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American NBA Players Are Spoiled

I grew up deep-rooted in isolated Washington Iowa, where people lend a helping hand and strive to live their lives with honesty and integrity.  Besides God and family, a man's word is everything held dear. I am proud to be an American and believe that there is no better place to live than the great United States of America. I always knew that being an American meant that I was blessed to live in a country that has more than most in the world.

During my professional basketball career, I had an opportunity to travel to different parts of the world and experience cultures beyond the American culture in which I am accustomed. Living and playing basketball in countries like Poland, China, Argentina, and Venezuela were eye opening learning experiences. The biggest lesson I learned is that Americans are spoiled, generally. 

When I played in China, there was a basketball star on my team.  He had played professional basketball the majority of his life.  Halfway through his career he was in a beer commercial.  His payment was a new Buick.  When I asked him for a ride to practice, I didn't realize what a big deal it was to own a car in China.  He was so proud of his car! There was another player on the team that was in the waning years of a long career, his dream, was to own a car.  These are professional basketball players!

I taught high school and one glaring issue was unearned entitlement students felt they deserved. Why? I believe it is often the parents.  It is human nature to want offspring to have a better life than they had growing up. So children are showered with too many material things and opportunities without earning them. Entitlement becomes an unconscious by-product. Now, every child growing up who participates in activities receives a participation medal. There is no division between a winner and non-winner.  I have learned it is more correct to say non-winner instead of saying loser in now-a-day society. Again, WHY? Losing and failure teach us many more lessons than winning.  Time and time again, the USA proves that it is a country of waste, overindulgence and entitlement.

Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich understands how hard it can be dealing with spoiled NBA players. Known as "Pop" to many, he is a very good judge of character. Coach Pop was an assistant coach on the Golden State Warriors when they drafted me. I liked him from the moment I met him.  He makes you earn what you deserve.

With Serge Ibaka returning unexpectedly to the playoffs and being the player whom helped Oklahoma City Thunder beat the San Antonio Spurs, Coach Popovich praised him, saying, "I think he's a special player and a special person".  Popovich also said of the Congolese big man whose surprise return from a calf injury Sunday changed everything in the Western Conference finals that the Spurs when they led 2-1., "The way he handles himself, the class that he exudes, I think he's the best defensive player in the league."

"I think he's been overlooked to some degree in that (defensive) regard. But he also does what he does at the offensive end. I think he's one of the most gifted players in our league because he's a dual player. He does it at both ends of the court. But he's also a fine man, so that's a pretty great combination."

This wasn't just any opposing coach who was heaping praise upon his opponent. This was the Air Force Academy born-and-bred Popovich, the man who spent the past two decades cornering the market on international talent and who is always quick to explain the merits of having a worldly existence. It's not always a politically correct conversation to have, if only because you can run the risk of insulting the hundreds of American players in the league that all had a path and varying levels of struggle of their own.

But Popovich, whose Spurs set an NBA record with 10 international players on their opening-night roster, has never hidden the fact that he has a soft spot for the young men who weren't a product of the AAU machine. There's no sense of entitlement with players who weren't coddled from their early years, no "me-first" mentality to get in the way of team success or douse the inner fire that Popovich sees as vital. Ibaka, who made such a dramatic impact in Game 3 and will start again in Tuesday's Game 4, is a Popovich kind of player if ever there was one.

By the time Ibaka was 8 years old, his mother had died of natural causes and he was forced from his hometown of Brazzaville because of the Second Congo War that would eventually claim more than 5 million lives. A few years later, Ibaka , who lived with 10 of his siblings growing up and has 17 in all, was without his father for more than a year when he was imprisoned for political reasons. He lived with his grandmother, as his bio reads, in a house that had no electricity or running water.

Basketball became his respite along the way. And after seasoning his game for several years playing professionally in Spain, the wildly-athletic, tough and talented two-way player who was drafted by the Thunder 24th overall in 2008 finally entered the NBA in 2009. Three seasons later, Ibaka signed a four-year, $48 million extension that unofficially sealed his status as the Thunder's third star behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Good job Ibaka, you earned it!

Allow me to share a personal tidbit happening currently in my life.

I am friends with a family, our children play together and on occasion we get together and play card games and really enjoy the connection. These friends have an opportunity to move to Lima, Peru for work.  They have signed on for three years.  Although I am going to miss them dearly, I understand what this will do for them.

Every person, if given the opportunity should spend time in another country. Visit a third world country; it will be glaringly obvious how good we have it here in America.  When a person thinks they are having a bad day, there will then be a reference of what really constitutes bad. No car? No running water? Living on very meager pay? Working a job that was assigned to you? Going to bed hungry?

What a wonderful experience they have to look forward to. Their 7 and 5 year old will learn another culture.  They will be immersed in different food, language, life.  A life of earning what you deserve. I believe that a lesson learned will be that entitlement is earned, not expected. 

So that brings me back to this wonderful world that is out there.  Explore it every chance you get, it will better you as a person and allow a more complete understanding of how good we have it in America. 

Let's stop taking America for granted.

Serge Ibaka doesn't.


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