The answer is simple: It’s for the kids. And it’s funny.
For me, being able to laugh at myself and find the humor and irony in life is one of the keys to my success. It’s certainly a key to my happiness. Though, this wasn’t always the case. Particularly in the world of swagalicious professional sports.
Growing up, we were always trying to act cool. Maybe that was Michael Jordan’s greatest gift. Was there anyone cooler than MJ? No way. What made Jordan cool, though, was it didn’t look like he was ever trying He never went out of his way to seem like the coolest. Michael was just the guy that everyone admired and wanted to be like. Knowing what I know now about MJ, and what it takes to have the career that he had, the work he put in makes my head spin. We were never close enough to really feel this greatness growing up, watching the NBA on NBC. But, his presence, his coolness, and His Airness always made it safely into our living room.
As a result, I grew up with a lot of self-doubt as a basketball player. I was as far as you could get from MJ cool. I was gawky looking. Big feet. Big ears. My (once-signature) high top fade. Smooth I was not (smooth I am STILL not). Yet I was still a pretty good hooper; I had some coordination and a pretty good sense of timing. However, there was enough inherent humor in the way I awkwardly progressed through puberty that I didn’t need any extra funny in my life. As a result, I took myself waaaaaaay too seriously.
There was intense pressure to be cool, to look the part of swag. That’s all we knew growing up. There weren’t any ‘personalities’ in the NBA that embraced the lighter side of our profession and the natural humor that comes with a bunch of athletic men playing a kid’s game. Magic was the closest thing we had to a sunny figure, but he held himself with the same gravitas as Jordan. They were like us because we all played the game, but so unlike us because they embodied not only the athleticism, but that desired swag…
As I grew older, I quickly realized that I had a choice to make – be cool or win. One or the other but not both. Maybe I realized that I would never be able to afford the newest Air Jordans every year, like the others in the ‘in-crowd.’ Or no matter how I wore my uniform, it never looked as fresh as the other guys on my team. But one day, as a 6’4” 13-year-old seventh grader, winning became cooler than cool. I said to myself “SB, you are wasting your time and energy trying to make it look effortless and cool. Embrace the awkwardness, embrace your inner Urkel.” If you are younger than 30, you probably don’t know who Steve Urkel is. Let’s just say, Michael Jordan, he was not.
This realization was a significant point in my life and my budding career. So liberating, in fact, I started to revel in the fact that I was the anti-Jordan. I found the more awkward I looked, and the more effort it appeared to take me to play the game, the more that my opponents underestimated me. Gracelessness became a weapon – at least a psychological weapon – used for my benefit. I can still remember walking into the Detroit PAL gym at 1300 Beaubien on Saturdays, getting the once-over from the other team, and being instantly dismissed as a chump. I loved it. I knew I had my opponent right where I wanted him.
I simply cared more about winning and helping my team win, than what other people, especially my opponents, thought of me.
As a result, people rarely trash talked me. When a guy started in and started running his mouth, I would blankly stare at him. I never gave him the satisfaction of ever showing that he was getting inside my head. Ever try talking to a wall, it’s not very fun. I was the wall.
One of the things I tell young players, just starting out in the NBA, is that the day that they choose the success of their games over the success of their image is the day they will become a true pro. Real professionals know that the success of their game ultimately determines the shape and strength of their brand and image. This relationship does not work the other way around. Too many young players think their careers start with their brand and image, and their game is just a part of the equation. Game shapes brand. Brand does not shape game.
While this may seem common sense to most, in the environments of the alpha-centric NBA locker room, it is sometimes tough to have the confidence to believe in your game enough to be yourself. I saw many a young player flame out way too early because their focus was too little about the game and too much about the ancillary benefits that the game brings.
My advice to these people: Winning is cool. Having a sustained career is cool. Playing with class is cool. Enjoying the journey is cool.
Ironically, everyone thinks that we had a group that was too-cool-for school with the Miami Heat. From the outside, I suppose, it was easy to make that stereotype. Yes, LeBron, DWade, CB and the boys had a level a swagger that I had never been around before. The feeling, however, was different on two different levels. First, our group believed that we would back up the outrageous outfits and multi-level pre-game handshakes with our play. As with MJ, no one saw behind the curtain to see how much work our guys put into on our collective game. While it seemed we had more talent than our competition most nights on ESPN, the root of our dominance was born out of an intense commitment to repetition in the weight room and in the practice gym.
Secondly, our Miami Heat team, while swag-a-licious, was never afraid to enjoy the ride and make fun of ourselves. These were truly my people.
If our Harlem Shake video doesn’t sum up that group, I don’t know what does. I’ll never forget the day we shot this video after practice. It was hilarious. If you don’t see me, I’m the good looking Horsetronaut in the back. After we had finished filming, we knew that the talking heads were going to spat about our lack of focus on winning a championship. Internally, this video motivated us to play at an even higher level because we were determined to stick it to the naysayers. We were going to show everyone that we can have a good time AND dominate.
I value these experiences because of their authenticity. It ended up being a ‘cool’ video because we weren’t trying to be cool. In fact, just the opposite was true, we were trying to be as awkward as possible. And it worked because in a small way we all have a little anti-Jordan in us (yes, even LeBron, DWade, and CB, but they embrace it!)
So singing karaoke at Battioke is a culmination for me in many regards. Embracing the awkwardness and experiencing the authentic. I love that people slightly cringe when I launch into ‘Eye of the Tiger.’ It is my small way to show people that when you care about something deeply – in my case, providing an education to the underserved – it’s more than okay to subject yourself to the snarky judgments of others. But when you win – when we raise money to send kids to college – you revel in the authentic meaning of the journey and realize that you would do it all over again.