Most young players, as they grow, try to emulate players that they feel are good. They use the players as models of what type of player they would like to be. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I believe it should be encouraged.
However, I believe that if you are going to select or encourage models, you should look past the number and the highlight reels.
Choosing players such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, et al, are great choices. They are players that work very hard to maximize their talent. They possess great work ethic, proper priorities and get great results. There are plenty of other talented players who have not had similar results because their work ethic is not the same.
The problem with holding these players up as models is the fact that they are supremely talented, ultimately talented, freakishly talented. There are not 10 people on earth that can do what they do. While their work ethic is to be admired and copied, an expectation or desire to be like them, without their talent, can lead to confusion and frustration.
When I was a young player, I bought into the doctrine that was continually preached to me, “You can be as good as you want to be. Just work hard.” Sage words, but not true. I wanted to be the best ever and I worked like it. Wasn’t going to happen. I just didn’t have the physical potential to attain my goal. Nobody worked harder than I did, but there were a lot of better players than me.
I am not suggesting that anybody be a dream killer. In fact, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LaBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul are worthwhile role models because, even though they are freakishly talented, they also work harder than anyone to maximize their talent.
But, there are plenty of players who don’t have the big names or reputations so they don’t have as much attention showered on them who would be great role models for any player. Three of these players I have the good fortune of knowing and working with. Each is now viewed as a journeyman or a role player. All are closer to the end of their careers than the start. It is because of their personal qualities that I would recommend them to any young player as a role model.
Juwan Howard, for those of you who are too young to know, was one of the Michigan Fab Five of the early 90s. Six-foot ten-inches tall, a great athlete and very skilled, Juwan has made hundreds of millions of dollars in his career (he once had a $116 million dollar contract voided by the NBA), that to this writing, has lasted 18 years. Juwan’s career never reached the heights that were predicted for him. Why would he make a good role model? Here’s why. After 18 years and all that money, at 38 years old, I saw him in the gym, every day, during this lockout off season (2011). He has had a great career, more money than anyone would ever need in 5 lifetimes. He had no contract and did not even know whether there would be a season. Yet, every day, he was there, working as hard as he did as a rookie. I asked him why. He said, “I don’t know if there will be a season or if I will get another opportunity, but if it comes, I have to be ready.” Nothing in front of him, motivating himself to work every day. That is a role model.
Raja Bell has played over 12 years in the NBA. Not drafted, from an unknown college, he played in the now-defunct USBL, the CBA, Europe before he go a shot in the NBA. With the athletic ability that would allow him to jump over a phone book, Raja has turned hard work into a career that has seen him be selected to the NBA’s All-Defensive Team 4 times and become one of the leading 3 point shot percentage shooters in the history of the league. Now on the downside of his career, he has 2 years left of a 3 year contract, he works just as hard now as when he was a rookie. In this lockout summer, we got hundreds of shots every day. In addition, he does weight work and agility work to prepare for a season that may never come. He is comfortable, probably on his last contract and no other reason to work aside from his professionalism and his character. A pretty good person to emulate.
Carlos Arroyo’s dream has always been to play in the NBA. He was undrafted and unrecognized when it came to the NBA. Even his own league didn’t recognize him in college. He led the league in scoring and never won player of the week. He worked his way onto the roster of 7 NBA teams and 2 teams in Europe. He followed John Stockton at the point for Utah and has been on teams that have gone to the NBA Finals. He is the definition of a journeyman. Yet, it does not deter him. He continues to work every day just like he did in college. He maintains a positive attitude, always anticipating something good will come his way. He is limited physically, but not by his heart.
Here are three players, not with shoes named after them, not hosting TV shows to discuss their talents, just everyday people who show up to work everyday, regardless of the situation, and do their job. An admirable quality in any walk of life.
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