Immaturity is nothing new to the NBA and as long as you allow teams to give 19-year-olds seven- and eight-figure contracts, it’s an issue that isn’t getting resolved anytime soon.
Now it should be pointed out that we as fans tend to get too worked up over player immaturity sometimes. Sure, it can be frustrating to watch a lottery pick flame out so quickly because he can’t get along with a coach or accept a role that doesn’t make him a 30 per night guy. I would argue though that there are some levels and signs of immaturity that are actually a very good thing.
Kobe Bryant is a guy we have all watched mature and grow from a talented kid into a superstar into the Lakers’ undisputed leader on and off the floor. All of that said, the guy is still immature on some level.
He demands input in every organizational decision. He refuses to keep in house disputes out of the media. He gets pissy when he doesn’t see full effort from a teammate – not because it’s hurting the team, but because it’s hurting Kobe’s chances to win another title. That’s immaturity, but it’s immaturity that has helped him blossom as a leader and as a ball player. More than that, it’s immaturity that history shows has more often than not is a positive for the Lakers.
LeBron James is immature on some level. It would be easy to point to 2010′s The Decision and leave it at that, but that’s just a chapter in the long story of LBJ’s immaturity. When he played in Cleveland he would quit on his team if he felt it was in a no win situation. He announced he was “taking his talents to South Beach” in the most insulting way possible to the city of Cleveland. He followed up that announcement with a stunning show of douchebaggery in Las Vegas rivaled only by an episode of Entourage.
James’ play has come a long way and done a lot to change the perception that he’s too timid and lacks the confidence to take the last shot with the game on the line. Funny how one championship can change public perception in that way.
LeBron’s immaturity is still evident outside of game situations, but it has actually been good not only for James, but for the entire NBA. Think back to the other night when a fan hit a half court shot and won $75,000. James, caught up by the moment ran out and tackled the guy in a fit of sheer joy. Just this past weekend he was standing up hooting and hollering at a University of Miami win over North Carolina and playing a game of catch with a fan in the stands before a Heat game. It’s all part of an image the NBA needs its brightest shining star to have – a guy that truly loves the game.
When you talk about the immaturity of NBA stars, it’s easy to single out the bad guys. Why shouldn’t it be? Immaturity is very rarely something to be celebrated.
As you watch the coverage of Dwight Howard and listen to the things being said about him needing to take basketball or his role with the Lakers seriously you’ll be tempted to paint all of these guys with the same broad brush. Too much money, too much fame, and not enough humility to know how to handle it all.
LeBron and Kobe aren’t the norm when it comes to growing up in the NBA. Just like Dwight Howard they were phenomenal high school talents that jumped straight to the pros. They are and should be the model though of how a negative perception can quickly become a positive one by making one simple behavior change. You don’t have to stop calling out teammates. You don’t have to be friendlier to the media. You don’t even have to stop acting like an idiot.
LeBron and Kobe have learned – in some cases the hard way – a lesson Dwight Howard either refuses to listen to or is incapable of processing. All you have to do is win. Be as silly as you want off the court – just make sure you get the job done when it’s game time.