Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dwight's Magic Kingdom

Like many 26 year olds around this great nation of ours, Dwight Howard didn't like his manager. He didn't like his boss. He had big ideas about how the place could be run better, and he got terribly frustrated when they weren't implemented, immediately and to his specification. This is not exactly a new phenomenon. There are a great many workplaces where young employees - even young prize employees - bitch and moan about their jobs, their situations, and their coworkers and bosses. It is, dare I say it, the natural state of things, and we generally give 26 year olds who indulge in this sort of crap a free pass, at least for a little while.
Of course, when you're one of the top players in the NBA and hundreds of millions of dollars potentially rest on your decisions about where you want to play, you don't get that free pass. You don't get "he's only 26", you get eviscerated on every sports talk radio station from here to Kandahar. And no, I'm not saying we should feel sorry for poor Dwight Howard in his moment of solitude; he cost a good coach and a good GM their jobs. His employer, Rich DeVos, took a coldblooded look at his franchise, decided the most important thing was to tempt Dwight Howard to stay in Orlando, and whacked the guys who might stand in the way of that happening. Strictly business, nothing personal, and it's a calculated risk because there's no guarantee that Howard won't want to walk away after next year anyway.
So, no sympathy for Dwight, even if his back hurts and he doesn't know where he's going to be in a year or so. Lots of 26 year olds have that kind of uncertainty, too. What they don't have is an entire nation of sports fanatics breathing down their neck, overanalyzing their every move and utterance, and rendering judgment based on that. Now, I don't think I need to remind you that 26 year olds, by and large, are prone to saying stupid crap. It includes, but is not limited to, "either he goes or I go", "I don't know if I want to stay here", and "I think I want to give this all up and go herd llamas, you know?" It's just that most of their stupid crap doesn't become fraught with the needs, hopes and expectations of millions of fans and the paid chattering class that guides them, until even the smallest statement (and to be fair, Howard made a lot of Big Statements) has to somehow Mean Something. And all across America, basketball analysts are being asked to go on air talk about What It All Means - hell, this morning Mike Greenberg asked one guest on Mike and Mike "Does Dwight Howard want to finish his career in Orlando?" For God's sake, he's 26. Did you know where you wanted to end your career when you were 26? Did you know where you wanted to have lunch three days hence, even? But the beast must be fed, and the only answer that can't be given is this: he's 26, he's a little immature, and the latest utterance means nothing because the dude's just sort of flailing around when he has to talk.
So, yeah. Dwight Howard wasn't sure about if he wanted to stay or go. He got his boss fired. He made noises one day about leaning one way, and made more another day leaning the other. He was, in short, 26.
And any attempt to read meaning into those slight utterances, the body language at press conferences and so on, probably needs to take that into account - and to spare us the breathless definitive pronunciations until they do.
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