Anyone who knows me knows I have a tremendous affinity for sports, particularly basketball. My favorite player to watch growing up was Allen Iverson. Witnessing him cross over Allen Iverson, then step over him, as he led the Philadelphia 76ers to a game 1 win in the 2001 NBA Finals was nothing short of monumental. Unfortunately, they’d lose the next four games (and the Finals) to the Los Angeles Lakers, but my love for the sport was cemented so much so, I decided to start playing. I vividly remember taking my first shot attempt at a park close to home and watching the ball go over the backboard, much to my chagrin. From that moment on, I began to dedicate myself to understanding the ins and outs of basketball – like how to properly shoot.
The only other player to completely captivate me as a youth the way Allen Iverson or AI did, was Greg Oden. From his gargantuan stature to his physical dominance, he was a force to be reckoned with. As a student at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, Oden led his team to three consecutive championships before graduating in 2006. He was named the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year in both 2005 and 2006 due to his on-court supremacy, paving the way for him to enroll at the Ohio State University on a full athletic scholarship.
Oden’s name began to garner serious national attention while at Ohio State. In his lone year there, the Buckeyes never lost a home game. Alongside his high school teammate Mike Conley, Jr., Oden led the Buckeyes to an outstanding 35 wins, 4 losses overall record, including going 15-1 in Big Ten Conference play. They were the #1 team in the country that year. Oden and the Buckeyes made it all the way to the NCAA national championship game, where, unfortunately, they lost to the Florida Gators, 84-75. Still, Oden had done enough to warrant being selected as the #1 pick in the 2007 NBA draft. Sadly, after this feat, things started to go downhill for him.
The 2007 NBA season was shaping up to be a great one until in September of that year, Oden had microfracture surgery on his right knee, a knee that had given him some trouble in the past. He’d go on to miss the entirety of that season. Then, in December of 2009, he injured his left knee and had another surgery that would cut his season short. Roughly one year later, he had another surgery on his left knee again, ending the 2010-2011 season for him indefinitely. From that point forward, Oden’s NBA career spiraled downward. He played for one more team, the Miami Heat, before his career in the National Basketball Association came to an abrupt end. In the aftermath, Oden went through bouts of alcoholism to quell his feelings of failure and lethargy as a professional athlete. He was widely considered as one of the biggest busts in NBA history in the aftermath.
His story came to mind during a moment of reflecting a few days ago. It made me think of several of my former friends and their approach to dating, intimacy, and or intimate relationships. Several of them used to come to me to talk about their relationship woes, complaining that their significant other wasn’t who they thought they were anymore, that things in their relationship started turning for the worst, seemingly out of nowhere. Remaining unbiased, I’d talk to their counterparts to get their perspective. In all but one case, the issues these people’s partners had with them were simple – they seemed to stop being their best selves. “He used to do more for me than he does nowadays” I’d often hear. Or, “I feel like she’s stopped trying and caring about me.”
Almost everyone I know, regardless of their sexual orientation or dating interests, craves to be in a healthy, inviting, warm relationship with an amazing life partner. These individuals go all out in the name of finding love. For instance, my male counterparts often go out of their way to put their best foot forward in the beginning stages of getting to know a prospective partner. I’ve seen guys I’d describe as “Neanderthals” from an organization standpoint clean themselves up nicely, convincing their love interest that orderly is who they are at their core. I’ve seen females who live in squalor transform their dwelling place into one that is immaculate, all to impress a potential lover. In short, these individuals go above and beyond, making the person they want to date feel as if they’re the only other human being on planet Earth. Convinced their suitor is smitten with them, those being pursued agree to start an intimate relationship. Then, as time passes, the things that were done to win their affection don’t happen as frequently until one day, those things stop altogether. That’s when chaos, drama, and problems usually start surfacing.
Lots of people put their best foot forward when getting to know their love interest, only to bust once they start dating, get married, etc. to that individual. In short, they get too comfortable. They stop trying as hard. The things they did to win the affection of their significant other cease to take place. Those deeply in touch with their emotions and/or those who reflect in meaningful ways may have no problem articulating their issues with this sort of complacency, but more often than not, I’ve seen relationships begin to crumble along the very foundation that they were built on due to this. It takes a lot of work to learn how to communicate one’s feelings readily and willingly, as this usually requires tremendous vulnerability. But when you feel underappreciated, are you keen on opening up? More often than not, the answer is a resounding no.
Love isn’t a game; I personally don’t believe in looking at it as one, as I feel it allows people to avoid taking it as seriously as they should. From my observations, the ones that treat it like a game usually end up “losing” in the end. But if it were a game, I think it’d be akin to basketball. Greg Oden was the #1 lottery pick in 2007, a milestone that puts him in the company of NBA legends such as Kareem Abdul-Jabar, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan, and of course, Allen Iverson. Unlike these perennial superstars, however, Oden didn’t put his best foot forward daily while in the NBA. His physical ailments paved the way for him to spend more time on the bench than on the court. Instead of focusing exclusively on getting back into tip-top shape and rehabbing his injuries so he could get back “in the game,” alcoholism, apathy, partying, and wild living took its place, cutting what could’ve been a prolific career incredibly short. If Oden had focused exclusively on bettering himself – for his sake and the sake of the Portland Trailblazers (the team that drafted him), he may still be in the league. All he had to do was “up his game.”
The NBA season has 82 regular-season games, plus a minimum of 16 in the playoffs. Those who excel consistently in this vastly competitive league understand the importance of taking the game seriously, investing in their health and well-being, and, last but not least, never taking their position as professional athletes on the world’s largest basketball stage for granted. The same should be said about your approach to dating, intimacy, and/or marriage. It takes consistent, intentional, profound love to receive that type of love back and maintain a healthy relationship. The key word here is consistency.
If you’re one of the lucky few in a harmonious relationship, understand that your significant other made you their “first overall draft pick” when they said yes to dating, marriage, or whatever the case may be for your relationship. Think about this – there are about 7.8 billion people on this planet. Out of all of those individuals, your partner chose you to be their other half. It’s up to you to show them whether or not you’re a true lottery pick or, though it may sound a bit harsh, a bust. There is no in-between, here. The proof is in your actions, choices, deeds, words, and above all else, your consistency. That’s what makes the NBA greats aforementioned so great. They are/were constantly on the hunt for ways to improve their game. So, make sure to showcase how worthy and appreciative you are of your significant other’s selection by giving your best and your all, day in and day out.
If you want love that lasts, love devoid of drama, negativity, or feelings of inadequacy, you must choose to either up your game…or leave the league.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project, please support our mission and join us as a Premium Member.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: Shutterstock