Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Bubble Reputations

Mark Twain wrote that if you “give a man a reputation as an early riser, he can sleep til noon.”

These types of bubble reputations are how Christopher Hitchens picked his targets, including Mother Teresa and Princess Diana.  Well, there are two other bubble reputations that need to be pricked, as Hitchens would say. Those reputations belong to basketball star LeBron James and women's tennis great Serena Williams.

First, LeBron James called himself a “leader” so many times that everyone believed it.  Then, in game one of the most recent NBA finals, his teammate J.R. Smith made a mistake in the last seconds of the game.  So instead of possibly winning in regulation, Cleveland went into overtime.  But how did “King James” react to his teammate’s last second gaff?  Did he do what a “leader” would do, i.e., run up to the teammate, tell him to shake it off, and then rally the troops for the overtime session?  After all, you’re overtime on the road in game one of the NBA finals—not a bad place to be.   

Not exactly.  Instead, King James behaved like an angry child.  He shunned J.R. Smith on the court, then sat silently on the bench awaiting the overtime period while his teammates tried to console him.  And after their loss in overtime he later revealed that he punched a blackboard in the locker room, which broke his hand and affected his play for the remaining three games of the series—games which Cleveland also lost on their way to getting swept 4-0 by the Warriors.  Despite this, when King James recently jumped ship for greener pastures in L.A., he was once again hailed as an “awesome leader.”

Second, what about Serena Williams?  She’s probably the best woman’s tennis player ever.  And along the way she somehow managed to build a reputation as a class act.  But at last week’s U.S. Open championship she had yet another run-in with the officials.  First, she was warned for receiving coaching from her box—something that is illegal in tennis and that her coach admitted he was doing.  Second, she was warned for smashing a racket on the court.  Her third infraction, which cost her a game, came after she continued to berate the official, demanded an apology for his (accurate) claim that her coach was sending her signals from the box, and called the official “a thief.” 

Her tantrum was the worst, most embarrassing show of poor sportsmanship that I’ve seen in a long time.  On top of that, many people believe that she ruined the victory moment for her twenty-year-old opponent who was dominating the match from the start, through the one-game penalty, and through the finish.  (Serena’s tantrums come when she’s losing, and this was no exception.)  Yet, despite all of this, the USTA praised Williams for a “great deal of class and sportsmanship.”  Seriously. 

LeBron James is probably the best basketball player in the last few years, and is in an elite group of the best of all time, despite having only three rings (two of them thanks to former Marquette star Dwyane Wade).  And Serena Williams is probably the best women’s tennis player ever.

But that’s it.  And that’s enough.  Let’s not make more of it than it is. 

As for me?  Well, it’s nearly midnight here in the Midwest.  With any luck, I’ll get to sleep by 3:00 a.m. and, hopefully, will be able to sleep in.  If I’m really lucky, maybe I'll even "sleep til noon."  Just don’t call me "an early riser."

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