Professional Athletes (Literally) Don’t Know the Definition of “Humbling”

The curious case of the word “humbling” and its continued misuse in sports culture.

Just over a week ago, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Derek Fisher was rumored to be a prime candidate for the New York Knicks’ coaching vacancy, assuming he retires at the end of this season. When he addressed the speculation, he emphasized that he would like to focus on the playoffs and then said, “It’s humbling. It’s humbling, it’s flattering.”

On the surface, it’s an admirable quote, if a little cliché. Most athletes tend to maintain a public image of modesty and general gratefulness, at least in regards to compliments directed towards them, which is fine. It makes the general public feel better about how much money professional athletes get paid, even if that money is actually justifiable in purely economic terms. And nobody likes a cocky jerk anyway.

However, there’s a problem when an athlete expresses modest pride. All too often, the word “humbling” gets thrown around inappropriately. It’s inappropriate because athletes don’t seem to know what the word actually means. Even worse, it seems like sports journalists don’t know either, or are unwilling to call athletes out on their vocab mistakes.

For some reason, I thought of Moses Malone.

For some reason, I thought of Moses Malone.

You might be asking, “Yeah, but what’s the big deal? It’s not like they’re swearing or saying horribly insensitive things like racial slurs.”

True. That is very true. But this is a problem that is easily fixable. All you have to do is look up the definition of “humbling.”

According to Bing, the definition is “making somebody less proud: making somebody lose confidence, self-importance, or pride.”

So there you go.

If you think this is just some sort of isolated incident, let me assure you that this has been going on for a while.

After finishing third in the MVP race this season, Blake Griffin said, “It’s hard to believe. I’m honored and humbled by that.”

I’ll admit that could be interpreted in two different ways. He either used the word correctly, as in he felt bad because his great season was still considered behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant, or he was trying to say it was flattering. Who knows (I’m pretty sure he was trying to say he was flattered).

One might speculate whether this has to do with education and athletics, but something tells me this is independent of all that, and is simply a misunderstanding of a word’s proper usage. Either that, or athletes and journalists are both in need of more schooling.

Now I’m not here to poke fun at anybody. I mean, you have to admit, it looks right in the various contexts used by athletes, mostly because the word “humble” is in it. But when you make it a verb, it becomes a different story than simply being a modest individual. I’d also like to briefly mention that some athletes and journalists do use the word correctly.

For example, Washington Redskins safety Tanard Jackson was recently reinstated after being banned for two seasons due to repeated violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Jackson said, “That time period I was out from doing something I love to do, and not having that camaraderie with the teammates and not having that for that long, and having to go out and work in the warehouse from 9-5, it’s a humbling experience.”

Now that’s how you use “humbling.” But it’s no fun to point out something that’s correct, right?

Going back to Derek Fisher, he could say it was humbling if he finished the playoffs, retired, and then lost the New York Knicks’ head coaching job to me. I’m just a 22-year-old smarty pants with average basketball skills and Derek Fisher is 39 and has played in the NBA since 1920.

Wait, I don’t want to coach the Knicks! Derek, you take the job!

Humbling for him, flattering for me.

Open Letter to Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart has been on fire lately. Maybe that’s not such a good thing.

Dear Kevin Hart,

I’ve seen a lot of standup comedians do their thing: Eddie Murphy, Louis CK, Jim Gaffigan, Marc Maron, George Carlin, Russell Peters, Dave Chappelle – you name it.

Many of them found success and branched out – diversified, so to speak. Louis CK has a TV show. So does Marc Maron.

Eddie Murphy decided to lose his sense of humor.

You get the idea.

Kevin, let me say this with my chest: I believe you are spreading yourself too thin lately. I don’t know exactly what’s going on. Maybe you’re just trying to make the most of your success before your streak inevitably ends (this is not an insult; it happens to everyone). Maybe you’re thinking about how hard you worked to get here and how your drive is finally paying off.

Remember back in the day, when you were doing stuff like showing up on Undeclared?

That was unexpected for me because I watched your standup for years and saw Undeclared only a few months ago after bulldozing through Freaks and Geeks. It was pretty astonishing to see you over a decade ago (you looked even younger then, somehow), making your way into the industry.

But look, I saw your movie Let Me Explain and I want you to explain how it ever got made. It hardly made me laugh, Kevin! I get I’m just one person and I’m sure others really enjoyed it, although 6.5/10 might indicate otherwise. I also recognize how hard it is to come up with new material, because doesn’t it often seem like the first few successes we have are the best? It takes hard work to come up with funny stuff consistently.

I recognize that. I really do.

On the other hand, I expected more from you. I had high expectations – because you earned it. You know you’re doing something right when people just assume your work will be awesome. That’s why we get surprised when guys like Michael Jordan miss clutch shots or when good directors make bad movies. That mindset applies to you too. You worked hard to get there. Don’t squander that privilege.

Here’s what you’re doing right: Real Husbands of Hollywood. I love it and I love how it parodies “real” reality shows. That shit is annoying, but you make me glad they exist just so Real Husbands could come into existence. Now that is a show you should focus on, because it’s worth the attention.

Lay off the movies for a while. We all know who you are, Kevin Hart. You don’t have to try to get our attention anymore. Just relax a little and focus on the important stuff, namely the fact that you’re a comedian and comedians generally tend to do standup. Funny standup.

Quantity has its perks, but quality has the final word. Get back to quality – you have that luxury now.

From,

Barrett (and other comedy lovers)

“The Decision” and Derrick Rose

Face it Chicago fans, Derrick Rose shouldn’t have won that 2010-2011 MVP. No, it has nothing to do with his post-MVP career.

After the 2009-2010 NBA season, LeBron James already had two consecutive MVP trophies and still wasn’t the LeBron we see now – a basketball machine sent from the future to infuriate people across the nation while simultaneously building a case to be considered one of the five greatest players ever.

With no worthy opponents in sight, it seemed like LeBron’s MVP reign might go unchallenged for the next five years. Even as a player with room for improvement, he was putting up numbers and consistently carrying the Cleveland Cavaliers into the playoffs, taking them to the Finals at one point. Only after he left did we fully realize how much weight he had to carry on his shoulders while an incompetent coach and an incompetent supporting cast held onto his back for the ride.

"Okay LeBron, go out there and score some goals."

“Okay LeBron, go out there and score some goals.”

How much did LeBron carry the Cavaliers? Look at what they’ve been since he left:

  • 2010-2011: Cleveland lost 26 straight games, tying the record in all of professional sports for the longest losing streak in history.
  • Cleveland plays in the crummy Eastern Conference, yet has been over .500 for five days in three seasons under the leadership of their current All-Star, Kyrie Irving, who was the #1 pick in the 2011 draft.
  • Cleveland has had the #1 pick three out of the last four drafts (including the upcoming 2014 draft). That’s ridiculous.

In any case, LeBron had pledged to win a title for Cleveland. It was noble and made sense since Ohio was his home. Unfortunately, as time passed, he realized he needed significant help to be a champion. There’s nothing wrong with that type of epiphany and he’d definitely earned the right to find a worthy sidekick or two.

The only problem was “The Decision.”

I won’t go into the exact details of LeBron’s national TV announcement since you probably remember/know most of them. Just remember that the ESPN special raised money for charity, so it wasn’t a complete disaster. The point here is that LeBron James suddenly became the most hated athlete in America without breaking a single law. I mean, people hated Michael Vick when his dogfighting crimes were revealed to the public, but even he had his supporters (many people still hate Vick, but that’s a discussion for another time).

LeBron had no supporters for at least a solid year until the Heat lost to the Mavericks in the Finals. Everybody from casual fans to professional talking heads like Bill Simmons completely destroyed LeBron. People questioned his maturity, as well as the company around him. People also pondered about the validity of some unseemly rumors revolving around Cavaliers player Delonte West and LeBron’s mom.

And that brings us to Derrick Rose.

After free agency ended and the 2010-2011 season’s first game approached, Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose asked why he couldn’t be MVP.

It was a silly question. While Rose was a rising star, he wasn’t considered “there” yet. It was also silly because LeBron was still playing in the league. Once the season started, of course, Rose admittedly took his play to the next level. That, I can concede (not too difficult since I am a Bulls fan).

Unfortunately, as Rose’s MVP case continued to build, LeBron’s MVP case was scoffed at as people utilized personal reasons to justify LeBron’s dethroning as reigning MVP. That is impossible to defend, especially in retrospect (also easy to concede for me because I’m an NBA fan first, Bulls fan second).

Was I happy when Derrick Rose won the MVP? Hell yes I was! At the time, even I didn’t like LeBron. I thought he was selfish and I thought he was being unfair to his home team. It would be like me becoming President of the United States and withdrawing all US troops from South Korea. Inexplicable.

He approves the idea.

But look, as the years have passed, the decision to let personal vendettas cloud voters’ judgements is becoming more and more embarrassing. Many of my Chicago friends don’t want to admit this, which is why I’m here to prove why LeBron should have five MVP trophies right now and not four. And by the way, this is something that is true even if Rose averaged 25 points and 8 assists per year after his trophy win.

While Rose’s current injury issues and struggles are sad, they are actually irrelevant to the discussion at hand because those are current. They had no factor in his win at the time, although I’m sure people incorrectly use his post-MVP numbers to argue why Rose was never meant to be MVP.

While those numbers may support my case, albeit erroneously, the real deal is in the numbers from the season itself.

This is a simple examination of LeBron and Rose that season, in terms of simple and advanced stats (courtesy of ESPN).

You’re not going to believe this, but this is a pretty easy argument in favor of LeBron. Almost every relevant statistical category puts LeBron over Rose. While it’s true Rose had a season of great growth, it still wasn’t better than a slightly subpar LeBron year. I feel like that’s a big deal.

The players around Rose and LeBron, respectively, are also worth discussing. After all, basketball is a team game.

When Rose tore his ACL in the 2011-2012 playoffs, the Bulls looked doomed. Then they kept playing at a fairly high level, although they obviously did miss Rose.

It seems to me that Rose’s coach, teammates, and their passion and intensity were underrated. Look at the Bulls without Rose and the Cavaliers without LeBron. The Bulls are still making the playoffs, although at a lower seed. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers should probably leave the league.

Is it really a coincidence that LeBron’s EWA was higher, even in his debut season on the Heat?

Amusing sidenote: Cleveland LeBron would have sodomized a nun for a team like the 2010-2011 Bulls (aside from the fact that he didn’t join the Bulls in free agency). And then another nun for a coach like Thibs.

“What are you doing, LeBron!? GET ON THAT NUN!”

I’m willing to bet if LeBron was on the 2010-2011 Bulls, and Rose was on the Heat, the Bulls would have advanced to the NBA Finals.

Let’s talk about defense. Rose was considered to be an average defender. He simply had the fortune of playing in a rigorous defensive system that allowed defensive anchors like Joakim Noah to prowl the paint and cover for Rose’s mistakes. LeBron also played in a smart defensive system, but unlike Rose, he was visibly the best defender on the court for many games.

Basketball is played on both ends of the court.

So LeBron had better numbers, was better on offense and defense, and the Heat beat the Bulls in the playoffs to top it all off.

Yeah, LeBron should have won. But get this: he finished third in MVP voting that season. Dwight Howard, of all people, finished second. That above all else shows voters were sticking it to LeBron that year.

Once people got off their high horses and realized even superstar athletes make mistakes, LeBron promptly won two more MVP trophies in a row. The only reason why he didn’t win this 2013-2014 season is because Kevin Durant played out of his mind – and had the numbers to boot.

2010-2011 Derrick Rose also played out of his mind. His numbers were at an All-Star level. I don’t think they were necessarily at an MVP level. I think LeBron would have won that trophy if “The Decision” didn’t taint everybody’s mind.

The people responsible for this mistake have started to realize the last couple of years that they stopped one of the five greatest players ever from winning five MVP trophies in a row.

Finally, look at the following “hypothetical” conversation:

PERSON A: Boy that Tony Parker is having some type of season!

PERSON B: What are you talking about? His numbers aren’t even that great.

PERSON A: Uh actually he’s having a season comparable to Derrick Rose’s MVP campaign.

PERSON B: Dang!

Surprise, that’s a real conversation every post-2011 season for players ranging from the aforementioned Tony Parker to Stephen Curry. Basically, Derrick Rose’s MVP year is considered the minimum level of comparison for a good season and it is often used to try and justify an underdog (unqualified) MVP candidate.

You’re telling me that’s a good thing?

Sorry, D-Rose.

Sorry, D-Rose.

“Godzilla” Tries Too Hard

Character development versus widespread destruction.

(WARNING: SPOILERS)

When was the last time you watched a movie and cared about the characters? For me it was Her, the recent film about Joaquin Phoenix falling in love with an OS voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

But when was the last time you saw an action movie, or a movie that falls under the blockbuster category, and cared about the characters?

I don’t think I’ve ever cared in that regard. 2014’s Godzilla didn’t break that streak either.

That’s unfortunate, because most of the movie is nothing but character development and the foreshadowing of Godzilla’s actual appearance and size (there’s a reason Godzilla has been compared to Jaws and Cloverfield).

Is it just me or does Godzilla look unreasonably large here? Is he on steroids? Can he fly?

I don’t know why, but to me it looks like Godzilla is ridiculously large here. I think he may be on steroids. And radiation.

Withholding the full magnitude of Godzilla was a strategic move by director Gareth Edwards – a move that was executed competently. It built an ominous atmosphere, allowing the audience to speculate just how frightening Godzilla would be, but ultimately it was a move that was used to focus on the human characters portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Bryan Cranston, along with Elizabeth Olsen and Ken Watanabe to a lesser extent.

I cannot emphasize this enough: 66% of this movie – a summer blockbuster monster extravaganza – was focused on getting the audience to care about three or four characters.

Speaking of Cranston, it’s a good thing he was involved because he carried every scene we had the pleasure of seeing him in. His character needed a ton of accumulated angst and that’s exactly what Cranston brought to the table; it might be possible he’s still an underrated actor, even after his Breaking Bad accolades.

What Godzilla does is nothing new, technically. Every movie needs some type of character development, as tenuously done as it may be, and sometimes time in itself can develop characters right before our eyes, which is one of the reasons we usually relate more to TV characters.

There is also nothing wrong with a movie trying to be more than its predecessors and that ambitious endeavor wasn’t intrusive enough to completely wreck Godzilla.

Unfortunately, there’s a difference between just being an entertaining film and actually connecting with the audience on a deeper level.

Godzilla is the first movie I’ve seen in a while where entire groups of innocent civilians are shown blatantly getting killed. They drown, fall off precipitous edges, and generally face the consequences of being stuck between not one, not two, but three massive monsters intent on bringing each other down.

Normally, because moviemakers don’t want audiences feeling squeamish and ethically sodomized, civilian casualties are not shown. Damage in a large movie like this is usually shown on a macroscopic level – buildings are leveled, cars explode, and dust permeates the entire city. Basically, the protocol is to do what The Avengers did, and that movie followed the protocol set by the movies before it.

People have seen entire cities getting annihilated for years now on the big screen. We’re used to it and since we know all of it is movie magic, we don’t really care. But Godzilla almost contradicts itself through its desire to make us care about the main cast while also choosing to make multiple visual references to the thousands that died throughout the movie’s action scenes.

The penultimate scene shows the classic reuniting we’re all accustomed to. Taylor-Johnson and his son are in a massive stadium, possibly the San Francisco 49ers’ stadium, and there’s a chance they’ll never find Elizabeth Olsen in the densely clustered masses.

Of course, everything ends up fine.

The son suddenly runs towards the camera, Taylor-Johnson looks up in alarm, and the little kid and Olsen hug emotionally. Then Taylor-Johnson and Olsen do a little making out and it’s time for the next scene.

Everything ends on a good note. But really, we know that’s not the case.

What about everybody else in that stadium, wondering and worrying about their loved ones? What about everybody across two continents and an ocean whose lives are irrevocably shattered?

Just like a movie needs character development, a movie needs to focus its development. Broaden too much and there’s too much to emotionally digest. Focus too much on one person and the movie’s dynamics become skewed.

In Godzilla, the focus wasn’t overly ambitious. The problem was trying to make us care about three people when three monsters wreaked havoc in Japan, Hawaii, Las Vegas, and finally the entire San Francisco Bay Area.

By the way, prehistoric hooligans, don’t mess with Oakland.

 

The scope of the damage was thrown against the story of three people trying to survive and reunite as a family. It was borderline unpleasant trying to feel good at the end when Godzilla and the two Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms had done enough damage to last at least three presidents.

An action movie should not be conjuring that kind of unpleasantness. It should be focused on being entertaining and generally making the audience forget about its problems in the real world. Godzilla just made me think of misery, but also made me feel bad by getting me to feel good about destruction on a hefty scale, as fictional as it was.

It’s arguable whether any movie would be justified trying to get us to care, using my logic. Her, for example, explores problems that actually aren’t even that important compared to more pressing issues like famine and poverty.

So why should I care about Joaquin Phoenix struggling to understand his love for a nonhuman entity when there are people in that same fictional world dealing with more visceral issues like disease?

Angst.

Angst.

I think character development is a basic necessity in every movie, but the context is perhaps more important than the quality. The reason why it’s okay for a movie like Her or, for example, any of Woody Allen’s movies is because the main characters’ issues aren’t framed in such a disproportionate way like Godzilla.

There’s a time and a place for exploring humanity in the microscopic level and after Godzilla, I’m thinking summer blockbusters aren’t the venue for that exploration.

As my friend Kevin said after the movie, the 2014 Godzilla tried too hard and took itself too seriously. It went through the process of putting the main characters and entire cities on the separate ends of a scale, but made the mistake of actually weighing their worth as equals.

You can’t spend the majority of a movie expounding the dynamics of one family only to completely destroy entire generations in the last third of the movie.

You either dedicate yourself to the overall picture, or you choose to dedicate yourself to the pixels.

Godzilla tried to do both and it didn’t work out.

I saw this movie with Kevin and his brother, Sean. While Kevin brought up the overly serious nature of this film, Sean inexplicably thought the 1998 Godzilla was actually better. After some discussion, it became clear what kind of movie would do Godzilla real justice.

1998 Godzilla characters. 2014 Godzilla action.

You’re welcome, Hollywood.

You’ve got a classic in the making.