I was talking the other night with my brother Mike, and, as it usually does, the topic turned to sports.
In particular, the future destination of the NBA’s top center Dwight Howard, he of the mile-wide shoulders, slam dunk championship and 2.9 million Twitter followers.
I didn’t get Mike’s point at first, and hearkened back to the days when superstars like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson spent their entire careers with a single team.
He was going in a different direction, though.
Rather Mike was bemoaning the fact that top-notch players like Howard, LeBron James, Chris Paul and others are just choosing where and with whom they want to play. This leads to three or four super teams with a legitimate chance of winning the championship, with the vast majority of teams having no hope whatsoever of doing so.
We revieved the two decades starting with Bird and Magic’s arrival in 1979 and ending with Michael Jordan’s shove of Byron Russell before launching a jumper from just beyond the foul line to clinch the Bulls’ sixth championship in eight years in 1998.
Here was the tally of championships during that era:
The concentration of power was even more intense during the first nine of Magic and Bird’s career, when their teams won all but one of the titles (This dominance shows why the title of their co-authored book, When We Owned The Game, was pretty apt.).
Still, though, I believe Mike, my brother that is, was onto something important.
Many people commented on the “AAU mentality” after LeBron James’ Decision in which players think it is their right to seek whichever teammate they think gives them the best chance to win.
While James’ attitude elicited a dismissive sniff from Jordan and a biting commercial from his Airness that Jordan denied making, it is not unique.
In fact, I would argue, it’s shared by many, many members of his generation.
Like our son Aidan.
Growing up in what I call the “IPod generation,” Aidan could barely comprehend the idea of unquestioningly purchasing an entire album, rather than just the songs that appealed to him.
I had the same experience when I taught a class of graduate students at the University of Chicago in 2009. Many of them could not see the value in having a collective experience, rather than simply, as one student explained, “what is useful” for us.
I don’t write this to disparage, as Jordan did, the new way.
Reading biographies of Jackie Robinson and Joe DiMaggio, two icons of the old era of fierce rivalries and players staying with a single team, reveals that they played their career’s one single-year contract at a time. In those years, the owners had virtually all of the bargaining power (This was a labor system that Curt Flood fought courageously and successfully to end.).
I’m not comparing how Dunreith and I grew up as music consumers to 1940s era professional baseball players, but I am saying that, while there were singles, the piecemeal approach to music, sports, television or any other activity in which we now have assumed choice enabled by technology simply did not exist in the same widespread way that it does now.
Some may say that parenting styles play a role, and I can see that.
But I would say that the increasing connectedness and leveling aspect of technology plays a greater part in linking the son of a state trooper who is considering a different team to ply his trade and our son’s musical passions and choices.
Is there an IPod generation? Is this viewpoint just a product of my moving deeper into middle age? Have the assumptions about levels of choice changed?