all the best. I hope that he is signed by another team, and experiences a fresh lease on life, working hard and unselfishly for his team, and to entertain the fans who pay so that he gets paid. I also hope that he has a change of heart.