Sunday, March 25, 2012

Another Humbling Experience for Myself

Dear Dwight,

As you know, ESPN covered your trade status these last few months the way CNN covers major natural disasters—except ESPN stuck to the story longer. I remember in January on MLK Day I was at Dick’s Sporting Goods in the middle of the afternoon while my wife bought running shoes, and up on the big TV screen I saw an ESPN anchor ask Jalen Rose about you. In response, Jalen started complaining about our 24/7 media culture—before proceeding to discuss which L.A. team would be the better fit for you. I wanted to yell, Jalen, you’re complaining about yourself, bro! You've become what you hate! But I didn’t, because I was in a public place and nobody listens to me anyway. But as of last week’s trading deadline and your decision to stay in Orlando for another year, all that bullcrap is finally over, at least for a while. The Worldwide Leader has moved on to that other fascinating Floridian, Tim Tebow (again). And now that the chatter around you has finally tapered off, I’m hoping I can have your attention for a moment to offer a very small piece of advice. I have no comment on how you handled the situation these last few months, nor on your decision to put off a decision for a while. I want to talk to you about something else: Remember a few weeks before the trading deadline, when you played in New Jersey? And remember how the Nets fans, throughout the game, chanted "We want Dwight! We Want Dwight!" and held up posters and cardboard cutouts to encourage you to come to the Nets? Remember what you said after the game? If you don’t, let me quote you: "It's a humbling experience…I wish more people can see how it feels to go into another arena and have big faces and posters, it's a humbling experience. It's a blessing. I've been to every arena and it feels good to have a great reception, not only here but everywhere I go. And like I said, it's humbling and I really appreciate it." Well, my advice to you is very simple, Dwight: You gotta stop using the word humbling like that. I’m serious. The experience you were referring to is not humbling at all. Actually, it's the exact opposite of humbling. And in the future, you’ll no doubt experience many more moments like this one, and you’re going to want to use the H-word to describe those moments, too. Don't do it, Dwight. For the sake of yourself and NBA fans everywhere, please don't do it.

To be fair, you aren't the first player to use the word this way. LeBron’s been doing it for quite a while now. And his boy D-Wade has started doing the same. In February, when they were named All-Star starters, their Twitter responses were the following: "Man I’m so humbled and blessed! Love all my fans!!" (LeBron) and "Thanks to all my fans for voting me in as a starter. Very humbling" (Wade). LeBron, though, seems to be the major trendsetter here and maybe even the originator of this usage. Rarely does a month go by without Bron mangling the H-word. During the 2010 playoffs, after he learned that he’d won his second straight MVP award, LeBron described the moment to the media as "another humbling experience for myself." And he’s shown no sign of slowing down since then. I’m far from the only person who has noticed this. Do a Google search, Dwight. There’s even a Facebook page called "I’m humbled by LeBron James’ misuse of the word humbled." Now, to be clear, I could see a way that one might describe some of these experiences as humbling, maybe, if framed in a certain way. For instance, if a player said that he's humbled to be around so many great all-stars, that might work. But that's definitely not what LeBron is doing. Mere adoration is not humbling. Nor should it be referred to as such. When it comes to his use of the H-word, I fear Bron-Bron is beyond saving. But there’s still hope for you, Dwight. You’ve only just started using it. There’s still time for you to change.

With that in mind, I'd like to give you a quick refresher lesson in the meaning of the word, using examples from my own life. Example A: When I was sixteen or seventeen, I asked a girl out on a date, the first time I’d ever done so. (I was a late bloomer, Dwight.) I was nervous as heck, but I finally forced myself to call and ask her out, and she said yes. When this girl, a beauty queen (seriously), agreed to go out with me, I was not humbled, Dwight. However, I was humbled a couple days later when I called to solidify our plans (time, place) and she told me that she couldn’t go anymore because she had to go on a hayride. No joke. A hayride, Dwight. That is humbling. Example B: I was not humbled when I applied to graduate school and one of my absolute favorite writers of all-time, the great Barry Hannah (Airships, Bats Out of Hell, High Lonesome), left a message on my voicemail that began, "Hello, lad…" and then explained that they wanted me to come to Ole Miss, where he taught. In fact, Dwight, at that moment I was less humbled than I’d ever been or ever will be again about writing: Barry Hannah loved me. It was my closest equivalent to We want Dwight! Not humbling at all. I was humbled when I turned in my first short story to Barry Hannah's class and he handed it back a couple days later with his judgment. On the last page he’d described my story as a “cemetery of words.” (“Why am I reading this?” he wrote in the margins of another page.) When your favorite writer describes your writing as a cemetery of words—a place where words go to die—that’s humbling, Dwight. Final example: I teach freshman composition at a regional university in Georgia, and recently one of my students told me in front of the rest of my class that she liked the way I dressed. In that moment, I wasn't humbled. The youngsters liked my style. I still got it, baby, was my thought. I planned to go home and brag about this to my wife. But then my student explained that she liked my style because, she said, "You dress so plain that it isn’t distracting, like some other professors." Again, this is when I was humbled. (Also, subsequently, I put on a pair of long shorts and my wife told me I looked "like Kris Kross.") These are my examples, Dwight. I hope my experiences can help you change. I encourage you to print this letter out and refer to it whenever you’re considering using the H-word in the future.

If you’re looking for your own examples, though, think about that Youtube video of you and Hakeem working out in Houston a couple summers ago, and how Hakeem in his retirement still seemed to have more offensive skills than you. Way more, actually. That's humbling. And there are other examples, Dwight, from playoffs past as well as off the court, but it’s not my job to humble you. It’s my job, a job I've taken upon myself, simply to remind you that some things are indeed humbling and some things are not. Even the best NBA players experience both, and it's important to be able to distinguish the two. If NBA fans know anything about you by now, Dwight, we know that you're a guy who wants very much to be liked (as we all are, of course). And nobody really likes a person who can't tell the difference between what's humbling and what's merely ego-inflating.



P.S. What does it say about the sports world that you've been criticized so much for smiling, by the way? I don't believe there's any statistical correlation between smiling and losing. MJ smiled pretty frequently, right? And Magic smiled all the time. If you stop smiling and keep losing in the playoffs, people will talk about how you need to loosen up and enjoy yourself. In other words, people don’t know what they’re talking about. Keep smiling, Dwight. And remember, Hakeem didn’t win his championships until his 30’s. You’d do well to follow his famous mantra: “Stay humble, stay hungry.” That guy always used the word correctly.