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'Me culture' takes center stage yet again

4/11/2012

Two years after "The Decision," we have arrived at another anticipated television announcement crossroads.

On Wednesday night, Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel will decree their college intentions, setting off a wave of euphoria among the winners and a sea of despondency for the losers.

I have but one question: Haven’t we learned a damned thing?

In the NBA right now, Orlando Magic executives are asking "Why can’t we just get along?" after Dwight Howard, the one-time lovable giant, has been exposed as a fraud, hugging and grinning in public with his coach and all the while trying to orchestrate his dismissal behind the scenes.

In Dallas, Lamar Odom is done for the season even if the Mavericks are not, a blowup with owner Mark Cuban serving as the final straw.

In 2010, it was LeBron James’ turn to put his image in the shredder, his Decision on ESPN revealing a prima donna who failed to realize how disingenuous his orchestrated announcement appeared.

Where do we think all of this is created? The thinking that basketball is an individual sport?

Right here during the signing period, an extended holiday in college basketball that at its roots is fun and harmless, but in its execution has become egocentric and narcissistic.

Let’s make one thing abundantly clear, underlined, bolded and in all CAPS -- THIS IS NOT THE FAULT OF EITHER MUHAMMAD OR NOEL.

They are teenagers. Most kids their age are begging to be heard. These two have entire fan bases dissecting the meaning behind their every 140 characters.

On Monday, Noel tweeted "Gon shock the world," which set off massive hyperventilating in Kentucky (Does that mean he’s not coming?!?!), Washington D.C. (We’d be the shockers, right?!?!?!) and Syracuse (Do we qualify as shocking the world?!?!?!??).

They’re having fun with all of this attention, soaking it up while they can. Who can blame them? Who wouldn’t do the same?

No, the problem isn’t the kids.

It is, as usual, the grown-ups.

We build these kids up before they are 20 and then wonder why so many don’t listen to their coaches. We tell them that the world revolves around them, only to berate them when they expect the world to revolve around them. We make them believe that their individual choices will drastically affect the masses and then get angry when they can’t be part of a team.

It can’t go both ways, yet we insist that it should.

This year Kentucky’s national championship team was lauded as much for its unselfishness as its ridiculous talents -- and deservedly so. The Wildcats succeeded because of their willingness to sacrifice individual glory for the greater good.

But let’s stop and think about that for a minute. Why is that such a big deal? Shouldn’t that be the norm instead of the exception? Basketball is still a team sport, so shouldn’t playing as a team be -- oh, I don’t know -- expected?

Sadly, we all know the answer to that.

Look at the NBA. If you can stomach it, watch a summer-league game. There is no "I" in basketball, but there’s an awful lot of it on the court. Iso is no longer a strategy. It’s an offense.

Which leads us to today’s latest Decision(s). Twitter may actually crash amid the rumors, speculation, sources, theories and worries out there, an entire basketball culture on hold until two kids announce where they are going to college (and going for all of one year, in all likelihood, but that’s another topic for another day).

And sometime around 9 p.m. ET tonight, when losing fan bases are left in the lurch, you can bet your house that Muhammad and Noel will be treated to the other side of idolatry. In fact, I’d suggest a Twitter moratorium for both, since the viciousness and vitriol will be immediate.

None of it makes sense, not the worshiping and not the sure-to-follow hatred. Not for people who next month will be picking up their prom dates.

Perhaps these two will be, like Kentucky 2012, the exception. Maybe they not only will live up to the hype, but debunk the myth that great players can’t be great teammates.

Certainly there are plenty of NBA players, past and present, who have proved that you can be both.

But every year it gets harder as the attention comes earlier and the hype piles even higher.

It’s an awful lot to ask two teenagers to make a decision and then decide to act like grown-ups.

Especially when the grown-ups can’t even follow their own advice.