We’ve spent all week hearing opinions about Donald Sterling’s bigoted attitudes, the NBA’s response, and reflections from a wide-range of commentators who try to be the most sensitive, the most astute, and the most relevant. We tend to focus on the big headlines and sweep aside the issues of privacy, gold-digging, and the ever-present lust for wealth that keeps many of us mute in the face of prejudice. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, though, expressed the most insightful view in his column for TIME, Welcome to the Finger-Wagging Olympics.
Prior to the media firestorm, I was checking in on various playoff series and came across comments from former NBA superstar Chris Webber as he watched the Hawks’ Kyle Korver. Korver, who is not known for his defensive abilities, helped fuel the Hawks win against the heavily favored Pacers with a key defensive play late in the game. As Webber did his best to skirt some racial stereotypes, I was struck by how often doing the right thing, like playing defense or treating people with respect, is usually very simple, but never easy.
BASKETBALL – Two steps!
In his twelve year NBA career, Kyle Korver has made a living by shooting over 43% from the 3-point line. He fits the classic stereotype of being a “white” shooter. He’s being called savvy, fundamentally sound, and a great role player, but few people ever talk about his defense.
In fact, after this photo was published, one writer for NBA.com even developed a feature called The Kyle Korver Hall of Fame for Embarrassing Defense Webber, who played with and saw Korver’s first days in the pros, commented that Korver has come a long way from being more than just a designated shooter. The NBA routinely cycles through designated shooters and few are able to stick with it and defy the stereotype. Larry Bird did it. And right now, J.J. Reddick, Steve Novak, and Matt Bonner are trying to do it – but what happened to guys like Adam Morrison and Steve Alford? We try to avoid stereotypes, but the perception that most white players can only play in the NBA if they can shoot is pretty common. So how did a guy like Korver change Chris Webber’s view of his defense? He moved his feet!
That’s all it was. Late in the game, Korver quickly slid his feet and forced Paul George into a trap. He didn’t get beat by the first move. He focused on forcing George to a help defender, and voilà, the Hawks forced a critical turnover in a series that now may end with an improbable 8-seed knocking off the 1-seed. All because Korver is doing the very simple act of moving his feet. Which apparently is much harder than it looks! But think about it – being able to slide your feet in either direction to stop a ball-handler can make the difference on a critical play. And, it’s not all simply God-given ability. My advice for any player at any level is to focus on being able to stop a ball-handler for two steps in either direction. Invest the time to condition your lateral movement, to strengthen your legs so you can stay in a stance, and to sharpen your reactions to a ball-handler. Don’t get beat with the first move. At any level, if you can do that, you can play. It’s a simple thing, but never easy.
LIFE – Do what’s simple.
I don’t have all of the answers for eliminating racism, but I do know that this world is filled with people who hold some type of bias. It’s not just a clash between races or cultures or morals. We see others criticize, discriminate, and shun people who are different in so many ways that we’re often immune to what’s going on. High achieving students avoid working with challenged or unmotivated students. People of wealth and influence look down their noses or avoid contact of any kind with hard-working, blue-collar folks struggling to provide for their families. Physically gifted people taunt or deride those who struggle to keep up. Bias involving race or lifestyle gets the big headlines, but how we view those around us, no matter what their differences from us, affects everything in life. Most of us have been taught the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you! It’s been with us throughout history because it’s true. And in a world of different cultures, morals, and traditions, it will always be necessary. It’s a simple thing, but never easy.
FAITH – It may not be easy!
This week, I also had the chance to see the movie “God’s Not Dead.” I’ll avoid playing a movie critic, but my family will be watching and discussing this movie later this summer! If you’re not familiar with it, here’s the trailer:
In the movie, the main character seeks advice from a pastor about whether to stand up to a philosophy professor who has challenged his faith in God. After directing him to a Bible verse, the pastor encourages him by saying “It’s not easy. But it’s simple.” As we consider the mess created by Donald Sterling’s attitude, and also how each of us treats others who have different skin color, beliefs, bank accounts, or abilities, Jesus gives us a simple solution:
“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
The challenge is to do a simple thing, even though it’s not easy. And like with Kyle Korver, it only happens when you learn through experience that sometimes you have to do things that may be hard.