The Athletes Who Really Are Role Models…. For Us All

I’m an 80’s baby and I’m a basketball fan.

Charles Barkley once famously said that he “is not a role model.”

If you remember the NBA in the 80’s you remember a ruthless league. A “punch your opponent in the face and knock his teeth out” league. Literally.

None of them should be role models.

The court was a war zone. Teams hated each other.

The Punch. The Bad Boys of Detroit. The “Jordan Rules.”


80’s baby. 90’s kid.

Some people look back on this time with fond remembrance. When Lebron, Wade, and Bosh teamed up to be teammates in Miami, people said “Jordan, Bird, and Magic would’ve never done such a thing. They hated each other.” They say this like hate is a good thing.

This is the equivalent of World War II vets trying to convince the rest of us that we should all still hate the Japanese.

They’ll keep the comments going too, saying things like “AAU basketball is the worst thing that ever happened to the sport. Now, these guys grow up playing with and against each other their whole lives and develop friendships.”

That’s a bad thing in their eyes. You can’t be friends with the enemy.

Really though, dude? Do you really think that the competitiveness of the sport is suffering because Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Lebron James can be friends when they are not on the court? Do you really think they don’t play as hard or work out as hard because they get along with each other?

I’d disagree.

These guys are some of the best athletes and competitors the world has ever seen and they are able to do it with a smile on their face – and without being egotistical dickheads a la the Michael Jordan era.

Yes, Michael Jordan is a fierce competitor. He’s also an egotistical self-centered asshole – and to model and revere him and his behavior so much should’ve been bad for the sport and for us as a country, as a World.

Only a crazy girl in Colorado with daddy issues kept us away from revering the next great pompous asshole of the sport (Kobe) – we should all be so grateful for her.

Robert Cialdini points to an experiment that shows these factors in his book, Influence.

“Simply by separating the boys into two residence cabins was enough to stimulate a “we vs. they” feeling between the two groups; and assigning names to the two groups (the Ealges and the Rattlers) accelerated the sense of rivalry. The boys soon began to demean the qualities and accomplishments of the other group. But these forms of hostility were minor compared to what occurred when the experimenters purposely introduced competitive activities into the factions’ meeting with one another. Cabin against cabin treasure hunts, tugs-of-war, and athletic contests precede name calling and physical friction. During the competitions, members of the opposing team were labeled “cheaters,” “sneaks,” and “stinkers.” Afterward, cabins were raided, rival banners were stolen and burned, threatening signs were posted, and lunchroom scuffles were commonplace.

At this point, it was evident to Sheriff that the recipe for disharmony was quick and easy: Just separate the participants into groups and let sit for a while in their own juices. The mix together over the flame of continued competition. And there you have it: Cross-group hatred at a rolling boil.

A more challenging issue then faced the experimenters: how to remove the entrenched hostility they had created. They first tried the contact approach of bring the bands together more often. But even when the joint activities were pleasant ones, such as movies and social events, the results were disastrous. Picnics produced food fights, entertainment programs gave way to shouting contests, dinning-hall lines degenerated into shoving matches. Sheriff and his research team began to worry that in Dr. Frankenstein fashion, they might have created a monster they could no longer control.”

What does this remind you of? If you answered human history you are correct. Rather than “The Rattlers” or “The Snakes” though its largely been things like religion, race, and patriotism playing these roles.

Luckily, the new crop of stars has broken the mode. They’ve shown us how we can compete with each other, push ourselves to be our best, yet all get along. We can all stand to learn a great deal from them.


They’ll still compete against each other, just fine..