Column: My brother Junior and father Billy D

rj.walters and rj.walters

If there was ever a time I felt I deserved my own limited edition Wheaties box, complete with a few paragraphs about my life full of in-decision, lapses of selfishness and below average athletic ability, the time would be now. The pedestal that we perch athletes and coaches on is sometimes as high as the gates of heaven and it’s refreshing to watch them come down off that podium once in a while.

On Wednesday I read that Kevin Durant, the College Basketball Player of the Year, was the only player at pre-draft workouts who couldn’t bench-press 185 pounds. Instead of thinking of a witty punch line to make fun of the Kevin Garnett prototype, I simply stood in front of my mirror, flexed my pipes and thought how much Durant and I are alike. I remembered the days when I was proud to put up a buck-fifty and thought of just last month when I struggled to carry two 50 lb. bags of water softener salt down the stairs. The Seattle Times reported that Durant ranked 78th out of 80 NBA prospects who worked out at Orlando camp and while a lack of preparation or an unmentioned sore ankle or shoulder could’ve been the cause, the thought that I would come in at number 81, just three spots back, made me grin.

While Durant’s shortcoming should be used as inspiration during rec league games and nothing more, prominent stars have shown a good amount of emotional fragility and heaven forbid, indecisiveness, about their personal lives in the last six weeks, giving sports fans a rare chance to compare themselves to celebrities that often seem so far beyond their reach. It might sound bad that I actually revel in their discomforts and publicized sagas, but many of these news stories also remind me to withhold the critic’s sword once in a while, regardless of how much money someone is making.

Exhibit A: Billy Donovan. Even if you haven’t followed the story closely you probably know that on the tail of two NCAA championships at Florida, the coach signed a five year $27.5 million contract with the Orlando Magic on Thursday.

At a press-conference on Friday, Donovan gratefully accepted the job. Five days and one change of heart later – after attorneys worked out the details and he agreed to a clause that prevents him from coaching in the NBA for five years – Donovan was back at UF, as committed as ever, or so he said.

“I realized in less than 24 hours after signing a contract with the Magic. that, in my heart I belonged in college basketball,” Donovan said.

He belonged in college basketball just as some of us belong at Northern, while others will use NMU as a springboard for grad school somewhere else and some will even have a change of heart and do an about-face like Billy D. If I’m the Orlando Magic I’m upset and feel used, if I’m Florida or incoming recruits I might have a few new questions, but as a human being I feel like Donovan did an alright thing. He obviously knows he has a persona that meshes well with college kids, he will see his family much more often than 41 regular season NBA road games would allow and he let his heart, rather than his ego and pocketbook, do the talking. I can’t relate to the icon status he has attained in Gainesville, but I do know that we all make important decisions in our life and Donovan did just that, regardless of the career consequences and whether the media liked it or not.

Making a high-banked, 180 MPH turn from the hard-court to the fast-lane of NASCAR, a story that seems to fall right in line with similar sentiments regarding intense emotions, family matters and financial ramifications is that of Dale Earnhardt Enterprises. On May 10, Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced that he would be leaving DEI at the end of the year, in part because his step-mom Theresa Earnhardt wouldn’t relinquish a majority of DEI’s controlling interest. While the relationship between Dale Jr. and his late father Dale Sr.’s wife has always been portrayed as turbulent, many racing experts and fans see Junior’s decision as motivated by selfish greed. I’m not one of them.

“For DEI to get to where it needs to be, I think personally to be as successful as it can be, I felt like I needed to have my hands at the controls,” Earnhardt Jr. said in an interview with former Nascar driver Darrell Waltrip. “I had the idea that my father wanted me to be a part of that company and that he wanted me to have a lot of influence on what the company was doing.”

The story is interesting because Kelley Earnhardt Elledge, Earnhardt Junior’s sister, is his manager and chief negotiator and has stood by his side the whole time. A successful dynasty of a team with Earnhardt Jr. in the forefront with mom and sis in the background would be a marketing director’s dream, but there’s bound to more to the story than any journalist can decipher. On the surface though, Earnhardt Jr. knows that a love for his father burns deep and he will do anything to honor that.

The emotions are high and the decisions extremely influential, just as so many other headline stories in the sports world right now. Kobe Bryant demanded a trade from the Lakers recently, before deeming himself a “Laker for life” just hours later, Tom Brady and LeBron James are getting the whole nine yards about fatherhood and Gary Sheffield is being called anything from a racist to an honest man because of controversial comments about Latino baseball players. It’s a great time to listen to sports talk radio and take a few seconds to think about the decisions you are making on a daily basis and what they come off like to everyone else.

While Durant was a McDonald’s All-American in high school and I am just an American who eats McDonald’s I feel like in a game of one on one I could score a bucket or two-that is if we played to 100, but that’s okay because he might slap me a high-five or two because athletes are just like us with a lot more money and a lot more face time. If I got a job at a paper in California and declared homesickness three days later, it would be poor judgment on my part and a botched opportunity, but not a questioning of my integrity like Donovan’s facing. If I went against my dad by buying a Nissan instead of a Honda, who he works for, he’d probably question my thinking and I’d miss out on a nice discount, but there’d be no one calling me out.

There’s been the “girl next door” image for years in the media market and this is the summer of the “dude next door” in the sport world that should allow us all to re-examine who we’re criticizing and what we would do in a similar situation.