Saturday, June 2, 2012


I hear sports prognosticators hedging their bets when they identify the team they believe will win a game or a series.  "The Celtics can beat Miami depending on which Boston team shows up. If Rondo plays like Rondo then they have a chance.However, if  the real Dwyane Wade plays on Sunday then the Celtics can forget about it."

If Rondo plays on Sunday, well then Rondo will not only be playing like Rondo he will be Rondo.  The real Dwyane Wade will be in the Boston Garden tomorrow night.

Athletes performances will vary. The better players, like Jordan and Bird and Russell, are consistently great so the quality and style of their play will not vary much from one game to another. Rondo is difficult to predict.  He can go from a hall of fame player one night, to someone who seems uninterested the next.  In sports, there is this variability and it is one of the things that makes games interesting.  Can a player excel in certain situations and go beyond his limits.  Does an athlete in crunch time, run away from the ball, because he cannot take the pressure of the big shot?  When an opponent plays a zone, can a team adapt, changing its offense to combat the revised defense.

Proteus is a mythological sea god that had the ability to change shape.  The word protean is an adjective that  refers to changeability.  Someone who is protean can transform her or himself depending on a situation.  In sports, adaptation (as opposed to mercurial performance) is a good thing.  Not sure it is for the rest of us, especially if we lose sight of who we are what with the frequent wardrobe changes.

In the seventies and eighties I read a few of Kurt Vonnegut's books. He was something of a literary cult hero when I was in college, but it wasn't until I graduated that I began to read his novels.  My favorite (though I have not read them all, or even half of them) is Player Piano.  Great book, written in the early 50s with a remarkable sense of how technology would (and did), eventually, be omnipresent in organizations.

The main character in the book is Paul Proteus.  Proteus seems to be living the good life; he is a high level manager in the organization; has married a woman who seems to fit in with the society within which they live; has become a captain of sorts within his company by playing within the rules.  But something happens to Proteus. He begins to realize that he has somehow transformed and is not who he once was. He has copped the values of others, implicitly if not actively promulgating them, but he does not actually share these values.  True to his name, he has changed form to accommodate an environment, but he lost himself in the process.  I'll not spoil the read in case you're interested, but the question becomes can he change back.

If the Celtics continue to double team Dwyane Wade, he will have to adapt. But when we seem to be double teamed, we have to be careful to adapt or else we might become a chameleon, just a different person depending on where we are at and who happens to be our dance partner at the time.

I'm not a big short story reader, but one of Vonnegut's has stayed with me for thirty years. It is about two people active in community theatre. The man is painfully shy. He can barely say anything--except when he is on stage--then he can become whoever it is he is playing--a bully, a lover, a salesman.  Just tell him who he is and he can be it.  Another woman in the theatre group is interested in him, but offstage he can't seem to communicate with her. So their romance takes place on stage in different performances.

The story is called, "Who Am I This Time" and while it will benefit Dwyane Wade to adapt to the pressure defense tomorrow night and be protean in that way, I'm not sure it serves the average Jill and Jack to look back on their lives or look forward and ask themselves, who am I this time?

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