It’s been awesome to watch NBAers taking their talents to streetball courts all over the world this summer. It’s been even better to see some professional ballers deciding it’s worth their time and money to go back to school and finish what they were required to start before they left for the NBA. As Yahoo! Sports’ Marc J. Spears reports, four former UCLA Bruins and current NBAers have added laptops, lectures and reading lists to their familiar daily regimens of working out and lifting weights.
“Being a regular student is kind of fun,” he said.
Ariza said he is learning more now than as a freshman because he has a “different appreciation” for college. While he is also considering playing in Spain, China or Serbia if the lockout drags into the fall, he is currently focused on his coursework at UCLA.
“I’m really going back for my two sons,” Ariza said. “Eventually they’re going to realize that their dad fulfilled his dreams doing what he wanted to do and still got his degree. For them to see that will be a great example for them to follow.”
This is fantastic. It’s fantastic to show all of the young basketball players dreaming of going pro that making it to the NBA and making that first million (or two) isn’t enough to guarantee you’ll be set for life. It’s fantastic that these young men (and a veteran in Davis) recognize that the career window of a professional athlete isn’t long to begin with, but can be drastically shortened, or immediately ended, after one awkward landing or awful injury. It’s fantastic, so fantastic, that this mutes the argument for those who want to criticize those players who do leave school early to pursue their dreams.
As someone that regularly took summer classes because I preferred taking a lighter course load during the year — when I worked at the campus gym, covered one basketball team and managed another — there’s something amazing about being able to dial in and really focus on the material you’re being taught. Summer classes are (often) an option rather than a necessity, so if you’re there, it’s because you want to be. Like Trevor Ariza said, he appreciates the classes more now, because he doesn’t have someone forcing him to be there. It’s his choice. Despite being in the league for seven years, Ariza knows there will be life after basketball and he’s being prepared. That’s smart.
At the same time, it’s also smart to take the chance and make that leap when your stock is high and all the opportunity in the world is in front of you. Nothing frustrates me more than hearing people who have never been in the situation sit and tell me that DeMar DeRozan shouldn’t have left USC when he did because he could have benefited from another year as a college player before turning pro. Really? You don’t say. Instead of staying and getting some more education, DeRozan parlayed the hype of a successful PAC-10 Tourney into the ninth pick in the 2009 NBA draft. He is now doing what he loves, supporting his family (including his mother who has long suffered from Lupus) and living a dream. How can anyone argue that?
You can’t. And you shouldn’t. So don’t.
You should feel great about the number of guys who are recognizing that the NBA isn’t always going to be there, though. Recognizing that even the most thrilling athletes and talented superstars are not invincible. You know what else you can feel good about? The opportunity this lockout gives to these players to show who they are in their time away from the game. Perhaps never has this been more evident then right now, during the lockout when there is time to do more than play, sleep, eat, workout and recite motivational rap lyrics. During this ridiculous “work stoppage” we’re seeing tweets from guys talking about class, Twitpics of them in the hallways of school, hearing Ariza talk about dropping off his son to school before heading to school himself. They’re normal, young guys. They’re just very tall, very athletic and very, very rich.
So often the young professional athlete is given a bad rep. They’re spoiled and selfish and stubborn. They typo their tweets. They’re not engaging. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Besides being thrilled to hear about guys wanting to go back to school and continue their education, I’m thrilled to see people who subscribe to these stupid stereotypes be silenced.
Maybe that’s what this lockout can do for us. With every young guy that makes the decision to go back to school, whether it’s to fulfill a promise to a mother, father or grandmother or to simply keep busy and study something that interests them, these stereotypes are being broken down. With John Wall, Rajon Rondo and Eric Bledsoe slated to go back to Kentucky to study and man the sidelines as assistant coaches, the argument that young players are selfish, stubborn and uncoachable gets weaker. With golden boy Kevin Durant taking his previously hidden “business tatts” to his Twitter avatar for everyone to see staring back at them as they continue to fall in love with his authentically affable personality tweet by tweet, it’s time to get serious.
The stereotypes that have long plagued the young, rich athlete never were fair but today those stereotypes need to be dead. Done. Over. With the extra access and information available, there simply isn’t room for those backwards assumptions any longer. We shouldn’t need examples and quotes and articles to prove this, but if stories about guys going back to school is going to do the trick, I’ll write about every paper and project every current NBA student-athlete is assigned. Let’s find the positive in this lockout. Let’s close that horribly clichéd chapter and use the lockout to educate those who might not be on the same page as us.
Education is a good thing. There are plenty of NBA fans out there with lots left to learn. Let’s catch them up to speed.