General Sports

The Pursuit of Happiness

Ah, the paradoxes presented by capitalism.

Here we are, America, set for a penultimate debate regarding the true nature of our society, source material provided entirely by basketball. What kind of discourse could crystallize us so clearly? Is it David Stern’s secret obsession with prestige fashion? Unfortunately not, though the commissioner is a key player in the correct answer. No, this article will attempt to analyze an issue affecting far more lives than a dress code ever could… or should.
It starts with an age old dilemma, presented by New York’s finest teenaged dirt-bags since 1984, who like me, would inevitably attempt to buy a six pack with fraudulent identification certifying a phony age, above 21, of course [Of course]. Upon rejection by an eternally avenging cashier, a question would be broached, later dissected group style under the dim light of an empty park, striking at the heart of democracy, analyzing the merits of a system that allowed us, at a certain age, to be hypothetically drafted into a war, yet still restricted the purchase of tasty alcoholic beverages. Upon proclamation that a man is of age to hurl grenades, he should, in turn, be within legal right to hurl a righteous batch of vomit after one too many Budweiser’s.  According to some obscure document at my local library, Americans are free to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, without hindrance or interference from external entities, massive sports conglomerates, for instance.

It’s a real treat when systems are thrown into chaos. When Kevin Garnett challenged iron-plated perception, entering the NBA Draft without attending college, he was impossibly burdened before even playing a professional minute.  In flaming out, he would preserve status quo, in succeeding, he’d be a historic exception disproving a rule, nary a space between. Garnett’s landmark course presented an intriguing challenge for the sports media at large. Would they cover him as an individual, or a freak, a quirk in the system, an occurrence of De Ja Vu in the Matrix? As hordes often do when facing an issue containing any complexity whatsoever, talking heads and torch-wielding columnists miscalculated in spectacular fashion, failing to recognize the real role of Kevin Garnett, for he represented the first step in a natural progression. Garnett was a true capitalist; bypassing an education he no longer needed, in accordance with a system he played exquisitely.

The doubters refused to see the simple logic, however, clinging to institutional beliefs in lieu of actually challenging their imbedded thought processes. They searched for a form of validation that would justify their indignation, and found it in education, a reliable standby. Mourning the loss of values, for it suited their opinions, more than a few writers bemoaned Garnett’s decision as a sign of lost times, money truly possessing imminent domain over a country now held hostage.

Massive media spectacles are often just a reflection of our own blindness. The Balco scandal crawled under America’s skin, for it provided a perfect metaphor for the spirit of endless excess defining modern times. Garnett’s case was no different. He was accused of taking a shortcut, his own personal concerns shoved aside in favor of a mass attack of conscience.

It ultimately amounts to that all mighty aforementioned penultimate debate. What really counts in this country? Do we value education as a means for achieving financial success, or do we value financial success as the ultimate end, a great equalizer?

It seems not to matter, the road we tread toward that pot of gold. Wealthy “Celebrities” matter in America, loved and loathed in equal measure. This is a country absolutely obsessed with the result instead of the process. Talent and admiration are often distinctly out of proportion. Does anyone have anything to say? There used to be rebels. What qualifies now? Are zombie rappers, popping champagne and waving money in a music video, the best we can do for subversive sentiment? This was, and remains, the stage. It may not have necessarily created Kevin Garnett, but indisputably played a role in what followed.

They came in droves, as the years trickled by, prospects with ambition for the game and little else. They desired money, obviously, immediate gratification, down payment for their potential. Subtle changes on the professional level were apparent to those with keen eyes, a farewell to fundamentals. It was inconceivable, the decisions of some, coerced by double talking agents, flat out used and abused, long shot picks who gambled and lost, undrafted, college cast aside, future left in doubt, bags packed for Europe, maybe. David Stern acted, emboldened by Maurice Clarrett’s failed NFL Draft challenge, imposing an age limit for his league, taking a dangerous choice out of the hands of countless kids. It harkened yet another philosophical inquiry, presented by booze, that everlasting beacon for enlightened conversation: What exactly qualifies one as an adult? As fundamentally hypocritical as alcoholic age restrictions may be, the enforcement undoubtedly saves lives. The law seems skeptical of ones maturity at 18, draft regulations not withstanding. NBA prospects, eager to drink from the intoxicating cup of athletic kings, may similarly lack the proper perspective to handle this dizzying freedom. If the world were fair, these situations would be handled on a personal basis, case by case. But, as usual, the right way presents a path of infeasibility. Blanket statements are necessary. And in the case of the NBA age limit, the complaints wouldn’t last, for, everyone, by and large, would be satisfied.

College powerhouses had a deeper talent pool to pick from, seedy university boosters fresh minds to bride, fans an improved product to watch. Journalists would have easier stories to write, no longer actually having to defend a tough position, either way.

And the NBA would benefit, though not for obvious reasons. But it would be good for them, for High School stars would now captivate national audiences playing for schools instead of franchises, forming marketable personalities and generating commercial appeal. They’d arrive in the draft now, after only one year of seasoning most times, far more ready to dazzle and captivate. Everybody associated with basketball wins, that is, except for the players. Their pursuit of happiness was now compromised, though no one seemed to mind, because no one had to think, including them, an ironic fact, for a country that so ardently values education. Or at least claims to. Uh-huh.

The sweeping age ordainment by David Stern, bestowing priceless riches on college basketball; hasn’t yet made much of an impact on St. John’s University. For the highest profile basketball college in the metropolis, the Red Storm haven’t made much of a splash recruiting truly elite talent, for reasons which escape many, and infuriate others. Silent, defensive whispers vouching for St. John’s high moral fiber may have basis, but it certainly doesn’t excuse the school’s recent, disappointing recruiting record. Interesting cases, like Phil Wait, may provide intrigue, but a Lance Stephenson would equal instant credibility. Could St. John’s conjure the kind of sway it takes to lure that special brand of talent? We’ll see. The Stern mandate has forever changed college basketball. Now, the Jungle waits… and waits…. for it to change St. John’s.

[Article also be available on, the unofficial sixth man of St. John’s Basketball. Visit for all the latest news and analysis of St. John’s Basketball. Also features articles on the Red Storm by me, Matt Waters.! Visit sometime, especially if you’re a fan of Big East Basketball!]

By mw2828

Matt Waters is a screenwriter currently living in New York. He has been writing about sports since age seventeen, about the time when it became painfully apparent that his athletic dreams would go unfulfilled, due to terrible luck and an obscene lack of talent. His favorite movie is “The Thin Red Line”. His favorite band is “Modest Mouse”. His favorite sport is baseball! With an exclamation point.

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