A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Goliath has feelings too
Recently an old high school friend called to inform me that a former high school basketball legend had just passed, the young man was in his Forty’s. As we reminisced about how talented this young man was back in the day and what it meant to play against him during our formative years.
A thought that had been buried in my subconscious finally found its way to the surface. This young man was considered by many to be the best BIG man to come out of the area in a long time. It was during this reflection that I recalled a troubling phenomena that is taking place all across the country and has been for a decades.
The sports world is always in search of the next dominant force in the game, yes the NBA has been valiantly trying to find someone to replace the marketability of Jordan, with Lebron being the closest. However, there is still the quest to find the next “Shaq”
This search is not limited to the men’s game as more and more coaches on the women’s side too are seeking that dominant force in the paint. The thing that has always disturb me about the whole concept is the damage we do to our youth at a very early age in trying to make them live up to such lofty expectations.
You have seen this occurrence take place on playgrounds and courts across the country. Whenever there is a young boy or girl who is taller and bigger than everyone else, coaches and fans alike expect them to take over a game even at the tender age of 11. What people often miss when this occurrence happens are the feelings of the individual.
They fail to appreciate the beauty of their game if they are not breaking back boards, dunking on someone’s head or sending people flying as they make their move to the basket. Nor do they consider for one moment the person’s damaged psyche when they fail to live up to the “Big Man” mystique.
I have personally witnessed the harm this can do. In fact the friend who called to tell me about the passing of the high school all star, was expected by many to take the mantle of becoming the next great Big man, but instead his game was not one of brute force, despite being the tallest in his class.
His game was more finesse think Ralph Sampson as oppose to a younger Patrick Ewing, he had a beautiful jump hook, could run the floor like a gazelle, rebound and when he blocked shots he kept the ball inbounds much like Bill Russell instead of sending the ball to the fifth row.
The fans never truly appreciated his talents, despite helping our high school team win a state championship. He was often the target of crude remarks, jokes and taunts. I use to feel bad for him, especially being his best friend.
To his credit he never showed or let the naysayers have the pleasure of seeing how they got to him. He developed a layer of skin so thick, you’d need a diamond tip drill just to break the surface.
I use to wonder how he dealt with all of the negative comments. Years later it dawned on me how he dealt with the pain. My friend turned to alcohol to anesthetize the pain and rejection.
Recently, I had the opportunity to coach a young woman who stood 6-feet-4, the tallest player in the school’s history. Not only was she tall she was built like a wall. She had all of the physical appearances of “Shaq” but her skill level said otherwise.
People quickly wrote her off, all of the big universities didn’t give her a second look. I recall while watching one of her high school games another college coach who was in attendance shared his opinion ” What a god given waste of talent and size, she is AWFUL”
I was stunned that a person who is in charge of leading young people and share values could make such a disparaging comment. I recruited her anyway, because I saw and appreciated the potential she had, all she needed was someone to believe in her.
In fact the line I used to get her to attend my institution was “I’m not recruiting you to be “Shaq” instead I want you to be the best player, you can be”. I’ll never forget the look on her face, finally there was someone who believed in her and appreciated her skills just the way they were.
She was a beautiful person inside and out we had a great four year run together.
During her four years, I watched her go through some of the same antics my high school teammate went through, the comments she endured were brutal “she sucks, if I had that height I would” the fans taunted every facet of her game from physical appearance to her limited skills, and the referees were just as bad, they would allow her get beat up and manhandled on a regular basis, her arms were covered with bruises and scratches.
I would give the refs an earful whenever I witnessed this unfair treatment by shouting “Goliath has feelings too” or “there is nothing in the rule book that states if you are bigger or taller than everyone else you should be allowed to take more punishment.
Unfortunately this is all too common, for some reason just because an athlete is bigger or taller than their peer that somehow disqualifies them from being human or having the same rules apply.
The late Wilt Chamberlain could attest to this fact.
My center also had an escape mechanism; she would immerse herself in drawing beautiful illustrations of scenery, places that brought her serenity. And we also had long reassuring pep talks affirming that I believed in her.
It was because of our relationship that she worked extra hard and gave me everything she had and she played a pivotal role in our successful run during her career.
As the world tunes in for the start of the NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Magic, There are two big men who will be on center stage Orlando’s Dwight Howard and the Lakers Andrew Bynum, one of them will play a pivotal role in the series and for the other hopefully he has people around him who truly appreciate and love him just because.