No such thing as an alpha dog?

August, 6, 2010
8/06/10
2:56
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Seriously?

Don't take my word for it, I'm just learning about it myself. But apparently the idea that packs of wolves in the wild would be led by an alpha dog is outdated thinking. Apparently we used to assume that was so, based on some flawed research. But now we learn that packs have different social systems, based on family structures.

Nevertheless, we sure cling to that idea in basketball, and on some teams it works. On Hardwood Paroxysm, Rob Mahoney wanders into the issue of who will lead the Heat, wonders if alphas aren't really the ticket in the wild, how sure are we they're essential in the NBA?
Jordan chided LeBron for the very notion of surrendering that role in order to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Not because it was the wrong basketball or business move. Not because it wouldn’t give LeBron the best chance to win the first title of his career. But because after years of drinking a smoothie blended of alpha testosterone, individual brilliance, ridiculous success, and hubris, the very idea was unfathomable to Jordan.

This need to dominate not only one’s opponents but also one’s teammates is deeply embedded in sport as a whole, and there’s really no escaping it. Athletes strive to be alpha dogs, and if that desire doesn’t come naturally, it’s manufactured and nurtured within them from as early as possible.

So how about this for a foundational shake-up: What if everything we thought we knew about natural leadership and the alpha mentality turned out to be wrong?

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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