Growing Pains

One of the most difficult things to do as a parent is letting your children make their own mistakes, and hoping that they learn from them. As a father of 3, I know this very well. And being that my oldest is still under 10 years of age, I know that I have a lot more stresses coming my way in watching them live and learn. The end result is usually great, but the journey can be angst-filled.

It’s very comparable to being a fan of a team. Just like with your own kids, you take ownership of that team. You buy the season tickets and the merchandise, all in hopes of providing nourishment (capital) to the development of that team. You turn any available television to the local broadcast, wherever you are at, in hopes that increasing the number of homes in which the game is viewed will increase the advertising revenue for the team. You hope that, even though you are only one of probably tens of thousands, your contributions will help in the team rise up to its full potential.

As you invest in the growth of the team, you also expect for the players on the team to perform. But just as you expect your kids to perform well in school and behave in all facets of life, you also know that they will commit mistakes. Why should it be any different when it comes to athletes on the playing field? Mind you, when I use this analogy, I’m only speaking about the athlete on the playing field. I’m not talking about their lives outside of the playing surface. And this analogy carries a little more weight when most of the players on the team are young.

Case in point, the Oklahoma City Thunder. They are a peculiar case because they are so young, but have been through the postseason battles for the past 2 seasons. You really don’t see too many cases where a team goes from being possibly one of the worst in league history (starting off 3-29 in the 2008-09 season) to contending for the best record 3 seasons later, with basically the same nucleus. This isn’t a team that was built through free-agency. Instead, this has been a team that has been allowed to grow organically while shrewdly adding pieces to the core. We, as fans, have witnessed this progression and are emotionally attached to it.

As we’ve seen since the All Star break, the Thunder have been acting a little hard-headed. They are akin to a high school student, whom you know can pull off straight A’s, but you battle with constantly about their aloofness and lack of maturity. Lately, they’ve played unfocused basketball for 75% of the game, while choosing to turn up the cooker in the 4th quarter to mixed results. In the 8 games they’ve played since the All-Star break, they have been behind in the 2nd half in 7 of them, losing 3 in the process. While the Thunder have a penchant for making big plays in the 4th quarter, the law of averages dictates that, when they put themselves in this predicament, that they won’t win every one of those games. There are set backs to being too clutch.

What we saw two nights ago against the Houston Rockets was a bad day at school for one of the Thunder’s star pupils. Russell Westbrook’s meltdown in the final minutes of the 4th quarter sent Thunder Nation into a tizzy, even bringing up trade requests since it was 3 days before the deadline. Did his technical foul and turnovers cost the Thunder the game? Partially, yes. Could his post game interview antics rub people the wrong way? Yes. But look at it this way; it was a mistake (actually, it was a cascade of mistakes). The thing about Westbrook is that he usually learns from his mistakes pretty quickly. He is who he is: a cauldron of fire that sometimes blow its lid. The same energy that he uses to torch opponents can sometimes burn him if someone pushes the right buttons. And Goran Dragic was pushing all the right buttons that night. The good thing about all this is that it happened in March. I can guarantee you, because of these recent events, this will not take place in May.

Sometimes as a parent, you have to let your children learn on their own. Those bumps along the road are what forge the person that they become. One of the lines from the late rapper Guru stated, “Experience, the best teacher…”. As fans, we need to understand that young teams will make mistakes. The key is to learn from the mistakes and use that experience. It’s these experiences that will forge what the Thunder will do in the postseason this season, and what they will do in seasons to come.

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