After so much nasty, here’s some nice
OK, it’s time for something completely different.
Regular readers — and doggone it, I know you’re out there even if you prefer to remain anonymous — usually expect this column space to be filled with the latest tales of athletic-world misbehavior. Goodness knows there’s a lot of it, which gives my computer keyboard precious little time to cool down.
And admit it — most of you like reading about the missteps, in part because they’re not yours but also because it brings the high-dollar people down a few pegs, at least in our minds. They still have far more money than the majority of us would see even if we lived a dozen lifetimes, but it’s comforting to know they’re as character-flawed as the rest of the American populace.
Of course, well-heeled individuals tend not to see themselves in any sort of unflattering light. Wealthy people, regardless of how they acquired their money, think those hefty finances automatically give them class.
What the dollars really do is enable them to easily afford a bevy of sycophants, who’ll say or do anything to make the cash crowd feel extra important. That’s done in the hope there is a scintilla of truth in the concept of trickle-down economics.
But I don’t want to start another journey through the trashing side of town. Instead, as a change of literary pace, I want to relate a couple of stories that legitimately show sports people in a favorable light.
Actually, they did the heavy lifting themselves by simply refusing to act like prima donnas. In an age when self-importance might be at an all-time high among public figures, these guys instead made some perfect strangers feel important.
The first of those men was Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard. Initially praising the NBA Rookie of the Year for a thoughtful action was SB Nation writer Seth Rosenthal, and I quickly jumped aboard the Lillard bandwagon when I read about what he did for a teenaged fan.
Apparently, Lillard was spotted in a mall by said fan, who asked if he could take a picture with the player. Lillard responded that it wasn’t the best time and that he preferred to finish shopping, but added that he was agreeable to doing it later.
The fan, Siros Ardestani, then did what most people in his position — children and adults — would not have: He simply moved on. Even though Ardestani didn’t know if Lillard was merely giving him a blow-off, there was no hissy fit thrown or cursing of the sought-out celeb, a response that is all too common among snubbed fans.
And perhaps that’s part of the reason Lillard was unable to forget the incident. He tweeted about it and expressed his regret, going so far as to say, “I feel bad now.”
Mind you, he works in a profession where regret usually stems solely from an athlete’s inability to squeeze an extra million dollars or so from team coffers.
Ardestani saw the tweet and responded to Lillard, saying everything was fine and he understood how difficult it was for someone in the public eye to make time for every person who might want a moment with him. Lillard then told Ardestani where to meet up with him, and the two got together for a photo that quickly spread across various Internet sites.
What struck me first and foremost about this entire episode was the civility shown on both sides. Ardestani had more reason to be cordial, seeing as how he was seeking something, but still his attitude was commendable.
Lillard, on the other hand, could have easily played the I’m-a-star-and-you’re-not card and become just another object of nationwide criticism, like so many of his ball-bouncing peers. But he told Ardestani he’s a man of his word, and then he went ahead and proved it.
As years go by and Lillard becomes even more of a household name within basketball circles, it’ll be increasingly difficult for him to maintain that sort of normal-guy persona because he’ll be getting pulled in so many different directions. But even if he eventually succumbs to that, Lillard can take pride in knowing at least on one occasion, he was an athlete worth getting to know.
NHL player Antoine Roussel also earned some good-guy points for his willingness to interact with fans.
The Dallas Stars forward didn’t have the same one-on-one opportunity as Lillard to do right, but Roussel has reached out by trying to arrange for his fans to exchange, without additional cost to them, the No. 60 jerseys they purchased this past season for the No. 21 he intends to wear in the 2013-14 campaign.
The change was brought about by Stars management’s desire to see Dallas players in lower numbers as the organization prepares to unveil newly designed uniforms next season. As another writer pointed out, I guess those front-office types have never heard of Wayne Gretzky (No. 99) and Mario Lemieux (No. 66).
Be that as it may, Roussel — who chose his new number because it’s the date of his birth — felt bad that people who may have spent a fair amount of money on his No. 60 jersey are now in possession of something that will soon have no connection to anyone on the roster.
As he told Internet writer Sean Leahy, he saw a couple people last year who had purchased No. 60 and told them at that time that he was going to keep the number. Although Roussel is only following a team edict by making the jersey switch, he said he still “kind of felt bad for [the owners of No. 60] because they trusted me, and I felt like I let them down. I felt like it’s fair to do that.”
“That” refers to Roussel’s setting up of the free jersey exchange through the Stars offices. More specifics weren’t revealed since training camp doesn’t begin until September, but Roussel insisted he’s serious about seeing the process through to a satisfying conclusion.
“It’s an investment for some people,” he said. “With the economy these days, I don’t want to put those people in a bad spot. I felt that was a good thing to do.”
Actually, it’s a pretty great thing to do, regardless of the economic climate. Here’s hoping Roussel, like Lillard, is indeed a man of his word and, if so, has a season for the ages next winter.
Gee, I almost forgot what it was like to feel good about something in sports.