A friend of mine, a friend trained as a psychologist, once said that "we’re all screwed up; successful people just find an area that suits their pathology." That’s a cleaned up synopsis of an R-rated quote, though I bring it up because it illustrates a fundamental truth in professional sports. Competitiveness, taken to an unhealthy extreme, is highly rewarding. Combined with even the smallest measure of skill, a freakish need to win invariably leads to winning. Wining brings public acclaim despite the occasional vilification for aggressive behavior (behavior that would make you hate the guy in real life).
Kevin Garnett, for better or worse, is the epitome of the hyper-competitive athlete. Juxtaposing Boris Diaw and Garnett, we see that the qualities that make Garnett so valuable to his team are the same qualities that Diaw seemingly lacks; making him infinitely frustrating to many. While Garnett’s channeling his inner canine to prepare for a game, Diaw may be riding a Segway around the arena; perhaps not wanting to expend too much energy. While Garnett’s racking up allstar appearances and trips to the Finals, Diaw’s becoming the butt of yet another joke and facing questions about whether or not he’ll be traded. Why is it then, that I appreciate Diaw as a player far more than Garnett? The answer is simple: Garnett, and every player like him, is completely foreign to my world. Garnett’s personality is far more suitable to the NBA than that of Diaw’s. We may like to think that we bring the same work ethic to our jobs, though, in reality, many of us go about our business in a manner that more closely resembles Boris Diaw.
I’ve always been a bit of a Boris Diaw apologist precisely because I see so much of him in my own approach to work. I don’t get excited to go into work every day. I often loaf. I’m truly good at what I do, though I produce significantly less than I could. I would be a right hypocrite to get upset with Diaw for putting no more effort into his work than I do my own. Like many others, I perform a job that’s arguably more important than that of a basketball player. However, I’ll never be subject to the sort of ridicule and criticism that professional athletes receive daily. That makes sense given that they’re highly paid public figures, though it’s also kind of backwards given that many of us perform services directly effecting people's well being.
In a manner befitting a French national, Diaw has come to the NBA and essentially ignored the standard rules of engagement. He doesn’t sling his body around the court in a show of extreme effort. He doesn’t get many rebounds; the ultimate blue collar hustle stat. He may look annoyed at times, but he never seems to garner that look of indignant anger that great players tend to get when they’re losing. Perhaps too often he seems a little less than interested in his job. I know it’s just my contrary nature, but I’ve always liked this about Diaw.
Obviously, I like to see the Bobcats win, but I can’t hold it against Boris if he doesn’t seem to give full effort every second of the game. His demeanor seems genuine, and honestly, far more human than that of the hulking super competitor that Kevin Garnett brings to game. For that, I appreciate Diaw despite his frustrating lack of production on the court. I’ll never pick him for my fantasy team, but I’ll always watch him play.