In our continuing homage to Joe Freeman this week we present the latest of his player-oriented articles, this piece on Andre Miller. As has been intimated in reports all week, Miller is not all sweetness and light, especially with the media. Freeman's write-up makes that quite clear. As a member falling under the general category of "Blazers media" I have this to say:
Seriously, more power to you Andre. In general I have complete respect for guys who want to keep their lives out of print as much as possible, especially the personal side. If a basketball-oriented question needs to be asked I believe players should answer to the level their consciences and wisdom permit. But anything beyond that is properly their choice. I love learning more about Blazer players if they care to share. I don't feel I have a right to information they don't want to give. I don't feel cheated by not knowing what someone's favorite sandwich is or how their relationships are going. If a guy wants to be just a basketball player, well, that's what we pay him for. Even to the extent that the media spotlight has been focused on me, which is microscopic compared to the treatment professional athletes get, I can tell you it's a mixed bag. I've mostly had great experiences. I've had a couple with people who already had their story written and were simply looking for the most advantageous possible quote from me to confirm it no matter how I felt. I do not begrudge a player his skepticism, especially during Week One in a new town.
Another major thrust of the article is that Miller isn't really into what I'll loosely term "Blazer Things": excelling in the training camp physical, dining together, shooting the bull. We have to insert a caveat here, as given his level of disclosure with the media (sparse, at best) he may actually show sides to his teammates that we'll not see anytime soon. But assuming it's true that Andre is rather cavalier about these matters, as a passionate and loyal Blazer fan I have this to say:
We aren't here to sing Kum Ba Yah and make macaroni art. We're here to win games and a championship. I have fully supported this group of young, talented men growing together, buying into the program, and learning the discipline necessary to succeed. But another lesson remains. Those things are not there for their own sake but to foster winning. There's always a danger when developing culture that the culture itself becomes the focus rather than the paths along which the culture is supposed to lead you and the goals it's supposed to lead you towards.
I see this in my day job all the time. I'm not intending to offend anyone by talking religion and I'd appreciate it if the comment thread didn't feature this as the main point, but I think it's an illustration that most people can relate to. When people first starting doing God stuff they needed to band together in order to do it properly. In order to facilitate the communal stuff they formed churches with various forms and practices and what have you. Theoretically this allowed them to focus together on something greater and to move together in its direction. Practically what happened is after a while (less than a generation in most cases) people became accustomed to the forms and practices, held onto them tightly, and basically abandoned any sense that they led to something beyond themselves. This happens repeatedly even today. The end result is a plethora of people who are excellent at doing church but really sucktastic at doing the God thing. You end up with a team, sure, but it's a team that's focused inwards, never progressing. It becomes exclusive, stale, and eventually dies out. This is not an anti-church polemic, and I'd be an enormous hypocrite if I were being anti-religious here. You can't do faith without some kind of communal/cultural interaction any more than the Blazers could have gotten to where they are right now without the famous culture shift of the last few years. Rather this is a reminder that every culture can fall prey to its greatest enemy, which is invariably itself. People who can participate in the culture and yet go against the grain enough to highlight that fact are invaluable.
Andre Miller may be just such a prophet for the Blazers. He's perfectly positioned as a point guard, a long-tenured veteran, and a prime member of the rotation. He also has the talent, skills, and court demeanor to make a difference. All of these allow him the leeway to poke and prod in other areas.
Some will no doubt be worried whether the countercultural guy could actually break the culture. After all, if one guy leads will not others follow? This could be a threat to Nate McMillan's authority, to team bonding, to the great relationship the Blazers have with their media and fans right now. But I doubt it will be. Few things in this league are absolute. We all dream of an ideal system with rules and encouragements into which every player, from the youngest rookie to the most aged veteran, fits smoothly and willingly. It doesn't exist outside of Hollywood. You make allowances for any number of factors. Talent is one. Seniority is another. Success is the ultimate one. Notching any of the three on your résumé gets you leeway. Miller has at least two. If a young buck tried to copy Andre's lead, blew the physical, said he didn't care about much until the real games started the coaches could rightfully (and with a straight face) pull him aside and say, "Talk to me about that when you're 14 years into the league and are respected as one of the better pure players at your position. Until then, get your [butt] running." When Zach Randolph or Darius Miles pull this, it's trade time. When Andre says it, it's wisdom. He's earned it.
Whatever mourning we do for the end of utopia will hopefully be more than made up for by the beginning of dynastic dreams. The Blazers needed a little kick in the butt and a reminder that, marvelous and mushy stories aside, winning is still the only coin of the realm in this league. This is oversimplified, but it reminds me a little up a bunch of kids gathered around a bed. An older, tougher kid walks up and asks what is going on.
"Charlie lost a tooth. We're waiting to see if the tooth fairy is going to bring anything."
"Come here," says the older kid. "Let me show you something."
So he leads them outside, finds another kid--one who is known for picking on the younger guys--balls up his fist, and punches him square in the mouth. As the other kid runs off holding his newly detached dental work and crying the older kid smoothly lifts his lunch money. "Let him wait for the tooth fairy. We're getting some ice cream."
Yeah. That is better.