Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Wade-ing through the sports-motivation b.s.

In the Miami Heat's fourth-quarter comeback against the Dallas Mavericks last night, we once again have an episode that's being hailed in some quarters as a watershed moment in "inspirational play"--but which, if you analyze it for about as much time as it takes to violate the three-second rule, breaks down on every level. The Heat's admittedly thrilling win in game three of the NBA Finals was led by the mega-talented Dwyane Wayne, who, in just his third NBA season, already is building a case for membership in not just the NBA Hall of Fame, but the sportsthink Hall of Shame.

"Dwyane Wade wasn't going to let the Heat go down in flames," begins a suffocatingly fawning article on the contest by Associated Press sportwriter-cum-cheerleader Tom Withers. "Not here. Not now. Not this quickly. And definitely not when he was finally feeling like himself again. So Miami's getting-better-by-the-second guard led a furious fourth-quarter comeback that put his team back into the NBA finals."

More from Withers: "Miami was down and apparently done after [the Mavs'] Jason Terry's basket made it 89-76 with 6:34 remaining. And that's when Wade, playing with five fouls and conjuring memories of Michael Jordan's playoff miracles, decided it was time for him to take over."

The AP writer quotes Wade thusly: "I said, 'I ain't going out like this.' " Wade shared his newfound PMA with his teammates, then went out and sank a number of key baskets, finishing with 42 points.

Allrighty then. A few questions:

1. If Dwyane Wade has this miraculous ability to marshal game-dominating play from within, and turn it on and off at will…why not leave it permanently "on"? Why allow his team to fall behind by 13 points in the first place? After all, how did Wade know that someone on the Mavs hadn't made a similar vow--e.g., "OK guys, we’re this close to victory, and I'll be damned if I'm gonna let it slip away…" Wouldn't those two motivational commitments cancel each other out? (I'm reminded of my father's joke about the two boxers entering the ring for a championship fight. The first one makes the sign of the cross. Seeing this, the second one also makes the sign of the cross, then says to his foe, "OK, we're even. Now it comes down to which one of us can box…") And how did Wade know that he wasn't going to fall down and break his leg before delivering on his pledge? Or do positive thoughts make you invulnerable to injury as well?

2. What does this imply about Wade's performance in the two prior games, both of which the Heat lost? In fact, what does it imply about his performance in all of the Heat's losses? If an NBA player (or any pro athlete) can simply "conjure" these mystical powers of self-destiny (and on the spur of the moment, no less), then clearly Wade intentionally and knowingly stood by as the Heat lost their previous games. Right? Instead of carrying him off on their shoulders, they should consider kicking him off the team for playing much of the time at less-than-full throttle.

3. Is there no one else on the Miami Heat professional basketball team who cares about winning the way Dwyane Wade does? So if Wade hadn't, in that moment, made his fateful decision to take over the game, the Heat would’ve simply rolled over and played dead? And no other player (Shaq comes to mind) would've cared, or taken any steps to prevent it?

4. I also find myself wondering: On how many previous occasions had Wade (or some other Heat player, or any other player on any other team in any other sport) burst forth with a similar rallying cry...that ended up falling flat? We don't tend to hear about those, now, do we.

And oh by the way, despite Wade's heroics, the Mavericks still could've pulled the game out at the end, except that Dirk Nowitzki (an MVP-caliber player in his own right) missed a few free throws. Evidently Nowitzki doesn't care about winning. Wait, let me amend that: He cared in the first two games, and up until there were six-and-a-half minutes left in the third game. Then he stopped caring, I guess.

Anyway, I for one can't wait till the next game. Because I assume--now that Dwyane Wade has finally decided to win--the Heat are unstoppable. So feel free to empty your 401(k), find a nice offshore betting enterprise, and plunk it all down on Miami. Yessir, your money's good as gold. After all, Dwyane Wade "ain't going out like this...."

P.S. And pardon my sacrilege (with Father's Day looming), but just wait till Tiger wins his next tournament. Then we'll have to listen to all that crap about how he "was inspired to do it for his Dad." Like the guy never won a golf tournament before...


Les said...

Steve, you're totally missing the point. The mental attitude thing in sports, or at least in this case is about being able to lift yourself up when you're down. To make something out of nothing. It's certainly not to imply that Wade could've done that all game long but just chose to "wait." It's that, unlike some athletes, he was able to reach down for that something extra when it counted. I did read your book and I agree with a lot of what you say about the hype in sports, but in this case I think you're overthinking it. Give credit where it's due!

Theresa Frasch said...

I love reading your stuff, and I love the way you think. I just mentioned your book on my site and will be talking about self-help for a few days. Stop by if you want:

Steve Salerno said...

Theresa, good to have you on-board. Les: My point about Wade, and the hyping of "a positive attitude" in general, is that it's portrayed as if (a) you can just turn this stuff on and off, and (b) you can almost "will" things to go your way if you simply "want it" enough. That's utter nonsense, and isn't even logical, for the reasons described in the post. I submit to you that any relationship between (1) the kinds of quotes blurted mid-game by people like Dwyane Wade and (2) the final outcome of the game is purely coincidental. You can't just suddenly "decide" to win a game you're losing--and then go out and make it happen. To believe otherwise is delusional, and sheer fantasy.

Steve Salerno said...

p.s. And if you CAN do that--then what possible excuse could you have for not doing it ALL THE TIME?? You should win EVERY game.