Malcolm Gladwell talked about LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, and the destructive influence of modern technology in a marathon e-mail exchange with Grantland’s Bill Simmons last night.Four big takeaways:
1. Every part of LeBron’s life would be better if he was born in 1970. Gladwell said: “… I do believe that there are moments when the particular mix of available technologies don’t actually combine to make your life better — and I think we’re in one of those moments now.”
He said LeBron would be able to live a “normal life” while making just as much money and having the conversation about him reduced by “a factor of 10.”
2. Players at the tippy-top of the athletic pyramid making more from endorsements than playing their sports has caused a lot of problems. Gladwell said that when an athlete’s brand becomes more valuable than the athlete himself, he can’t make decisions like the rest of us:
He has to make a decision on what is good for the brand. And what’s the brand? It’s this abstract thing managed and created by some guy in New York with whom his “fans” might actually be more familiar than he is.
3. Society’s tendency to ignore simple explanations affects how we view athletes and construct narratives about sports. Here’s what he said about Rondo:
He’s not locked in some blood feud with Doc Rivers, and he’s not in the grip of some complex neurosis. He’s just an introvert who takes his basketball seriously. Done. Why is it that in the face of unanswered questions, people always want to gravitate to the most convoluted — and least plausible — explanations?
4. America is terrible at identifying top athletes. Citing quotes by Michael Oher and Stephen Jackson, Gladwell concluded that America is really bad at finding athletes and making them play sports for a living, relative to other countries:
I think we assume that the talent-finding in the top occupations is pretty efficient. But what always strikes me is the amount of evidence in the opposite direction. There are huge numbers of people who clearly could play pro sports, but don’t want to.
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