In today’s Wall Street Journal, Hannah Karp wrote about how there seems to be some sort of connection between being ridiculously good at basketball and having an older brother who played the sport.
But it’s not just that having an older brother makes you really good, Karp says, it’s that it makes you scary. It makes you intense. It makes you reckless. Sort of like this:
That’s Blake Griffin. He played basketball in high school and in college with his older brother, Taylor. Griffin plays with a direct recklessness. Disregarding where defenders are and his position on the court, it’s like he plays the game for no other reason than to throw the ball through the rim as hard as he possibly can.
Then there’s Jimmer, who plays with a different kind of recklessness. He shoots whenever he can. Once he crosses mid court, he’ll throw up a shot from anywhere. He also has an older brother, who—when he wasn’t recording vaguely incestual rap songs—famously trained Jimmer, making him dribble through dark, narrow, crucifix-laden hallways.
A study published last year in the Personality and Social Psychology Review may shed some light on all this. The study analyzed performance data on 700 brothers in Major League Baseball and found a major difference: younger brothers were more than 10 times more likely to attempt the high-risk activity of base stealing and three times more likely to steal bases successfully. It also found younger brothers were more likely to allow themselves to be hit by pitches to get on base.
One theory: risky behavior is a way for younger siblings to get attention and distinguish themselves, especially from someone who, for at least some period of time, has been the bigger and stronger competitor.
Neither Griffin nor Jimmer are the “Hey, look at me” types who beat their chests, yearning for attention after a dunk or a jump shot. But, really, it’s their playing styles that say, “You, look at me now.” They do things that you have to watch. They’re both great, successful players, but they’re successful in a way that lends itself to quick YouTube clips and edited highlight reels.
To be a breathtaking, supremely focused athlete, you don’t need to have an older brother. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was an only child. But to see Griffin and Jimmer’s playing styles as manifestations of their childhoods is pretty cool. And, at least for me, it helps to rationalize the outrageous things they do on the court.