Yes, Mr. Coonix. My name is Jean and I am calling about your recent visit to our store…
Time for another bogus survey. Every trip to the car dealer or the cell phone store results in one of these calls. You are warned in advance by the clerk, waitress or salesperson that anything less than a “ten” is considered a failure. Ten out of Ten. It is pass/fail with nine fail options. It is total BS. The employees are cowed into providing less mediocre service, the customers forced to pretend that they actually enjoyed the shopping experience. Sometimes we did, but we are nice people so we always give the requested superlatives. It is all so cynical.
There is a way to measure excellence. We know real success. And, we have witnessed the results of falling short of one’s expectations.
The Plain Dealer had a sad but important story in today’s paper about a basketball player who had fallen short of his goals. He had not lived up to his or his teammates’ expectations. His time with the Cavs could have been more productive. He had disappointed countless people around the country. And, in the end, he paid the ultimate price.
Mel Turpin died yesterday. To be more accurate, he committed suicide. He was only 49 years old. Mel Turpin was the sixth pick in the 1984 draft, the same draft that gave the league Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. He was a top collegiate player who had led Kentucky to several conference championships. But, he was a bust as a pro. He couldn’t control is weight. His nickname was Dinner Bell Mel. He only played five years before retiring.
Mel Turpin knew the definition of excellence. He knew what 10 out of 10 looked like. In college it was winning the final game, the one on the first Monday in April. In the pros it is winning the ring. It is being the best of the best. And Mel Turpin wasn’t. He lived with that and, sadly, probably died with that knowledge.
This all, of course, leads us to LeBron James. LBJ made a startling admission last night. He was forced to admit that he may be able to control the media, but he can not control the basketball court. He is not THE MAN. He ceded control to Dwayne Wade.
LeBron James was unable to convince Chris Bosh and D-Wade to join his team, the Cavaliers. The money was here. What was missing was the leadership. LeBron couldn’t get the job done. Just as he had failed on the court, he couldn’t execute the deal off the court. If he wanted to play with Bosh and Wade, he would have to leave HIS team, HIS home, HIS safe-haven and join them on Wade’s turf. The announcers and talking heads discussed LeBron as the point guard, sacrificing a part of his game to fit into the new role. To win a ring, to be a part of a championship team, LeBron was forced to admit that he couldn’t lead a team, or a city, to glory.
So what did we see last night? We saw the real LeBron. Unscripted. Amazingly unprepared. Off the court, when the lightning fast reflexes, the court sense, and the basketball knowledge are of no help, he had difficulty communicating. “ I’m going to take my talents to South Beach…” Really? Talents to Miami, laundry to New York?
Dressed in a loose fitting plaid shirt, the guy who had staged this whole self-indulgent promotion was unprepared when the lights came on. More importantly, he showed himself to be unprepared for the responsibility of leadership. He shamed his team. He shamed Northeast Ohio. And in particular, he shamed Dan Gilbert, a guy who appears to have given him anything he had wanted. Not only did Gilbert get the brush off on national TV, we, the audience, were told by James that Gilbert and the other teams were learning his decision during the announcement. He didn’t have the grace or class to talk to the people who had offered him millions. It was tasteless. It was sad. As I watched this spectacle I thought about his teammates, the team management, and the fans. G-d knows he didn’t.
So, if Miami wins a title, and that is a big if, will James be OK? Will winning an NBA title on someone else’s team be enough? Is being a really great role player enough to assuage his ego. I always thought he wanted to be Michael Jordan. I never imagined him as Scotty Pippin. But in this era of grade inflation, where everyone wants a score of 10 out of 10 regardless of the real value, maybe you can still be a King even when you live in someone else’s country.