An NBA locker room is not the most academic of settings. It’s not a book club sitting around discussing “The Luminaries” (even though with all the down time NBA players have they have the time to get through it).
There are smart, well read guys in the NBA, however, and they tend to be veteran guys who have matured and had their interests broaden.
The Miami Heat have a lot of those guys and think they may be the most intelligent team in the NBA — and that is on and off the court. The players talked about it for an interesting piece by Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report.
“Out of a lot of teams that I played for, this is the smartest group of teammates that I’ve ever had, and that’s both on the court as far as basketball IQ, but then off the court as well,” Roger Mason Jr. said. “We talk about many, many things that don’t have to do with basketball that I haven’t typically been able to speak to teammates about in the past.”
Battier, a Duke graduate, has found that to be true too: “We have a great diversity of interests off the court. It’s probably the most ‘read’ team I’ve been a part of, which is rare. I’ve been on teams where I’ve never seen anyone pick up a book and read on a plane. We have a lot of readers on this team, and a lot of guys who are about things outside academics. Art and culture and music. It makes for a well-rounded locker room. I don’t know how much of that plays into our success, but I think it has.”
“I’ve had teammates that say, ‘Screw a book,’ ” (Ray Allen) said. “I’ve had coaches tell me that I was too smart. They just wanted me to be quiet and just play basketball. So, I’ve found it to be a struggle to be a person—not that I’m trying to be smart, but I want to learn, I want to figure the world out, and observe things, and learn from people, and that’s never been taken as well, as easy by some players and organizations. Because they just want you to not question—they just want you to go forward and just be an athlete.”
I’m not sure if the Heat are the most book smart team, but the one that would give them the best run for the money is the Spurs, their Finals opponent last year. Draw your own conclusions.
If you want them, there are guys in the NBA who fit the dumb jock stereotype. Just like there are in NFL, MLB and NHL locker rooms.
But mostly, what you have is a diverse group of people who happen to be gifted and good at this one particular thing, this form of entertainment we call basketball. They are paid handsomely for it. We tend to see them only as athletes we want them to fit into our box of what we think an athlete is and should say/do.
But these are human beings experiencing life just as you and I are, they are people with families and friends and diverse interests. Some guys are into the stock market, some into cars, even a few into books. Pau Gasol has sat in on surgeries. There are more guys in the league that are exceptions to the rule than are the rule. But as we tend to see these people through the lens of their high-profile job, we expect them to fit into the box society has drawn for them.
It’s good to talk about how many of them don’t