Being a guy is a weird thing.
You are almost playing a part in how youâ€™re supposed to act in life. Be tougher than the hurt. Never back down from anything. Donâ€™t show people youâ€™re scared.
Our existence is almost built out of acting the part of a superhero, and if you donâ€™t then youâ€™re probably going to be labeled as effeminate or a coward.
Being a guy in sports is even a weirder thing. If youâ€™re a professional basketball player, your physical and mental machismo is already in the top percentile. Youâ€™re more man than just about everybody. Youâ€™re bigger, faster, strong, meaner, and more of a â€œkillerâ€ than your average male.
But is being the most macho player in the league going to make you the most successful?
At the MIT Sloan Conference, Henry Abbott discussed how â€œbad decisions in sports skew macho.â€ And it many ways, heâ€™s correct.
The famous example, especially when discussing Henry Abbott dealings, is Kobe Bryant during crunch time. Whether you agree with the assertion that Kobe is a clutch player or not, I think we can all agree that he often takes unnecessarily tough shots during these moments. Maybe theyâ€™re not tough for him. Maybe heâ€™s practiced these so many times that theyâ€™re almost second nature to him.
But shooting a fadeaway jumper over two players doesnâ€™t seem like the best decision to make. Itâ€™s a macho decision. Itâ€™s a selfish decision. It doesnâ€™t necessarily mean itâ€™s the wrong decision, but if youâ€™re not as skilled as Kobe Byrant then itâ€™s going to be difficult to be successful making those macho decisions.
During his presentation, Henry offers up seven examples of how skewing away from macho tendencies in the NBA could actually lead to more success. He runs the gamut by discussing granny-style free throw shooting, meditation, crunch time decisions, selflessness, physical contact amongst teammates, skinny players and female leaders.
Shaq never made concessions with his free throw shooting because he didnâ€™t want to look silly by shooting like Rick Barry. Itâ€™s possible he could have had a more successful career if he was willing to make such a concession. Kobe Bryant has seemingly rarely made these concessions at the end of games. Yes, he wins games but if he was more willing to pass up the difficult shot for the â€œcorrect shotâ€ where would his final rÃ©sumÃ© be even more impressive than it is?
Making concessions is probably the hardest thing to ask athletes to do. The best players will often want to leave their mark on the game their way. Itâ€™s a way of being macho and asserting yourself as the best. Itâ€™s a way of showing that youâ€™re tough.
Being tough isnâ€™t always a necessary thing, but if youâ€™re conscious of your image in the NBA then youâ€™re probably afraid of being labeled as a fake tough guy. Chris Bosh and Kevin Garnett have seen a big hit in their public image because of labels like this. If theyâ€™re comfortable with their role and who they are then it wonâ€™t affect their respective games. But how many people are going to be unwilling to take that bait?
As we move into a more analytical era of viewing, judging and executing the NBA game, we see more examples of how sacrificing the image of machismo can be a successful venture. Looking at how Chris Paul runs the Hornetsâ€™ offense at the end of games shows that selflessness and not having to prove youâ€™re the man (even when youâ€™re often the most talented player on the court) is a perfect example of how unnecessary being macho is in the NBA.
Teams canâ€™t just identify grabbing the 12 best players onto a team as a legitimate strategy. If you build a team like itâ€™s a fantasy basketball roster, youâ€™re going to a philosophical discord between teammates when it comes to deciding who fills certain roles of the team. You need players who want to comfortably fit into their roles. You want guys that are willing to sacrifice personal glory for the greater good of the team.
Basically, you want the San Antonio Spurs of the last 12 years. And even though it sounds weird to say, you want the Lakers of the last decade as well. Both of those teams had their stars. And even though those Lakers teams had the two biggest stars with the two biggest egos, they had role players intent on doing their designated jobs with an offense that was designed to promote selflessness.
Both of these teams showed that there is a definitive balance needed between having a sense of being macho and knowing when to sacrifice for the team.
Henry left this discussion with a line that I found as poignant as anything in the NBA. He said, â€œmacho can be very important; itâ€™s just not everything.â€
Finding that balance can be a very weird thing.