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
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.