Monthly Archives: November 2011

Thanksgiving

As I woke up this morning and scheduled my Thanksgiving day, which included determining whether to eat breakfast or maintain an empty stomach for dinner, whether I, at age 30, could muster up enough confidence to ask my mother if I could eat dinner while watching football, and whether I could feasibly touch base with all of my friends and family on this holiday, it hit me!  In the illustrious words of John F. Kennedy, on Thanksgiving, “as we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

Now, as I sit before my Parents’ “only in America must I purchase this size” television and watch the first of three NFL games scheduled for today, I observe individuals who truly live by their words on this Thanksgiving day.  First and foremost, I see American soldiers stationed at army bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and a number of other regions who are football fans and watching the same game as me.  The NFL has provided a live broadcast of these troops rooting for their respective teams to display its and America’s appreciation for these soldiers and their role in risking their lives while keeping our country safe.  While these soldiers put on a happy face via the FOX broadcast, you can’t help but realize that they must maintain at all times in the back of their minds the thought that potential violence is just around the corner, or maybe even just over their shoulder.  They are all stationed in violent war zones, yet they live by their promise to this country on Thanksgiving day to protect us so that we can–among other things–enjoy our family and friends, stuff our faces, and overindulge in football, carbohydrates, and discounts on items at stores around the country.

Secondly, I observe well-paid individuals strap on pads and a helmet and spend either their Thanksgiving afternoon or evening entertaining America…and even other parts of the world.  Though these football players on average make more money annually than 99.99999% of Americans, they step onto football fields within stadiums and domes around this country and work on Thanksgiving day.  They work hard.  They are passionate about what they do.  As a direct result, football entertains Americans and, in certain instances, permits these individuals to either forget about the fact that they got laid off, lost a family member or friend, or learned that they are ill.  Football is a blessing for many on Thanksgiving day, even for our soldiers.  As a direct result, NFL players live by their promise to the League and, to a certain extent, this country on Thanksgiving day to entertain us Americans and provide us a sense of joy for at least one day out of the year.

Accordingly, thank you to our soldiers and others who work so hard on Thanksgiving day to permit Americans to be so thankful for everything and everyone around them.

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NBA Athletes and Their Hip-Hop Counterparts

Written by Guest Author Marcus Banks

Executive Editors: Nicholas R. Hector & Andrew Fine

About the Author: Marcus Banks graduated from Franklin Pierce University in 2010. He has previously worked for the National Basketball Association, THG Sports and Entertainment, Turner Sports, and Turner Broadcasting and Entertainment. He is now attending New York Law School and hopes to pursue a career in entertainment/talent and sports management.

I would like to first give a shout-out to Nick and Andrew for allowing me to share my thoughts. Second, what follows consists solely of my thoughts and nothing more.  If anyone disagrees with me, please don’t take offense and feel free to provide me feedback through comments.  Now without further ado, I present to you my first article for THIRDandFOUR, “NBA Athletes and Their Hip-Hop Counterparts.”

Over the past couple decades, The NBA has been infused by hip-hop culture, notwithstanding Commissioner David Stern’s disdain towards a comparison of his “white-collar” league to a group of talented yet sometimes rebellious individuals.  Nonetheless, many of the league’s players have embraced the analogy.  As a result, I shall attempt to write about something that, based on my knowledge, has never been previously addressed; I will draw strict comparisons of influential NBA Athletes to their hip-hop counterparts.

I’ll start with my God-father Jay-Z and his counterpart Kobe Bryant. I recognize that this comparison is not obvious, but hear me out.  In my opinion, Kobe is arguably the best individual to ever play the game and Jay-Z is the best individual to ever pick up the microphone. For those asking, what about Jordan or Magic, don’t worry, we’ll get there.  People have argued that Kobe is good, but the reason that those same people will never consider him the singular greatest basketball player of all time is because he never played against Jordan—the greatest NBA player in most people’s eyes during his prime.  During Jordan’s prime, Kobe represented the kid with the afro who ran around the court and shot air balls, all the while veterans like Nick Van Exel gave him dirty looks.  In contrast, Jordan was a star on the court. When Kobe eventually hit his prime, or at least commenced his ascension towards it, Jordan’s career was essentially done and he had commenced his ebb towards retirement.

Likewise, Jay-Z spent most of his career battling “ghosts.”  I consistently hear he will never be better than Biggie and/or Tupac, but truth be told, you can never make a legitimate argument regarding that comparison because he never had an opportunity to battle either one of them. Just like Kobe and Jordan, when Biggie held the throne, Jay-Z was running around in Hawaiian shirts attempting to make a name for himself.

When he hit his prime (aka “took over the rap game”), Biggie and Tupac were gone.  R.I.P.

Additionally, for the lack of better words, Kobe Bryant is starting to appear worn-out. His performance in the 2010-11 playoffs was not too impressive; though, he got very little help from Pau Gasol.  However, the Kobe we all know and love and/or hate, would’ve put the Lakers on his back and pulled them through the challenge to complete the three-peat. The same performance withdrawal has plagued Jay-Z.  Every Jay-Z album has been a great compilation of music. But his last performance on the album “Watch the Throne” was far from his best work. As a whole, the album was a masterpiece, but it often sounded like a Kanye West album featuring Jay-Z, rather than a compilation. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still regard Jay-Z as the best lyricist, but he seems either a little disinterested or repetitive in his flow. Maybe that’s just what happens when you’re worth half of a billion dollars. Whatever the reason, he no longer provides the same level of aggression and rawness that we have grown accustom to experiencing and appreciating. And when I say, “we,” I mean the real Jay-Z fans and not the ones who just started listening to him upon his release of The Blueprint album. You can possibly make the argument that Jay-Z is more like a Bill Russell, primarily because of Russell’s eleven rings and Jay-Z’s eleven number one albums.  You can also make the argument that Jay-Z is more like Jordan because he’s the greatest NBA player of all time. Whatever your argument might be, more power to it.  I would love to hear it.  But, as I previously mentioned, my argument is based primarily upon the fact that Jay-Z will never have an opportunity to go up against Biggie or Tupac, particularly when all three artists were in their prime; nor will Kobe ever have an opportunity to go up against Jordan or Magic when all three athletes were in their prime.

Next on my list is J. Cole and his counterpart Derrick Rose. There are many reasons why these two individuals mirror each other, so let’s start at the beginning: Derrick Rose is slowly taking over the game of basketball. But what I love most about him is the way he is doing it. He has attacked the sport like a snake lying in wait for his prey. He has not made a big spectacle out of it nor has he been abrasive.  Moreover, he’s quietly becoming an on-the-court assassin. When Derrick Rose steps on the floor, you know he’s bringing 100% effort and heart, much like a modern day version of Allen Iverson who can also pass the ball exceptionally well.  D-Rose may not have the best jump shot, but it’s improving.

To further touch upon D-Rose’ assassin mentality, in the 2008-09 Bulls vs. Celtics playoff series, many of you probably recall that Ben Gordon was clutch and that John Salmons had his coming out party. What many people fail to notice is that Derrick Rose—as a rookie—had a solid 16 points and 6 assists per game.  Derrick Rose is considered the future of the NBA, particularly for those fans who like gritty and aggressive basketball players, rather than a bunch of “pretty boy” jump shooters. Derrick Rose serves as a reminder of when some of us adults were kids playing basketball in the park: when you got the ball and if you were man enough, you drove to the basket, took the hit, probably switched hands and maybe even impressed yourself with a lay-up that miraculously went into the basket.  Finally, Derrick Rose is very reserved and smart, doing his best to protect his brand and professional image.  You won’t find him living too lavishly or beyond his means or in the streets with an entourage.

The same sentiments translate to J. Cole.  I remember the first time that I heard J. Cole rap.  I experienced the same feeling that I received when I first saw Derrick Rose play basketball at Memphis as a freshman. I just knew that if he fell into the right environment and remained focused, he would take over the industry as a hip-hop artist one day. J. Cole is slowly becoming the most relevant rapper in the industry. He paid his dues, took his time and is progressively getting better. Just like Derrick Rose, J. Cole is taking over his profession quietly and strategically. His growth is most evident if you listen to his first mix-tape through his current album. He is not the best lyricist, but he’s certainly getting there.  He has become more versatile, developed a better flow, displayed more charisma, expounded on genuine issues, and become a better performer.  If you enjoy real hip-hop music—not the nonsense that we’ve dealt with for a while now—J. Cole is your guy.

Moreover, J. Cole, similar to D-Rose, is also very reserved and smart and is doing a good job thus far of preserving a solid image.  For instance, J. Cole has both turned down a limo ride from P. Diddy and a diamond chain from a jeweler. Why? Well, because at the time, he had just signed his record deal with Roc Nation and didn’t want to promenade around New York City as if he was “the man.”  Most importantly, he knew that he had not reached that level yet.  J. Cole is a breath of fresh air, a sign that good music is still possible, a sign of better days to come.  Last but certainly not least, J. Cole’s debut album hit number one on the billboard charts, which was much deserved. When J. Cole creates lines like, “I promise baby you can bet the bank on me,” you can’t help but notice his humble confidence. These two words wouldn’t normally find themselves aligned, but when you consider Derrick Rose and J. Cole, the description fits them perfectly. They are both so talented, they know it, yet they don’t boast about it.  In fact, they are both extremely underrated. When Derrick Rose won the NBA MVP award this past season, the“naysayers” criticized the League’s choice, saying he was good but not good enough, or that he was not better than Chris Paul or Deron Williams during the season.  J. Cole, as well, still faces criticism about him not being better than Drake or other young hip-hop artists in the music industry. It still remains to be seen how good these two men can be, but what the World does know is that J. Cole has the number one album and Derrick Rose holds the MVP trophy.  In my opinion, the future of hip-hop and the future of the NBA are both in good hands.

Next up, I will discuss Earvin “Magic” Johnson and his counterpart Tupac.  In the infancy of their careers, critics viewed Magic Johnson as flashy yet fun, while they classified Tupac as rigid and rough around the edges.  Though the two stars may have been polar opposites in there respective fields, they are actually very similar because they always did things their way.  When Tupac came on the scene in the 1990’s, he was a young kid rapping about being on the wrong side of the law.  It worked for him considering he amassed an immense base of fans.  Then, Tupac diversified himself when he began rapping about his appreciation of females in one of his most popular songs to date, “Keep Your Head Up.”

Indeed, “Keep Your Head Up” conveyed a complete opposite message from what his fans were used to hearing.  Tupac transitioned his lyrics from “gun-busting” to “appreciating and loving your sister.” As a result of him making this transition, he obtained an even larger fan base.  This served as a successful tool for Tupac to grow his brand because critics no longer labeled him as merely a Death Row Records advocate.  He was versatile.  They labeled him as a poet from the hood, a gangster rapper and arguably, the face of hip-hop.  By both holding up and standing under both umbrellas, he drafted the blueprint for rappers that followed in his footsteps, such as Nas and DMX, who sought to deliver a versatile mix of hardcore gangster rap and poetic, thought-provoking rap.

Likewise, Magic Johnson represented similar versatility.  The NBA has been and is a game of drastically diverse styles: the LeBron James power game, the Allen Iverson street game, and the Shaquille O’Neal dominance game, just to name a few.  Very few NBA players since the Jerry West and “Pistol” Pete Maravich era have successfully emulated their flashy but conservative style of basketball.  Then, “The Magic Man” entered from stage left.  He immediately made the former style of flashy yet conservative basketball popular and extremely entertaining, so much so that he changed the name of his team.  Indeed, the Los Angeles Lakers were no longer just L.A.’s team, rather they were Hollywood’s team; they were nicknamed the “Showtime Lakers,” and mostly thanks to Magic’s no-look passes, fancy dribbling and all around entertaining style of basketball.  Lakers’ fans grew to love and anticipate this style of basketball every time they entered the Forum.  Though Magic’s style wasn’t as popular throughout the rest of the League, he continued to do things his way, and we can all agree that he was great at it.  Magic’s style of play spearheaded a basketball revolution, and not only did he gain a strong fan base in California, he was loved around the World, except for maybe in Boston.

Moreover, commentators considered Magic Johnson a “freak of nature” because of his excellent ball handling skills and court vision, despite his abnormally large 6’9’’ frame.  To Magic’s advantage, he was probably the most versatile athlete in the NBA during his prime.  He could play every position on the court, including Point Guard, Shooting Guard, Small Forward, Power Forward and Center at any given time.  It was not surprising to see Magic dribbling between his legs against the 6’1’’ Isaiah Thomas or shooting the famous hook-shot over the 6’10” Kevin McHale and the 7’0” Robert Parish.

Both of these well-accomplished and admired men shocked the world through their abrupt and controversial career-ending moments. Tupac was gunned down on the Las Vegas strip following a Mike Tyson fight in November 1996.  His murderer has yet to be captured.  Somewhat similarly, Magic Johnson retired during a nationally televised press conference just before the start of the 1991-92 NBA season after contracting HIV.  Not shockingly, the world was distraught, bothered, hurt, and upset by both of their departures.

Next, I will discuss Eminem and his counterpart Dwyane Wade.  I draw this comparison based on two factors: (i) their “business partners;” and (ii) the brief professional interruptions during their careers.  With respect to business partners—who are often referred to in the hip-hop and NBA cultures as “running mates”—Eminem teamed up with 50 cent to form Shady Records/Aftermath Entertainment.  When 50 cent stormed onto the rap scene, many people immediately crowned him as being great, forgetting about the enormity of his running mate.  Granted 50 Cent sold millions of records and garnered a grandiose fan base, he has shown that he is nowhere near as talented of an artist as Eminem, primarily because his tracks lack sincerity, originality and depth. Though the fans and critics momentarily disregarded Eminem and placed him on the back burner upon 50 Cent’s arrival, they have come to realize that Eminem is still the superior artist.

Eminem, accordingly, has come back with a vengeance.  His “Relapse” album wasn’t great, but “Recovery,” released on June 18, 2010, was a masterpiece.  In short, the album proved that Eminem remains a lyrical genius.

Similarly, Dwyane Wade, the star Shooting Guard for the Miami Heat, had to momentarily hand over the keys to Dade County when LeBron James took his talents to Miami at the commencement of the 2010-11 NBA season.  A large contingency of NBA fans immediately crowned the Heat NBA Champions, while they simultaneously crowned Lebron James the most talented and seasoned basketball player on the team.  Though LeBron James may be as talented as D-Wade, most NBA fans can agree that his performance in the 2010-11 Finals proved that Dwyane Wade dwarfs him with respect to veteran experience and an innate ability to take over critical games.   During the 2010-11 Finals, Wade was clutch, smarter with respect to his shot selection, a better defender, a true leader, and most importantly, Wade exuded professionalism and a drive to win at all costs.  Ultimately, Dwyane Wade displayed that Miami remains his team.

In final, Dwyane Wade and Eminem both took brief hiatuses from their professional careers, yet they weren’t missed.  Eminem took a leave of absence from the music industry because of his confessed drug addiction.  Dwyane Wade took an involuntary leave of absence from the NBA due to injuries and a personnel shakeup within his team.  When the two entertainers disappeared, rumors spread that their careers were complete.  Nonetheless, they both reemerged and exploded on the scene, reminding us fans why we should have never counted them out.

Monday Musings

After taking a long hiatus, I’m trying something new this week with some Monday Musings on some hot topics in sports and entertainment.  Today we’ve got scandal, celebrity, and a little athlete career management.

Penn State, JoePa, Sandusky and Scandal

The biggest scandal of the weekend may be the biggest sports scandal and/or coverup we’ve seen in decades.  On Saturday, former Penn State Defensive Coordinator and longtime assistant to legendary Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno, Gerry Sandusky was arrested on over 40 charges including many involving sex crimes against children.  The charges stem from a 15 year period from 1994 to 2009.  It’s important to note that Sandusky was a member of the Penn State staff until 1999 when he surprisingly resigned.  While all of the charges are heinous, the most shocking story may come from a 2002 incident when then graduate assistant and current Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary observed Sandusky engaging in a sex act with a young boy (approximately 10-12 years old) in the Penn State lockerroom/showers.  McQueary, after consulting with his father, went to Coach Paterno the next day and told him he saw something, but according to Paterno and the Penn State administration, what McQueary told them wasn’t nearly as explicit as what McQueary later told the Grand Jury.  Paterno then told his Athletic Director Tim Curley who in turn shared the conversation with his boss and Penn State Vice President Gary Schultz.

And then…..nothing happened.  For 9 years, nobody came forward, nobody said a thing, nobody further investigated.  Both Schultz and Curley have been charged with perjury based on their testimony during the Grand Jury hearings.  And on Sunday night, Curley took a leave of absence and Schultz resigned.  But what about living legend Joe Paterno?

His son Scott, a former lawyer himself, claims that JoePa had no obligation to do anything but report what he had heard to Tim Curley because by 2002 Sandusky was no longer a member of Paterno’s staff.

“Unfortunately,” Scott Paterno said, “once that happened, there was really nothing more Joe felt he could do because he did not witness the event. You can’t call the police and say, ‘Somebody tells me they saw somebody else do something.’ That’s hearsay. Police don’t take reports in that manner. Frankly, from the way he understood the process, he passed the information on to the appropriate university official and they said they were taking care of it. That’s really all he could do.”

Scott is right that the testimony of Paterno would have been hearsay in a court of law, but as far as a police investigation goes, I’m sure they would have listened if Coach Paterno had picked up the phone.  What the police can investigate has nothing to do with what is admissible in a court room.  Forgetting the legality of it all, the bigger issue here is a lack of a moral compass by anyone.  If McQueary didn’t properly articulate what he saw, he should be ashamed of himself.  If he did, and Joe Paterno and his superiors didn’t aggressively pursue an investigation, they should be ashamed of themselves.  And even if he didn’t articulate it, but merely mentioned that he saw inappropriate behavior between Sandusky and a young boy in the Penn State locker room that should have triggered an outpouring of concern for the victim and contempt for Sandusky.   Yet nobody in State College felt compelled to pursue this.  Not McQueary, not Schultz, not Curley, and perhaps worst of all, not Paterno.  Perhaps he was protecting a friend, perhaps he was in denial about what he heard, but his actions were inexcusable.  And to now try to hide behind a legal curtain that doesn’t exist is shameful.

Joe Paterno spent over 60 years in college football, developing leaders and molding boys into men.  Yet his coverup and/or willful ignorance of this tragic scandal will not only end his football career, it will permanently tarnish his legacy.

Switching gears completely to last week’s news of Kim Kardashian’s filing divorce papers against hubby of 72 days Kris Humphries….

Here’s what I don’t understand – Kim Kardashian has made millions of dollars off of carefully protecting and shaping her brand.  Ever since the Kim’s sextape dropped and she became everyone’s favorite “celebrity”, she, with an assist from mother Kris, has done a better job than perhaps anyone in the world of managing her brand.  So how could she have so badly miscalculated the public’s response to her divorce just 3 weeks after her “fairytale” wedding aired on E! network?  There are a handful of rules you can never break in the court of public opinion, and rule #1 is never lie, or look as though you’ve deceived your fans.  Yet this “wedding”, that earned Kim an estimated $17.9 million dollars, did exactly that.  The hurried nuptials in time for the final season of her show, the immediate move to New York to film the next season with Kris, and the over the top media circus all reek of attention seeking.  And to make matters worse, Kim’s public statement did nothing to quell the rumors of a staged wedding when she refused to even acknowledge why people might think that would be the case.  Her love for Kris may have been genuine, but her defensiveness about the nuptials suggested otherwise.

Instead of telling the world that they were crazy to think she would marry for money or media attention, she should have been honest and open.   She could have acknowledged that perhaps she and Kris rushed into things, and that they realized they wanted different things.  She could have made mention that everyone makes poor judgment calls, and this was just one of those instances.  It may not have helped the diehard haters who had made up their mind, but for those fans (consumers) who still wanted to like Kim, it would have made her seem like a real person who is fallible, and not a media seeker who is beyond reproach.

Now we hear Kim went to Minnesota to talk to Kris and try to salvage things.  It sounds to me like just another way to get the cover of US Weekly again.  At some point Kim is just going to have to be honest with herself, and the world, about what’s really important to her.  Love, or fame.  Right now every action seems to indicate the latter, but if she gets too callous with the American public’s trust, she’ll end up with neither.

Finally, today marks’ the 20th Anniversary of Magic Johnson’s announcement that he is HIV positive.  While many today will comment about the great work Magic has done for AIDS research and awareness, or how far we’ve come in 20 years in our understanding, my take is a little different.

As an 11 year old in East Lansing, Michigan in 1991, the news about Magic was not just a global story, it was a local one.  Magic had attended Lansing Everett High School, not far from where I grew up and had attended Michigan State University in East Lansing.  As such, as a young kid, I had multiple opportunities to see Magic Johnson in person at basketball camps, MSU games, and local events.  And while he was always the star of the Lakers, he was also the local hero.   Even as an 11 year old, I immediately understood what the news about Magic meant for him.

Thankfully, we were all wrong, and Magic still continues to live a vibrant and healthy life as a businessman, entrepreneur, educator, broadcaster, and philanthropist.

And what occurred to me is that while Michael Jordan is the global icon for basketball, Magic Johnson should be the global icon for all aspiring athletes.  Sure, Magic made some awful mistakes in his youth and wasn’t a perfect human being.  And it probably took the HIV wakeup call to help him become the man he is today.  But Magic is exactly what every star athlete should aspire to be in the post playing career afterlife.  Magic wasn’t prepared for retirement when it hit him, but he adapted when he did.  He became an ambassador for a cause, he became a businessman who made hundreds of millions of dollars, he failed as a talk-show host but eventually succeeded as a broadcaster, and he is still involved in the sport he loves, basketball.

Now not every athlete will have the same kind of success that Magic has had off the court.  But if you’re an athlete who aspires to do greater things, Magic is the type of guy you’d want to emulate.  He’s taken advantage of the opportunities presented to him, and found a way to benefit the people he grew up with by involving his hometown in those business interests.  He’s a global ambassador for HIV, yet still does charity work in Lansing.  And most importantly, he’s found a way to stay relevant.  Many athletes are happy to just walk off of the court into a private life – and if that’s your preference, god bless.  But if you’re interested in still finding ways to still be in the spotlight and use your celebrity as a philanthropist, businessman, or even for fun, Magic has provided the blueprint.

Try “Duranting”

Tim Tebow kneels in celebration of the Broncos' win over the Dolphins

Directly following the Denver Broncos’ comeback win over the dreadful 0-7 Miami Dolphins on Sunday October 23rd, Broncos starting quarterback Tim Tebow, in signature fashion, kneeled in reflection while his other teammates wildly celebrated the improbable win.  Tebow—a second year NFL quarterback who has acquired a reputation for publicly displaying his Christian faith since starring as a Heisman “quarterback” for the Florida Gators—has also gained a reputation for having the lowest quarterback rating (QBR) in the NFL while maintaining a starting role at quarterback this year.

Is anyone shocked, though? Tebow is not, and never was, the stereotypical quarterback.  As a senior at Florida, he threw 21 touchdowns, yet rushed for almost the same number (14).  Florida fans grew to anticipate and love his quarterback sneaks into the end zone, where he rode piggyback on the shoulders of his fullback or offensive line, or personally bulldozed several linebackers as if they were crash test dummies.  Notwithstanding Tebow’s endless drive to excel and win, his former tactics clearly have not worked in the NFL.  NFL players are bigger and quicker, and as a quarterback, you can’t sit in the pocket for nine seconds without getting rid of the ball.  He has had flashes of brilliance this season mostly due to his pure athleticism, but they have been largely outweighed by his miserable decision making as the field general.

Surprisingly, conversation and criticism regarding Tebow’s poor play during his two starts as the Broncos quarterback this season have taken a backseat to banter regarding his signature kneel.  Indeed, following his ugly comeback win against the Dolphins on October 23rd, an immediate Internet craze baptized his kneel as “Tebowing.”  And since then, Detroit Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch and tight end Tony Scheffler celebrated significant plays against the Broncos last Sunday by Tebowing.  Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard tweeted pictures of him Tebowing in a fast food restaurant.  Moreover, the media has butted heads as to whether such imitation amounts to either disrespect and mocking of Tebow’s faith or mere playful entertainment.

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard tweets a picture of him "Tebowing" in a restaurant

Detroit Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch strikes a "Tebowing" pose immediately following his sack of the quarterback

Personally, I haven’t quite decided who is right or wrong with respect to the issue.  Nonetheless, I can confidently state that if you are a professional athlete, the act of Tebowing opens you up to more negative criticism than praise, even when your intentions are playful and innocent.  How does it possibly promote your brand as a professional?  It doesn’t.  If anything, professional athletes who imitate the kneel risk coming off as absolute jerks who are insensitive towards other individuals’ faith and the ways in which they express it.  They further risk alienating themselves from the aforementioned fan base.

Accordingly, I’d like to highlight another figure in professional sports who is worthy of more than mere imitation: Oklahoma City star forward Kevin Durant.  This past Monday, October 31st, Durant—one of many NBA players who currently sits on the sidelines while Billy Hunter and the Player’s Association negotiates with the league and its owners regarding a new collective bargaining agreement—decided to engage his twitter followers by expressing his boredom and need to be active.  Soon thereafter, the following tweets were exchanged between Durant and Oklahoma State student George Overbey regarding a possible opportunity for Durant to join George’s Fraternity in a flag football game that night:

@KDTrey5: This lockout is really boring..anybody playing flag football in Okc..I need to run around or something!

@groverbey: Got a game tonight in Stillwater!! I need a deep threat!! RT @KDTrey5: This lockout is really boring..anybody playing flag football in Okc..

@KDTrey5: @groverbey can I play

@groverbey: Can you catch?? Weve won the ‘ship for 3 years! Tonight @ 10 RT @KDTrey5: @groverbey can I play

@KDTrey5: @groverbey forreal?

@groverbey: Only if you bring your A game. Yes for real! Come up early and hangout, go over some plays RT @KDTrey5: @groverbey forreal?

Durant and George subsequently exchanged several private twitter messages and text messages, which led to Durant picking up George and several of his friends from their residence in his lavish—but very modest—van and driving them to the flag football game in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

On the football field, Durant further cemented his reputation as being both an elite athlete and a stand up guy.  Though the Oklahoma City Thunder could have likely voided his five-year $86 million contract extension due to kick-in this year had Durant sustained a serious injury on the field that night[1], he played the entire flag football game, recorded four touchdown passes on offense and three interceptions on defense.  He left the game in the same modest fashion by which he arrived, signing hundreds of autographs and interacting with just about every fan that reached out to him.

Most importantly, Durant left his fans with the sentiment that he doesn’t consider himself special or incapable of interacting with any of them on any given day.  Clearly, he’s just another one of the guys.  George Overbey summed it up best:

@groverbey: Had one of the best nights of my life tonight.. Game ball goes to @KDTrey5 . 4 tds and 3 picks! Thanks for coming up bro!

As a young professional, often your success directly correlates to the small decisions you make along your career path.  Thus far, Durant has figured “it” out, and has made all of the right decisions to propel his professional image off of the charts.  To all of you professional athletes who are attempting to brand yourself in a similar fashion, try “Duranting.”


[1] Most NBA Team-Player contracts establish that teams have the discretion to void players’ contracts where they engage in any activity that would subject them to more than a normal risk of injury.  For instance, in 2003, the Chicago Bulls waived the contract of second-year player Jay Williams following his involvement in a motorcycle accident that seriously injured him.  The team maintained that his contract was no longer legally enforceable and that it did not have to payout his remaining salary because he violated the contract by riding a motorcycle and injuring himself.  Williams, nonetheless, received a $3 million buyout from the Bulls as a parting gift.