Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Respect - Sometimes It's Earned

I usually read John Canzano's column that is published in the Oregonian a few times per week. Sometimes I find myself agreeing with him, but most of the time I am left to wonder at some of the positions he takes and defends. I realize that some columnists are in the game to rile people up, and if that's the case, this guy does a good job of that. But sometimes he hits upon a key point like in his column today.

The Portland Trail Blazers are 23 and 15 after their game versus the Boston Celtics tonight, who hold the best record in the NBA at 31 wins and 6 losses. The Celtics have three great players, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, easily some of the best talent collected on a team and these guys are on their way to the Hall of Fame at some point. The young Trail Blazers could have walked in there and been intimidated and lost, and for the first few minutes of the game, it looked like they were overwhelmed a bit. But when shots started falling and the team made a few defensive stops in the second quarter, they found their game and went up by 9. They lead at the half, and kept things going until Ray Allen finally got heated up and the Celtics' aggressive play combined with some unusual official calls, the team finally succumbed and lost by 10. The game was much closer than the score indicates, but that probably won't be the story tomorrow. Instead of a team that has surpassed a lot of expectations and doing things not expected of a team this young, the stories will probably focus on the Celtics getting back on track after losing two games.

It's sad really, and Canzano makes a very valid point here. The Trail Blazers are absolutely though highly of by the NBA and some of the writers that follow the team, but they aren't respected very much and are still thought of as "over their head". I mean when sportswriters or other NBA media folks refer to Bo Outlaw for Travis Outlaw, LeMarcus for LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Olden for Greg Oden, it slaps in the face of disrespect here. Most media places have fact checkers in place, but to make fundamental mistakes like this doesn't make sense unless you don't respect what this team is doing.

I can see why they might be saying that. We don't have a true All Star on the team, even though Brandon Roy should be on the team. His numbers don't leap off the page, he just leads by making others better which often doesn't show up in the stats page. LaMarcus is getting better and better with each game, showing great defensive presence and an ability to hit shots from all over the court. Steve Blake, Jarrett Jack, Sergio Rodriguez and James Jones have all played integral roles making outside shots, key rebounds, and making great passes. Martell Webster has grown up this year, going from a timid outside shooter to a truly complimentary small forward. And Joel Pryzbilla, Channing Frye and Raef LaFrentz have manned the middle, playing tough defense and getting key rebounds as needed. None of these guys is a true NBA household name, you don't see their sneaker ads on TV, you don't have NBA commentators blathering on about how good they are all the time, and playing on the West Coast means most games out here are done while the East Coast sleeps.

The thing is that the team is great because of the sum of their parts. Yes, no one individually in that group strikes you as amazing, but put the collection together, let them play hard and help each other along, and behold - great things happen. Guys step up as needed, hitting game winning shots, making key defensive stops, scoring when other players are down, it ends up being a true team effort. And if that doesn't scream respect, I don't know what does.

But too many people think respect means doing things flashy or humiliating your opponent to make yourself look better. It's hard for me to watch some of the so called great NBA players, because it's all about what they do to make themselves look better and pad their own statistics. Kobe Bryant may be a great NBA player, but he's the epitome of a selfish ball player who has little interest in making his teammates better around him while he's chucking up shots. He may have NBA titles but I can't respect a player who selfishly thinks of himself before the team.

To me, respect means making your teammates better and looking at the overall goal above anything else, and avoid being caught up in the trash talking, ego game that seems to be prevolent in sports. I have never been a fan of trash talking, although that could be due to my team sports experience participating in Track and Cross Country, the ultimate non-trash talking sports around. You just don't see a lot of trash talking running around a circle multiple times or running a long distance course where you may not see a crowd until the start/finish area. But to me, all trash talking does is mean you have to humiliate your opponent to make your talent look better. An individual's goals shouldn't be above team goals in most cases, and everyone should understand their roles. It's a lot to ask people to sacrifice of themselves and check their ego at the door for the better good, but when it comes together, the results can be amazing.

And that's why I don't necessarily care that much if people don't respect the Trail Blazers. They are doing things the right way, and the results are showing on the court, and slowly but surely the big secret out northwest is being exposed. And having a team that you can love and respect at the end of the day is the most amazing thing a sports fan can ask for.

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