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Relationship lessons, as taught by the NBA

July 29, 2013

This past weekend, both the sister of one of my best friends and a former colleague married their respective long-term boyfriends.  As I celebrated their weddings, I, of course, faced the logical question:  what does the NBA teach us about marriage?  Quite a bit, actually, and I don’t mean that 100% facetiously.  So let’s see what our friends in the NBA have to say.

Hand signals…off the court.

Hand signals…of love.

Chris Paul has been an upright citizen since his move to the Los Angeles Clippers.    (Not that I’m implying that he wouldn’t be, of course; but he seems to wear nerd chic more often than most players.)  The State Farm insurance advertisements do not fail to crack me up no matter how many times I see them.  Here, though, I draw a slightly different lesson related to matrimony:  persistence in the face of adversity.  Let’s take a look at the ‘game’ footage:

Chris and Cliff, separated at birth, yet striving to assist those around them.  A good lesson for couples:  assist your partner, even in difficult times (and in silly sweaters).

Of course, NBA fans will remark that I’m simply reiterating a point driven home over the course of two decades by Karl Malone and John Stockton of the Utah Jazz.  Surely there have been few such successful partnerships in the game?  Definitely true.  Other fans and I recall fondly the 1992-93 Upper Deck “Scoring Threats” cards featuring duos such as Malone-Stockon, Hakeem Olajuwon and Otis Thorpe, Terry Porter and Clyde Drexler, and (comically, at least to me) Tom Chambers and Kevin Johnson.  Comical, of course, because Charles Barkley was on the 92-93 Phoenix Suns.  No big deal that he was the MVP that year.

However, I’d like to focus on Johnson for a moment.  Forget Chambers.  (Sorry, Sir Charles, you didn’t even make the cut.)  Recall, however, that Johnson is now married to Michelle Rhee.  I shan’t make any jokes about how Johnson, now mayor of Sacramento, managed to keep the failing Kings while the reforming Rhee lost her job in Washington.  However, indulge a few comments.  Both Johnson and Rhee have striven to be the best in their (admittedly large) niches.  Mayor Adrian Fenty ran for public office; Charles Barkley was the public face of the Suns.  However, neither Johnson nor Rhee tried to do it all by themselves.  Another important lesson:  don’t attempt to be Hercules all the time.  Work on your strengths…but realize that it’s impossible to be perfect.

Of course, HT readers know of our bias towards Michael Jordan (and perhaps against LeBron James).  Jordan and Scottie Pippen appeared on a “Scoring Threat” card, too, and, along with Stockton and Malone, were the only two teammates to be members of the Dream Team.  However, unlike the somewhat quiet Malone and the selfless Stockton, Jordan and Pippen were both stellar athletes and a potential rivalry always bubbled under the surface.  Wagging tongues gossiped that MJ’s return in 1995 stemmed, in part, from his desire to reassert his dominance as the Bull given Scottie’s phenomenal interregnum performance.  This is, hopefully, not the case.  However, Scottie and MJ—and, in a way, the Heat’s strange trio—have shown that high-profile, highly talented individuals can work together profitably.  Another lesson:  respect one another and don’t let your talents blind you to the merits of your partner.

Lean on me.

Lean on me.

Sadly, as Mason showed so well in his article on the Charlotte Hornets, some successful marriages break apart.  Other unholy alliances, such as the New York Knicks in the mid-2000s, obviously crumble.  (See Mason’s excellent article here.)  Let’s shift gears and focus on these broken ones momentarily in order to learn what not to do.

Don’t cheat.  This should come as no surprise, yet many players are guilty of the analogue in contract negotiation and general whining about franchises.  While some griping is justified, depending on the context, some players take it to a new level.  Perhaps surprisingly, I don’t think LeBron James is the most egregious offender here.  He gave several solid seasons to Cleveland and led them to heights not seen before.  Respect.  Instead, I’ll hone in briefly on Dwight Howard. His level of complaining, selfishness, and childishness in Orlando bring back memories of the mid-1990s with the big egos of the high-flying Magic of yesteryear.  Howard even led the NBA in 2010-11 in technical fouls.  After demanding a trade and eying some different prospects that season (including the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers), Howard stayed a little longer in Orlando.  Clearly, however, his heart was not with the team.  Howard’s infidelity continued, however, after his post-season trade to the Lakers.  Rumors about his lack of commitment, clashes with Kobe Bryant, and disappointing numbers led to his departure to the Houston Rockets a few weeks ago after just one season.  Howard’s implicit message is clear:  “the teams don’t fit with me and I deserve better.”  Perhaps; but Howard has shown himself unwilling in the last few seasons to grow and adapt.  The lesson:  stay committed and grow instead of making absurd demands that impel you to flit from one relationship to another.

I’ll round this off by returning to the Bulls.  They embraced bizarre power forward Dennis Rodman and put no limits on his behavior—provided, of course, that he played his best on the court.  He reciprocated—and also married himself in the process.  People come in all shapes and sizes, as in the NBA.  There are short and tall, guards and forwards and (excluding most of the West in the early 2000s) even centers.  The final lesson, therefore, is to be respectful and encouraging.  People are people everywhere.  Some are strange and some are crazy.  But everyone should be accepted by their spouses for who they are.

Just don't ask for marriage advice.  No, seriously.  Don't.

On which side of DOMA does he fall?  Hmmm…

Best wishes to all and sundry in their romantic endeavors!

Addendum:  a comment came in asking about Doug Christie, a favorite here at HT.  Check out the sequel post here, which features Christie and arch-nemesis Rick Fox.

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