Most Improved Player: A Sibling Rivalry
I was jealous. That’s why I denigrated my brother for being named Most Improved Player of our summer youth basketball league. Envious from the moment they called his name and handed him the trophy.
And that bugger won it two summers in a row. As his older brother, I wouldn’t respect it. Resentful over his trophies, their meaning, and what they exposed. The work ethic ‘MIP’ demands, and knowing I was too lazy and spoiled to pay the price myself.
Instead of having the courage to pat my brother on the back, I ripped him. Calling ‘MIP’ a bogus award. A poor man’s Most Valuable Player.
It’s true — when you act like a chump, you damage yourself. The person who’s targeted, gets over it. It’s the loser who fails to improve and lives a life of mediocrity.
As an adult, I enjoy books and articles on success stories. The ones with athletes and coaches who have won multiple championships. You know their slogans and themes: ‘The Process’, ‘No Medals For Trying’, ‘Commitment To Excellence’, ‘Standard Of Performance’, to name a few.
In my opinion, Most Improved Player is the highest award any pro or amateur athlete could win. If I could go back in time to that summer league, I’d work harder. I’d practice like the devil to win ‘MIP’ myself.
Pick and rolls, a bounce pass to the open man. Setting screens for teammates and boxing out opponents for rebounds. I wish I were a better brother and basketball player back then.
Who gives a rip about numbers, triple-doubles, and points per game?
Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James would never post stats or win titles without being well-rounded players. Their legends grew by showing up everyday — for practice, their teammates, and coaches. Perfecting fundamentals, never mailing in a possession. During practice, shoot-arounds, or the NBA Finals.
I missed a fantastic opportunity to challenge my brother for Most Improved Player and to congratulate him when he earned it.
During pick-up games, we should have competed with each other over our craft, not just the score. Pushing one another on ball control, finding the open man, and taking smarter shots. To hustle, pivot, and press like there’s no time clock or scoreboard.
I won a trophy that summer too — for winning the summer league title. And I did squat to get it. A chuck and chippy-hanger who lacked hustle and played shoddy defense. The team would have won without me.
My regrets from those two summers, was my attitude. Not only towards my brother, but to basketball. I deprived myself the pleasure of learning a great game while becoming the best player and teammate I could.
Back home, I’d wipe my brother out during our one-on-ones. After the spankings, he’d always walk off and quit. I’d razz him for being a sissy and sore loser. I relished kicking his ass and running up the score.
It wasn’t the ‘competitive spirit’ that caused his disenchantment. It was the disconnect between his opponent, brother, and ideals. I realize that now.
My brother didn’t care about stats or score as much me. And I didn’t savor or respect the process like him. The now moment of improving and competing is how my brother practiced and played the sport.
Play the game with your teammates, not around them. Let the score take care of itself.
If I ever coach youth basketball, I’d enjoy practice and teaching the basics. If the team wins, great. But I’d be more invested in every child’s development, improvement, and teamwork. That each baller ends the season a better player than the day they showed up.
I’d want every kid to get an award. Not a participation ribbon. Not a championship trophy. Not an MVP. An MIP — Most Improved Player.
My brother passed away last July. I never made the time until now to thank him for his example and congratulate him for his results.