A couple summers ago, when I lived in Denver, the Nuggets were contemplating how to spend the free agent bucks they’d been stockpiling. Rumor turned to speculation turned to reality, and eventually the Nugs pulled off a deal that would pay Kenyon Martin, then of the NJ Nets, something like a hundred brazilian dollars to join the team.
There was a lot of talk around the Athletic Club at Denver place, where I played noon ball. Some thought it was a great idea. Others felt like I did – Martin was a punk, just like every other player who’d come through Cincinnati in the Bob
Tarkanian Huggins era, and it doesn’t matter how much talent a guy has, character is an essential component in a championship-winning formula. While K-Mart wasn’t an Xtreme Punk (like another Little Tark prodigy, Ruben Patterson, who the Nuggets recently acquired from the Portland Jail Blazers; his rap sheet includes “misdemeanor assault, third-degree rape and a recanted allegation of domestic violence. He is the only player in the NBA required toregister as a sex offender“), nobody had ever painted him as a strong locker room influence, either. He was simply a me-first/me-only guy – winning was nice so long as he was at the center of attention and drawing the big dollars. But understand, in that list of three things, winning was a distant third in importance.
If experience with pro athletes has taught us anything, it’s that handing out max contracts to punks isn’t a message that incites behavioral reform. No, it’s usually taken as validation that whatever they’re doing is right. Basic positive reinforcement lesson from Psych 101: rat pushes bar; rat gets pellet; rat will keep pushing bar. In fact, when I did that experiment back in Psych lab, it took less than ten minutes to get the rat hammering that bar like it was a set of bongos. Two-fisted, I’m talkin’.
Well, we’re now two years into the future (that’s ten minutes in rat time) and K-Mart is playing the bongos. He’s been suspended for conduct detrimental to the team after a halftime meltdown a few days back where he went off on Coach George Karl and several teammates.
The high spot of the tirade was apparently when he ripped off his jersey and screamed, “I ain’t no fucking role player.” Well, duh. Ain’t nobody I ever talked to accused you of being a team guy, ‘Mart.
I’m guessing I don’t sound surprised?
I hate it because the Nuggets are my team. Or maybe they were my team. We’ll have to see about that. They’ll be looking to offload this particular cancer on some other halfwit GM this summer (smart money says keep an eye on Isaiah Thomas and the Knicks – overpriced attitude problems are like crack for Zeke), and unless something unforeseen happens 2006-7 is going to be a step back for Kiki’s boys. And I’m even more disgusted about the Patterson acquisition than I was about Martin’s – as bad a team guy as K-Mart is, at least he never raped anybody (that we know of).
As I’ve said before, I find that I watch less and less sports these days. The why is simple: I have a lot of things I can do with my time and my priorities tend to line up around my personal principles. I don’t really value our out-of-control sports/entertainment culture in general because I see how much money we pump into things that make us worse and how little we dedicate to things that legitimately matter. And I just feel dirty spending money to cheer for stupid thugs who symbolize just about everything that’s bad about society. Ruben Patterson. Dany Heatley. K-Mart. Terrell Owens. Barry Bonds. Todd Bertuzzi. Mark McGwire. Kobe. Rafael Palmeiro. (I’d add the Duke lacrosse team to the list, except that the jury’s still out on that one. Stay tuned as details become available.)
This doesn’t mean I don’t love sports. I do. I play as much as I can and I continue to believe strongly in the values we can learn from sport approached properly. I wouldn’t be who I am without sports.
But when I watch the pros (and the college moneyball sports, as well) I don’t see sport. Not like what it should be. I see bad lessons being taught, not good ones. I see cynicism, greed, stupidity, and arrogance.
Kenyon Martin isn’t the disease, but what’s happening in Denver is yet another symptom…