Charles Barkley often bemoans the state of professionalism and declining skill-level in the NBA today. He blames the multi-million dollar contracts offered to teenagers coming out of high school without ever playing a minute of ball at the professional level — and until recently without ever playing at the college level. The hunger to prove yourself gets satisfied pretty quickly with $42.3 million.
There are also the hungry agents promising each of these young celebrities-in-waiting that they, too, can be a star. All of the money and notoriety can certainly turn anyone’s head and skew priorities.
But, what about the pride and satisfaction of striving to be the best in the sport that’s paying them millions to participate? Can they do it all? Talk on the endorsed-T-Mobile while drinking endorsed-Gatorade while viewing the next script while taking singing lessons while …. hey, can you throw me the ball?
With these agents vying for potential superstar athlete/clients while they are still in high school, are sports — and even these kids — being well-served? It seems professional sports are becoming just another road to Hollywood and away from the sport or an education or even reality. Some agents, who probably dream dollar signs, market their athlete/clients with sports as an afterthought. That leaves the fans, spending hard-earned dollars to attend games (or should we call them events?) short-changed and these young athletes rich – for a while – and still hungry for a life-long celebrity lifestyle that is hard to maintain.
In the April 14, 2008, issue of Sports Illustrated, Selena Roberts wrote about athletes wanting the celebrity status to last forever. Roberts quoted an NBA player who said he wanted to ensure a lifestyle that means “never going to baggage claim again.” And many believe the way to ensure that is to head straight for Hollywood. The problem for sports — and sports fans — is that on their way, they often neglect to nurture the skills that brought them to the celebrity dance in the first place.
Unlike Michael Jordan who, as Roberts pointed out, gained his fame “title by title,” many young superstars sign with agents who promise immediate Hollywood-style fame. You can dunk? Well, then you can act-sing-accept-your-Oscar while still leading your team to the championship. Roberts said the William Morris Agency, one of the largest entertainment agencies in the world, considers players to be entertainers first and athletes second.
Look, I agree with the U. S. Army. Be all that you can be. So I am not saying athletes shouldn’t strive for whatever they can get, aim for the stars, have it all. But, I also agree with Charles Barkley. Watch some classic NBA games from the last couple of decades. Jordan, Barkley, Magic and Bird all strove to be the best, taking pride in the game and their skills. And they are all still successful, smartly leveraging their fame and fortune into post-NBA achievements.
They’re all also admired and remembered for their athletic skills. All can probably choose to go Hollywood whenever they want, but more importantly, these guys went Springfield, as in Springfield, Massachusetts, the home of the Basketball Hall of Fame. I think they would have made it there without the help of a super-agent.