Ray Allen and Shane Battier discuss new advancements in particle physics (Alexander Tamargo/ Getty).
Professional athletes, or really most anyone who's good at sports at any level, typically have reputations as dumb jocks. The idea is that, because they were blessed with the ability to kick or throw or run or jump, these people never had to (or never could) succeed with the same skills as the less physically gifted. It's an unfair characterization that's also intuitively correct — we see them do great athletic things and assume that's the bulk of their worth.
Certain athletes, however, buck that impression in obvious ways. The Miami Heat, well known as highlight producers due to LeBron James and (to a lesser extent than ever) Dwyane Wade, have several players who stand out for the intelligence they bring on and off the court. Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report recently spoke to several of them about dealing with stereotypes and their interests off the court:
Skolnick is right to single out many of the players mentioned in this piece — Allen has earned attention as an art collector for much of his career, Battier was discussed as a future presidential candidate as soon as he arrived at Duke in the late-'90s, Mason has held a leadership position in the players' union, and Chris Bosh has opened himself to all manner of punchlines for embracing a different sort of athlete persona. The piece is full of interesting reflections from each man on his place within the league, and it's worth taking a closer look.
Nevertheless, singling these players out as intellectually superior possibly does their peers a disservice. As Allen notes within the article, understanding the intricacies of on-court systems and finding a place in a rotation requires high levels of intellect and emotional intelligence. Succeeding in any workplace environment involves a lot of long-term and spontaneous thinking, and playing in the NBA is no different. Very few players get by on little more than their natural talent, and those who do are typically marked out as lacking some sort of essential understanding that would allow them to fulfill their considerable potential.
It's better, then, to say that the players described by Skolnick are more intellectually adventurous, not necessarily smarter. For various reasons (including, as Bosh mentions, his upbringing in a two-parent household that focused on education), they have been exposed to different kinds of intellectual stimulation than many of their less fortunate teammates. Intelligence can be defined in many ways, and we shouldn't act as if those who conform to the dominant paradigm are the only ones who have it. Perhaps the Heat stand out because the organization understands that promoting these preexisting qualities can create new benefits.
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