President Bush says the United States has disrupted 10 Al Qaeda terror plots worldwide. Kwame Brown no doubt thinks they were all plots against him.
Out there in Los Angeles, Kwame is hunkered down, waiting for them to come. He doesn't know when they will appear, or what disguise they'll be wearing, but you can bet that when he sees them he'll recognize them for what they are: The International Anti-Kwame Brown Forces Devoted to Undermining Him at Every Turn.
You have to wonder how Los Angeles Lakers Coach Phil Jackson's famous composure is going to hold up the first time Kwame interrupts a sideline huddle with one of his Everyone Is Against Me conspiracy theories. Can you imagine the conversation?
Kwame: They're here! They're here!
Kwame: The little men in the basement.
Poor Kwame. The secret infiltrators who foiled his four-year career in Washington won't let him alone. When Brown was traded to the Lakers, it should have been a chance for a fresh start. But even before training camp opened, Brown was once again expressing his inconsolable grievances against them. What happened in Washington wasn't his fault. Sure, he cut practice in the midst of the Wizards' playoff run. But they, not he, were the ones who behaved unforgivably. Guard Gilbert Arenas, his so-called friend, and Coach Eddie Jordan conspired to bench him. His enemies can never be placated.
Poor Kwame. It's hard to know what to think of him. He is certainly less deserving of sympathy than a hundred thousand other creatures you could name, starting with the stranded pets of New Orleans. On the other hand, you have to actually feel for the kid. All he did was take the millions he was offered. How was he supposed to know: A.) he wasn't remotely ready to be a professional basketball player, or B.) it would ruin his young life?
Brown is right about one thing: To a certain extent, whatever is wrong with him was perpetrated by others, those adults who consistently failed to realize his real mental and emotional age and mistakenly gave him credit for being as grown as he is tall. From agent Arn Tellem to Michael Jordan, who drafted him, to Doug Collins and Eddie Jordan who coached him, to those of us who booed or belittled him, everyone has misunderstood him and the nature of his problems.
The unfortunate fact is that Brown simply isn't mature enough psychologically to play consistently at the NBA level yet. His problems are of the typical adolescent Why Me? variety, only they have grown radioactive with all the money and lights and microphones.
It's more obvious than ever that Brown's selection as a No.1 draft pick straight out of high school did not accelerate his growth, but retarded it. Any child development expert will tell you that those who don't pass through adolescence in an orderly fashion risk prolonging it or stunting it altogether.
Leapfrogging to the pros only seemed like a fast route to self-assured adulthood for Brown. In fact, it was just a shortcut to massive insecurity, to wealth without accomplishment.
When athletes shortcut their development by turning pro too early, "they don't adequately self define," according to Fordham University professor and sports psychologist Paul Baard. "Too much of self-worth is attached to being a star in that arena. As a result, when someone criticizes you, or the coach benches you, it feels like an attack on your life, because it's an attack on your psychological life."
Does that sound like Kwame, or does that sound like Kwame?
A successful adolescence, for all of its prolonged torture, is the path to genuine self-assurance because it's that stage in which you make a bunch of idiotic mistakes in relative privacy and learn that you can't blame anyone but yourself. It's the stage in which you explore wrongheaded opinions, have an inner debate about your values, and make your first real friends, who you learn to trust because they bust you for your pretensions. "That's all taken away when you're on the road with grownups, sitting in hotel bars and when you aren't even old enough to drink yet," Baard says.
If Brown's phantom quarrel with Arenas tells us anything about him, it tells us that, sadly, he has yet to establish decent social relationships. "Friends help you shape your character," Baard observes. "They correct us. They say, 'You've talked about yourself for the last 15 minutes.' "
It's easy to write Brown off as a bum or a brat, and it's maybe even satisfying, given his lackadaisical habits and his chronic baby-man snits. It's not easy to understand him or his behavior. But, somehow, we've got to try, because the alternative is to admit that we don't care that the NBA, along with other sports, has become a dumping ground for hardship high-schoolers, an extravagant form of welfare for kids with only one real skill, so long as they entertain us for awhile.
The problem is that it's not necessarily the job of NBA management to understand the problems of their younger charges, and cure them. It's the job of someone like Baard. "What I try to do with an athlete is have them stop and say that, rather than getting a sense of worth from being a star, have it come from the fact that he disciplined himself, trained his body and honed his shot," Baard says. "That is something that can't be taken away. It's what you own. You did that. The concept of a star belongs to other people, so you are beholden to other people. But the other is in your hands."
Phil Jackson, once again, will have to play the role of amateur child psychologist as well as coach. Jackson has a facility for soothing sensitive ballplayer psyches, but he was so exasperated by Kobe Bryant's childish narcissism that he walked away from the team for a season. At least Bryant, for all of his self-involvement, is a self-assured player. Brown has the sulky complications of Bryant, only without the self-assurance.
What will happen the first time Brown fails to understand the Triple Post, or worse, when he realizes that it's not an offense that's going to make him a star? Jackson said this week that Brown can be a difference-maker for the Lakers, if he plays with "emphatic force." But so far, all Brown does with emphatic force is to blame others for his problems. That is the classic behavior of an unhappy child.
And NBA teams aren't in the business of consoling unhappy children.