Our Selfish Tragedy, Josh Smith, Leaves UCLA

I don’t fault Josh Smith for not wanting to be an elite basketball player.

That just very well may not be his bag. Sure he has a skill set to be great but does that mean he has to polish them? Does the fact that we see the potential of a dominant center mean Josh Smith needs to become such? No.

What’s had us up in arms about Smith’s tenure at UCLA is the fact that he tried it all on for size. He committed to the effort – in theory by joining the team – and never got around to the work. Because good things don’t happen simply because you start them. They happen because you finish them.

What Josh Smith wants is not what I want.

When I was nineteen I was going to be a Major League pitcher. Not nine, nineteen. Let’s just say that for me to have AJ Burnett’s stuff, I might not ever have a first born (I still don’t have a first born but that’s becomes a conversation about maturity and responsibility best had with my grandmother who may or may not disapprove of my lifestyle). Alas, I peaked at 88mph and that – like most good American boys – was in high school. I recounted some of those glory days this past weekend at home for Thanksgiving and then got back to my day job. Nine-to-five like so many others. I’m not ashamed of that; but I still wish I’d gotten that golden touch – like innately wearing PF Flyers – to get me past that glory days hump.

I never got it. Josh Smith did.

But here’s the thing, success is an internally driven outcome. I’m not going to be great – truly great – because you told me to. If I’m going to dominate computer programming, change the world of code, it’s going to be because I love that stuff. I have some natural talents and I expand on those (full disclosure I know nothing about programming or code or java or anything). The work is fun – or at least rewarding – because I know where it’s taking me. And if I’m not doing it for me? I’m taking short cuts and I’m happy with pretty-goods and that-ain’t-bads.

In Smith’s case, we call it a tragedy and that’s fair. By the standards of men who can’t fathom doing half the things he’s capable of, the tale of Josh Smith is tragic because we are the same men who can’t fathom forgoing such intrinsic skill. And that’s a selfish tragedy.

That’s not to excuse declining production and an inability or lack of desire to get in shape. When you sign up to play basketball at UCLA – or anywhere for that matter – you’re committing to something bigger than yourself; being game ready is imperative, expected, and required. When you’re not, people notice. When you’re annually not prepped, people get upset. Or worse yet, disappointed, and therein lies my point. We’re jealous of what Smith could have been and disappointed he didn’t want what we wanted. He is our selfish tragedy. The guy we’d never let ourselves be.

Additionally, it becomes a failure of the collective. From Coach Ben Howland to whoever has surrounded Smith, the young man has not been set up for success. At least by the possibly and likely unfair expectations of bystanders such as myself. Such as scouts, coaches, players, you.

Smith’s transfer is a terrific study in motivation. No one was going to push him to succeed unless he wanted to be successful. I won’t venture to know who or what surrounds him, but I can’t imagine there were many people sincerely in his court; perhaps overwhelmed by enablers or clingers-on reminding him he was above the requisite work. He’s not and none of us are. To lose the pounds, you have to put in the time whether you’re a D-1 athlete or trying to look good for bikini season, you’ve gotta do you.

And Josh Smith didn’t. His production suffered and reputation disintegrated. My hope is that he does figure what he wants out. Is that an NBA career? Maybe and that’s on the radar. If I’m him, I get my ass to Houston and hire John Lucas (The Sports Whisperer) and get me into shape, physically and mentally. But again, that’s me still trying to pitch game 7 of the World Series. Not Josh Smith. I suggest this because, optimistically speaking, he now finds himself with a world of possibility. He can literally go anywhere and do anything.

I hope he does what he wants.

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