Why do we struggle to appreciate normal, even when it’s exceptional?
Blake Griffin is a great basketball player. I’m not just saying this because I bet against his team in the first round of the playoffs and lost. Losing the bet meant I had to pen a post about the greatness of Griffin. It wasn’t my choice of topics, but it’s not a dishonest post.
I’ve never been a big fan of Blake Griffin. I’ve casually maintained a disbelief in his ability to win big games or series. When I lost the bet and had to write this post it forced me to consider why I don’t like him. I racked my brain and remembered when he beat my favorite college team, the Michigan Wolverines, in the tournament. Yeah, I didn’t like that he beat my team. But lots of guys have and I can come to appreciate and respect them. Yet Griffin never won me over. Why? I think it’s because he’s just so…normal.
I did a little research. What has Griffin overcome? What is his background? What makes him interesting or amazing? I couldn’t find anything extraordinary. He’s always been very athletic, great body for basketball, high-flying slam-dunker, and always a very good player. His entire life he was expected to be really good, and he was. He lived up to his expectations without any major hiccups. Why do I hold that against him?
His dad coached him in high school where he was an all-American and won titles. He chose to play at a smaller basketball program close to home in Oklahoma and be on the same team as his brother. He made the team better and they had a decent tournament run. He was the first overall pick in the NBA draft, which brings expectation, but he was not the type who was over-hyped, or a player expected to single-handedly deliver titles. He won rookie of the year. He’s gotten better each season. He’s not won a title or big playoff series yet, but his trajectory is in the right direction and about on the pace everyone expected. He works hard, does a lot of endorsements and commercials, and is all-around what you’d want him to be on your team.
Again, why don’t I like him? There is a feeling that he didn’t overcome a lot. He didn’t seem to have a rough upbringing, height disadvantage, or anything too sensational. He’s not exceptionally anything – tall, thin, fast, etc. He had a lot to live up to, but nothing like Kobe, or Michael, or LeBron in terms of expectations, hype, and scrutiny.
He’s excellent in a normal way. We expect it, he delivers it. It’s rare in sports to have a guy at that level who’s just normal. Most guys get overhyped and then have to fight to catch up and deliver after first falling short. Other guys fly under the radar and blow away all expectations. Some have major obstacles to overcome, or loud personalities that attract attention and pressure. Some are bad boys we like to vilify, or golden boys we set up as role models. Blake is just Blake. There’s not much drama or narrative there. He succeeds as expected.
It’s not only in sports that we under-appreciate normal success. I remember as a kid being in various church youth groups. Inevitably there was a youth pastor who came from a hard-living, rock ‘n roll, substance-abusing background. Then he found God and everything changed. Those guys were the epitome of church cool. Contrast that to the guy who grew up in a normal, solid home, did things right, and was very good at it. Not exciting. Even if the latter would make a better youth pastor, nobody cared. Sure, he does what’s expected and does it well. But where’s the conflict? Where’s the sizzle?
Blake Griffin is like a lot of people – probably many of the most successful people. We see it and we’re not interested in it. We want exceptional, or dirty, or messy greatness. Or those expected to be great but who fail. Both are interesting to us. Normal, expected, clean greatness is under-appreciated if not looked down on. Is this bad or good? To be honest, I don’t know.
I looked at my own life. I’ve kind of just plugged along. I’ve done well, but not overcome massive odds or anything really deemed exceptional. I’m a normal success. Maybe my dislike or disinterest in Blake points back at myself. When I watch sports maybe it doesn’t pique my interest to see someone who is basically me, but on a court. I want to see people more wild, crazy, and tragic or heroic than I see myself.
I don’t really know what to make of normal greatness. Maybe nothing needs to be made of it. Maybe that’s the point. Either way, congratulations to Blake Griffin. His recent playoff success might make me more interested, but no promises. He’s done well at every level, I’ve gotta hand that to him.