April 21, 2011
If you watched last night's Game 2 between the Lakes and Hornets at Staples Center, you were likely taken aback by the impressive performance of center Andrew Bynum(notes), who finished with 17 points (8-of-11 FG), 11 rebounds, and two blocks in 32 minutes before fouling out. During the Lakers' last two championship runs, the 23-year-old big man has been a key figure but generally failed to take over games. This season, though, he stands as the team's biggest x-factor.
It's a key development in the career of a player who once looked like a bust whose lack of development would cause Kobe Bryant(notes) to demand a trade. However, as Lee Jenkins learned for a profile in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, Bynum has been developing as a person in addition to as a basketball player.
The piece is full of revelations, and you should read the whole thing. Among the highlights:
1. As a kid, he took apart and reassembled telephones.
2. Before opting to enter the draft out of high school, he only looked at colleges where he could major in mechanical engineering.
3. He has taken car-racing courses at the Los Angeles Air Force base, although he rides shotgun instead of driving.
4. He has seven computers in his home, many of which he has put together himself.
5. He has assembled a remote control car that can go as fast as 100 mph.
6. On Phil Jackson's recommendations, he has become a huge fan of the work of writer Junot Diaz.
Preps-to-pros players often get criticized for not developing as people before they reach the NBA, but between Bynum and Bryant, the Lakers have two such players that embrace the intellectual side of both life and basketball. When you look at Bynum's interests, it's not a huge shock that he has turned his raw natural talent into greater production on the court over time. One quote from the piece sums up his personality: "I want to master everything. ... I want to understand what the hell is going on."
Jenkins's profile is more about basketball than engineering, obviously, but Bynum's extracurricular interests provide a window into how teams may develop their players viewed as projects in the future. While Bynum is atypical of young athletes in his intellectual interests, he nonetheless views basketball as an extension of the same thing drives him to master his hobbies. The Lakers have engaged him by encouraging him to cultivate his interests beyond basketball, too. If teams can find similar interests in other players, maybe they can get them more engaged in improving their play on the court, too.
Then again, perhaps Bynum is an outlier. Yet even if he can't act as a viable example for other teams, he still deserves to be applauded for his efforts to improve his game and his ability to maintain his interests away from basketball. He has proven that getting an education and leaving school early are not mutually exclusive.