Michael: In Steve Nash NBA names MVP and Role ModelSteve Nash may be a great basketball player, but I wouldn't know. I wouldn't know a layup from an alley-oop. In fact, I cannot recall having ever written about sports before. The less said about sport the better in my opinion. Really, there just isn't much to say. You need only listen to a few pre- or post-game interviews to know that. But the election of Steve Nash in preference to Shaq as NBA MVP says something about values that calls for comment.
Despite my conviction that sport is to be seen, not heard, I do grasp the moral and ethical dimensions of sport. Sport does teach values, as does any other group endeavor - but which values it teaches is up to us. The MVP election between Nash and Shaq was a statement on values, I hope.
Nash is a self-effacing point guard whose claim to MVP status is through excellent leadership of his teams and his league-leading assists average. Shaq is a mega-star conglomerate franchise as well as being a flashy center, a big man who drives to the hole, and leads his team via his celebrity style and energy. Nash has centered his career, as measured by his assist record, around making his team-mates look good, and his teams win. Shaq has centered his career, as measured by his league leading field-goal average statistic, around putting the ball up accurately and often. Nash's approach built better teams, Shaq's built better endorsement contracts.
Nash epitomizes the 'team centric' values of sport: serving others and putting the team first. Shaq epitomizes the 'player centric' values of sport: putting individual achievement first and hoping that the result will be the good of the team. While Nash works quietly to help his team succeed, Shaq is the very model of how to use a celebrity-obsessed sport, in a celebrity-obsessed culture, to propel one into new and exciting opportunities having nothing to do with the team and everything to do with ego and ambition. In short, Nash vs. Shaq is a parable for much of what is most objectionable about popular culture and the value system underlying the 'stars' so many of us worship.
Even as the American Right rails against Hollywood, they relentlessly promote the exceedingly materialist and individualistic values that lay at the heart of the 'star' system. Their worship of a celebrity-mogul like Schwartzenegger, and lionization of the entrepreneur and the weathy 'job creator' as the moral ideal and focus of public policy, puts the lie to their claim to have any values higher than the Almighty... Dollar. If you think the NBA is about flash and stars, and each team and each player getting the most they can from the sport, Shaq is your choice for MVP. If you think that a player does well only when the team as a whole does well, and that sport is about more noble objectives than just making as much scratch as possible, then Nash is your sort of MVP.
I don't know if it indicates the society has turned a corner when a good team player, a liberal, and vocal anti-war proponent, like Nash, beats out the pyrotechnic celebrity Shaq, who is a mega-millionaire, a household name, and a law-and-order type, working on his criminal justice degree and thinking of running for office or becoming a cop when he retires (just guess which ticket he would run on). All I know is that I sure hope it means something positive. But in either case, in Nash we have an MVP who is a worthy role model for our children, and for ourselves.