You may or may not have noticed that the NBA Finals are taking place this week (I definitely noticed…see afore-mentioned posts about sharing the remote control) The Oklahoma City Thunder currently trail the Miami Heat 2-1 in a series that’s rife with stars, storylines and last second shots. Interestingly enough, both teams’ stars have occasionally struggled with their “marriages.”
When LeBron James joined the Miami Heat (you might have seen something about that…his TV special was the sports equivalent of The Bachelor and involved South Beach being awarded a rose, Cleveland burning jerseys and an audience of children awkwardly watching the whole thing), he was clearly joining Dwayne Wade’s team. Nonetheless, James was immediately and obviously the best player on that team. Given the murky nature of this new super-team, they struggled to figure out who would take the last shot, who would be the team’s leader and generally how to play together. And that struggle showed at moments. The other Miami Heat players seemed to stand around wondering what would happen next. Eventually, James’ status as the most talented basketball player on earth made him more and more of a leader, but the growing pains were significant and included last year’s Finals collapse.
Meanwhile, in Oklahoma City a super team was being built via draft but encountering pretty similar problems. Kevin Durant had been anointed “next big thing” status fairly early in his Freshman year at Texas. After all, he’s a 7 footer with silky moves, a smooth shot and ice running through his veins. Also, he’s avoided the injuries and attitudes that derailed many other talented youngsters. Then something strange happened: the Thunder also happened upon an extremely gifted young player named Russell Westbrook, an unparalleled athlete that wanted and deserved…well…the ball. Who would be Batman and who would be Robin? Stay tuned, folks. We still don’t know yet. Westbrook was just benched in Game 3 for some questionable decisions. While the Heat seem to have become James’ team, the Thunder are still finding themselves in some ways.
What does this have to do with marriage? More than you might think. A few weeks ago, ESPN posted a column about how the San Antonio Spurs managed to navigate a similar circumstance when Tim Duncan (an all-time great) was suddenly drafted to play alongside David Robinson (also an all-time great). They won a title almost immediately, and there was barely any drama. How was that possible? Check out this quote from Robinson
For me, when Tim came, the very first thing I told him was, ‘I’m going to put you in position where you can succeed. Period. That’s it. If you’re a better scorer than me, I’ll put you down on the block, you score. I don’t care. I can do other things.’…You don’t lead the league in scoring without believing that you can put the ball through the hoop more than anyone else in the NBA. I didn’t necessarily think I wasn’t the best player on the team. I still felt like I had my role to play. It’s sort of like being a husband and a wife: Who’s more important? Nobody’s more important. You’ve both got your roles, you play your roles. And everything goes great as long as you play your roles. As soon as one of you guys acts like you run the show, and you’re more important than the other one, everything goes haywire.
Yup. There it is. For years, people have believed that every basketball team needs a clear alpha dog, and for centuries people believed that marriages needed a clear leader (and a clear follower, actually). What if it’s not about alpha dog status, at all? The Heat and Thunder have been finding themselves for some time now; meanwhile, the Spurs skipped right past growing pains and right into championships. Everyone just accepted a role…and not a better role or a worse role, mind you. There doesn’t need to be a Batman and Robin; there just needs to be a Dynamic Duo. The Heat seem to be figuring that out. Of course, they also seemed to have figured that out last season before dropping 3 straight to Dallas in a similar situation. Sometimes being a team is easier said than done, and there are plenty of relationships (and basketball scores) to prove it.