thinking about joel embiid

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:19 pm by Administrator

i woke up this morning and realized that i understood what sam hinkie is doing. not just theoretically speaking. i really got it. there are seven guys from this 2014 draft in my mind that have a ceiling high enough to make them potential superstar players. if we ignore his injuries, embiid’s upside puts him at the very top of those seven. saric is #6, ahead of Zach LaVine. the other four guys are wiggins, parker, exum, and smart.

if everything works out according to hinkie’s plan, he’ll have come away with not only two of the best seven players from the 2014 draft but also two legitimate stars—talent that only shows up once or twice a decade.

but i still believe that Hinkie made the wrong decision at pick 3 on Thursday night. he’s an analytics guy, so i’m going to make it mathematical.

My Breakdown of the Odds, on Embiid’s Career Potential:

5% chance the fracture does not heal properly and becomes chronic (i.e. Ilgauskas)
25% chance the fracture heals but he develops a subsequent fracture of either the foot or ankle (i.e. Yao Ming, Bill Walton)
25% chance the fracture heals but his aggressive rehab results in a soft tissue injury—a muscle strain or tear, or a ligament sprain/tear
20% chance he stays relatively healthy but he fails to adapt his game to the NBA
25% chance he stays relatively healthy and he learns the NBA game

I believe that i’ve assigned the percentages generously and in his favor. after reading everything available to me, i think that the trouble with embiid’s type of injury is three-fold: 1) his underlying issue is biomechanical, 2) the rehab required to alter his biomechanics will elevate his risk of serious tendon/ligament damage, and 3) a new body will require a new approach to the game. thus, even if he does come back stronger, he will have to re-learn the game. that’s a tall order for a raw big man.

hinkie is betting on the 25% best-case scenario. now, in any given draft, a top-3 pick is a 25% wager anyways, so perhaps this is a reasonable risk to take. in my opinion though, it was an unnecessary risk because this draft class was special; there were two other potential stars available at pick 3 with a more probable best-case scenario. those were Dante Exum and Marcus Smart. i’d estimate their best-case scenarios (All-Star level production for both players at the critical PG position) at 30-35% probability—a markedly less risky scenario for either guy.

i believe that Embiid will fully recover from the navicular fracture. but the problem with this injury is not the healing of the original injury. it’s the fact that a navicular fracture often portends recurrent foot and ankle injuries. i think Yao Ming is the most relevant comparison here. this was a big man who was well-proportioned, well-conditioned, and who moved with efficiency. there was little reason at the start of his career to believe that he would be particularly prone to lower body issues. it took three seasons to reveal the truth—that Yao’s feet and ankles were not built to take the stress of the game. his initial foot fracture was the tip of the iceberg; what followed was a series of fractures in various locations, each of which he could individually heal from. but collectively, those accumulated injuries caused him chronic pain and impaired mobility, in the same way that they disabled Bill Walton.

there is the additional factor that most of the best draft prospects for next year are big men. one can argue that we’ve already overloaded ourselves up front with a power forward prospect (saric) and two centers (noel and embiid). incidentally, and contrary to hinkie’s opinion, i don’t see any merit in trying to reinvent embiid as a power forward. so the choice of embiid doesn’t put us in great position to capitalize on next year’s draft, in which we’ll likely have a high pick.


the meaning of being a fan

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:02 pm by Administrator

every year, the Eagles and Sixers push me to the edge of sanity with their boneheaded personnel decisions and their awful play on the field. it’s around this time of the off-season that i often have to find a quiet corner where i can internally wrestle with this very simple question: why should i care?

when it comes to sports, i think there is a veritable hierarchy of experiences that i connect with. when i am personally playing a sport, regardless of the stakes, i am a fierce competitor; i root for me, and i play to win every time. without exception, i am out there to beat my opponent, as badly as possible.

next on the hierarchy are family members and friends. i can already anticipate that if and when my son finds a sport that he loves, i will be in his corner for every game. yes, i am the kind of dad that will fight the umpire or the parents of his opponents. but no, i’m not crazy enough to take it past profanity and maybe just a shove or possibly a punch to the other dad’s face. like, i’m not interested in seeing anyone go to the hospital for an unfair call. but yes, they need to know that if they make the wrong call against my son, there will be consequences—every time.

now, beyond that my loyalties are inconsistent. i’ll root for organizations that i’m a part of, if they’re involved in a club sport, but it’s an occasional and relatively dispassionate experience for me. perhaps on the fourth rung is Korea in World Cup soccer, although even then i find myself questioning why i would root for a country that i have very little ongoing connection with in any regard. in just about any other sport, i’ll root for the Americans if they’re up against international competition, but oftentimes i must evaluate the individual team or competitor that’s representing my country. and, as most who know me well understand, i have distinctly ambivalent feelings about nationalism, which i consider a patently corrupting sentiment and possibly the greatest philosophical evil of our age.

now, down at the 6th or 7th rung, you will find my philadelphia sports loyalties. the fact that the Eagles and Sixers are so frequently recurring items on my blog has nothing to do with how much i prioritize their success; in fact, they’re quite low on my totem pole of sports loyalties. they get so much of my attention because they are so bafflingly committed to incompetence. i mean, i get raging mad at Obama for the way he handles congress, and i’m not even really invested in who he is or what he does. it’s the same kind of thing with Philly sports. they just make a big show of ineptitude year after year, and it’s annoying. it’s like someone taking a crap on your doorstep every morning and not allowing you to clean it up. you have to smell the stink, every day, every month, every year.

why people actually root for city sports franchises is baffling to me, on a philosophical level. these days, it’s not like the teams are owned, represented, or managed by hometown folks. they’re just businesses that happen to be rooted in a city because there’s no other way for them to properly identify themselves. it’d be one thing if the Eagles and Sixers were committed to hiring philly people, drafting philly area talent, and functioning as a non-profit by pouring the proceeds into the community. but they don’t do that. they try to squeeze as much as they can out of young athletes and local fans, to pad their pocket books and finance big living. and i’m okay with that, if they do their job well. when you’re paid that much to do that sort of thing, at least do it well.

there’s no reason for me to be really invested in Philly sports. i have to admit it to myself that the only reason the Sixers and Eagles actually matter to me is that i have personal memories linked to those franchises. the best years of my life were in philly, and some of those memories are the reason why those years were so much fun. while Michael Jordan made me respect the game of basketball, it was Allen Iverson who got me to love the game. while Elway made me admire football talent, it was Brian Westbrook and Brian Dawkins who made me believe in a football team. all of those guys are long gone from the game now. what we have left is a bunch of half-wits, prospects so “sleeper” that they’re veritably comatose, and smarter-than-thou managers who have nothing to show for all their celebrated genius. i don’t connect with these guys. the only thing i connect with is the brand—and even that now strikes me as an empty promise of better days

Sixers Tank the Season; and then Hinkie Tanks the Draft

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:43 am by Administrator

Appalling. i thought i’d spelled out my worst-case scenario. apparently, i wasn’t imaginative enough.

Hinkie’s treatment of the 3rd pick reminds me very much of Chip Kelly/Howie Roseman’s treatment of the Eagles’ 1st round pick at 22. Howie: “the six guys we were looking at were gone, so we decided to shove a stick up our ass by trading down and then royally reaching for a guy that we could have taken in the 3rd round.” except that with Hinkie, it’s more like this: “nobody would trade with me for the 3rd pick! i didn’t know what to do. I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK TO DO! you tell me what i should have done! what should i have done? i did the only thing i could do—i took the only remaining top-3 guy from my fantasy draft rankings! CMON. it’s called a VALUE PICK.”

we’ve known for a long time that Hinkie will deal anything and anyone. we just didn’t know that Hinkie would try to do one over God. a 7 footer with a vertebral stress fracture and a navicular crack is simply not built for thirty games of pounding, much less an 82-game NBA season. the draft pick of Joel Embiid is not simply “gutsy” or “risky”; it’s a stupid risk, by a newbie general manager.

moving forward to pick 10, the Sixers decided that since they were now in the 2-3 year rebuilding mode, they were going to take yet another “value” pick, in the hope that Elfrid Payton (whose hype-meter has been off the hook for about four days) would buy us some sexy trade offers. there were NO sexy trade offers. facing the distinct prospect of having to hold onto a PG draft choice that is a mirror image of their current PG (a transition scorer who can’t buy a jump shot), they sold him off two picks later for cookie crumb future draft picks and yet another delayed gratification prospect in Dario Saric—a choice which further extends the rebuild timetable to more like 3-4 years. eh, why not just call it the PERPETUAL REBUILDING PLAN, or in other words, THE SAM HINKIE JOB SECURITY PLAN. in other words, he’s fucked the Sixers so badly now, in his own totally self-involved way, that he is literally the only one who could ever untangle the intricate mess he has devised—perhaps through some devious trade or other devilish hoodwink.

in any case, the Sixers managed to come out of their 7-pick draft with no playable NBA level talent, a top pick who will likely never play a complete regular season, and shockingly little in future draft picks to show for the self-mockery. i gotta ask. how the hell does Brett Brown feel now, putting a junior varsity team out there for the second year in a row, with little to no hope of getting a breakout talent or a big free agent signing in the next year?

this should have been the Sixers’ night tonight. this was supposed to be a big step forward for the franchise. but instead it was a bitter embarrassment for all of us. Philadelphia deserved better than this total calamity. we’ve suffered enough years of front office stupidity and lackluster play on the court. at some point, the ownership and the management of this team have to understand that we’re not going to take year after year of this patent misery anymore.

that’s all i gotta say. for the second year in a row, i can’t seem to find a reason to watch a Sixer game (or give a crap about the NBA for that matter). anticipating this draft was a tragic waste of my time, and i won’t make the mistake of ever putting my faith in Sam Hinkie again


last post before the draft

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:01 pm by Administrator


Pick 3: we don’t trade it to the Cavs, and we take Marcus Smart here.
Pick 7: we trade MCW to the Lakers for pick 7 and Nash’s contract. we take Julius Randle here.
Pick 10: we sit tight and draft Gary Harris.

that gives us a starting lineup of Marcus Smart, Gary Harris, Thaddeus Young, Julius Randle, and Nerlens Noel. that’s a team built to be stiff on defense and very dangerous on offense.


Pick 1: the Sixers do the deal with the Cavs (picks 3, 10, and 32), because Hinkie doesn’t think that a prospect at #10 will be a difference-maker in the long term. we take Andrew Wiggins and sit out the rest of the 1st round.


Pick 3: the Sixers take either Vonleh or Exum. this is my worst case, because i don’t like either player, and because it would be a commitment to a longer term rebuild.
Pick 10: whatever.


Rethinking Wiggins–and my Predictions on the Top 8 Draft Prospects

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:33 pm by Administrator

after three straight weeks of following the draft reporting, watching highlight reels, and combing through stats, i’ve come to a couple surprising conclusions. first, drafting 3rd (even with embiid’s navicular injury) might be a blessing in disguise for the 76ers. second, i’m not a believer in andrew wiggins.

i’d say that when it comes to evaluating player talent coming out of college, i’m better than average. my three favorite NBA prospects—Tim Duncan, Rip Hamilton, and Carmelo Anthony—have each had very successful careers in the league. i’ve had my notable misses as well. i thought Joe Forte, John Wallace, and Greg Oden would be awesome, to my chagrin. i thought Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, and Joakim Noah would fail expectations, and i was wrong about them as well.

what i’ve learned about my instincts is this: when i am right about a guy, it’s because i’m right about his game IQ—and his ability to adapt his game at the pro level. when i am wrong about a guy, it’s because i under or overestimate his skill level. the latter has a lot to do with the way i look at stats. and because i’ve failed at being a numbers guy, i don’t place a lot of stock in analytics or efficiency ratings (i.e. hollinger’s PER). unlike baseball and football, the NBA is a superstar’s game. one guy, regardless of his position, can make all the difference for an NBA franchise, for ten to fifteen years (i.e. Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant), and the trendy analytics miss the mark on these guys a lot of the time. check out the recent Forbes’ article dissecting all of Hollinger’s recent misses.

i believe in Marcus Smart’s potential for the same reason that i have lost faith in Wiggins. it’s the “mental game”. Smart gets the game. Wiggins is still figuring it out. and ironically, Wiggins is still figuring out the game because for a long time it has come too easily to him. every high school highlight of him features his incredible first step and a soaring finish at the basket. on the other hand, the college game exposed him a bit. i’m a little concerned about the 6 point performance in KU’s loss to Stanford in the NCAA tournament. but i’m also concerned about the other five times Wiggins failed to hit 10 points and the eleven times that Wiggins failed to register a single assist in the game. when Wiggins can fly to the basket, he’s phenomenal. but when he has to adapt his game to the defense, he fails. it’s not for lack of talent. he just doesn’t have the game IQ. maybe to some degree, he can learn to change his approach to the game. but if not, his ceiling is Rudy Gay.

here’s how i rank eight of the top prospects this year, according to future NBA success. time will tell whether i’m a pundit or a fool.

1. Marcus Smart: All-Star and NBA champion
2. Julius Randle: he won’t need to go right in order to murder defenses with his left
3. Aaron Gordon: raw athleticism will make him a frontcourt force on the boards
4. Jabari Parker: a second-fiddle role on Cleveland will stunt his growth and make him even more uninterested on defense
5. Noah Vonleh: he’s got all the physical attributes, but he doesn’t have the game sense to build a good mid-range game
6. Andrew Wiggins: he’ll be a lot like Rudy Gay—a versatile scorer, turnover-prone, and a bit of a black hole
7. Doug McDermott: he’ll be a good high-post player if he can find a good low-post guy to play with
8. Dante Exum: i don’t want to call him a flop, but i don’t trust a guy that won’t work out against other top prospects, and his height and wingspan don’t matter to me. he’s already being declared a shooting guard by GMs, which is ironic because Exum’s shot mechanics are fairly poor. i think he will struggle to fit in the NBA

Marcus Smart–and don’t look back

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:21 am by Administrator

i thought i’d come around to my final conclusions about the draft… i was wrong.

the philadelphia 76ers need to consider a few very important things this week, as they let the facts sort themselves. if they can step out of the box and faze out the hype for a moment, i think it will become obvious what they must do at picks 3 and 10. this is not about drafting a potential superstar; it’s about drafting a winning team, built around guys that have winning in their DNA. mark my words: the most successful NBA player in this draft is going to be Marcus Smart. and this has nothing to do with analytics. it has everything to do with his basic identity.

1. unlike jabari parker and andrew wiggins, marcus smart is a tough guy. he plays bigger than his size and he plays harder than his peers. parker is smooth and skilled, and in his spare time he likes to get fat and forget about defense. wiggins is athletic and quick, and when no one’s paying attention, he throws up bricks and disappears. marcus smart is always a huge presence. his passion for the game is unquestionable; and he will play out his nba career with an insatiable desire to outshine anyone he’s compared against. that is not only a classic “philly guy”; that’s a winner right there.

2. marcus smart has nba body. i’m a big believer in predicting a guy’s career based on his durability and his ability to play through pain. smart creates contact, fights through bigger guys, and somehow prevails. he’s a massive guy for his height, and it’s all 100% aggression packed in a big ball of muscle. i’ve rarely seen a guy at 6′2″ control the game from the low post the way he does. granted, that won’t be the mainstay of his NBA game; but neither will he be a guy that backs down from bigger, lankier guards and forwards. marcus smart reminds me a bit of raymond felton at UNC—except stronger, faster, and better at getting to the hoop.

3. marcus smart is literally smart enough to play the nba game. i don’t know if wiggins has that IQ, and i’m not sure how sharp parker will be at picking up NBA defense. smart, on the other hand, sees the court, understands how to position himself, and has incredible instincts in passing and in defending passing lanes. he’s going to force teams out of their comfort zones. he’s going to force the issue. that’s the kind of guy you want to build a team around. there are plenty of athletic studs out there (think marvin williams and derrick williams) who’ve failed to learn the nba game. smart won’t be one of them. he’ll be a master of the game. the little things just won’t get in his way.

i think that the Sixers might be able to forge a special identity through this draft, if they’re willing to prioritize the intangibles that really matter. i’d like to see us grab Marcus Smart at #3, leverage MCW (and maybe Thad Young) into a #7 pick to take Aaron Gordon, and then land Gary Harris at #10. i want Marcus Smart to run a high-tempo offense with Noel and Gordon crashing the boards and Harris hitting the fast-break 3’s. let’s bring the Sixers back from the grave here. let’s do it the right way—starting now.


Revised prediction for the NBA Draft

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:45 pm by Administrator

i’ve literally lost sleep for the past two nights trying to figure out what the Sixers can do to salvage their 1st round draft now that Embiid has fallen out of consideration. i’ve revisited most of the possible scenarios, and i’ve finally arrived at what i believe will be my final pre-draft conclusions:

the sixers will trade up one pick with the bucks, by giving up thaddeus young for ersan ilyasova, and by throwing in their top 2nd round pick. here’s why it happens:

a. More than anything else, the Milwaukee Bucks have suffered for lack of a true point guard. brandon knight does not fit that bill, and he never will. the Bucks have been mum on their workouts, but i have to think that the buzz surrounding marcus smart is legit. he’s tough, he’s a fiery leader, and he can drive an offense. he’s just what the bucks want and need, right now and for the foreseeable future.

b. The Bucks have terrible contracts on their payroll that could be paralyzing, and Ersan Ilyasova’s contract is the worst one. a Young/Ilyasova exchange would be God-send for them, because Young is a better player, and because Young would effectively be playing on a 1-year deal.

c. In the end, the Sixers have to roll with MCW, mostly because we’re not going to be able to get good enough value for him right now. his first year proved that while he can produce in Brett Brown’s system, he still can’t shoot, and he’s got an injured shoulder. he’s worth more to us than to anyone else; and that means he’s got to be a Sixer for at least another year.

d. While it’s not a “Wiggins or bust” scenario for the Sixers, Wiggins at 3rd pick is the dream scenario, for all the right reasons. he fills our biggest position need; he fits the system; he’s got superstar potential. apart from keeping pick #10, i think we have to do whatever the Bucks need us to do in order to move up that 1 pick.

here’s my prediction for the top 10 picks on Thursday:

1. Cavs: Jabari Parker. it’s not a slam dunk, but it makes the most sense for the Cavs. it will be an unfortunate destination for Parker, who will have to adapt to a volume shooting point guard in Kyrie Irving.

2. Sixers (trade with Bucks): Andrew Wiggins

3. Bucks (trade with Sixers): Marcus Smart

4. Orlando: Dante Exum. i see Exum struggling a lot in his first two years in the league, mostly because of his shot mechanics but also because of his inexperience. that’s OK for Orlando, because Oladipo can carry the load.

5. Utah: Aaron Gordon. the scouts say Vonleh, but Gordon is a physical beast. Utah wants power near the basket, after suffering through soft seasons from Favors and Kanter.

6. Boston: Noah Vonleh. i’m sure Ainge will try to trade down when he sees Gordon get taken, and he’ll also struggle with whether to take Embiid here. but the shadow of Yao Ming is expansive… he’ll do the right thing and take a versatile big man with room to grow.

7. L.A.: Julius Randle. he’s a skilled “big” with injury and size red flags, and i don’t see him breaking the mold. he’ll struggle against other PF’s in the NBA. L.A. is in for a long, unhappy rebuild, which is going to be extraordinarily gratifying for me and every other Laker hater in the world.

8. Sacramento: Joel Embiid. there aren’t any other “breakout” prospects at pick 8, and Sacramento is poised to take a risk here, given the youth of their roster.

9. Charlotte: Doug McDermott. he’ll be their offense. after him, there aren’t any prospects who can shoot at his level, and Jordan/Cho want a shooter right now.

10. Philadelphia: Nik Stauskas. i originally had a feeling about Saric, but Stauskas is a much more straightforward choice assuming that we trade up for Wiggins. Stauskas serves three purposes. first, he’ll be the first pure shooter the Sixers have had since Kyle Korver (whom they grossly underutilized). second, he’ll be insurance for MCW, who may or may not pan out over the next 1-2 seasons. third, he’s a good fit for Coach Brown: an agile, smart guy who can get to the rim or make the right pass in transition. running MCW, Stauskas, and Wiggins out there will mean good speed and spacing for a team that loves to push the tempo.


The Eagles Draft, and the NBA Draft

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:38 pm by Administrator

More disappointed reflections on the Eagles draft.

regarding the Eagles, i’ve heard that we’re going to put 6th round pick Bennie Logan in as our starting nose tackle, even though he’s undersized and less skilled than just about every defensive tackle taken ahead of him in the draft. we’re also planning to insert 2nd rounder Jordan Matthews in as our starting slot receiver, even though the knock on him was that he drops passes and isn’t quick in short spaces.

it just makes me madder about our entire strategy on draft night. were we that unprepared? i’m hearing that we traded down picks in the 1st round because the “six guys” we were looking at were taken. how is it possible that we couldn’t see value in the 22nd pick beyond one of 6 guys? as a result of the trade down, we lost out on the top 2 cornerbacks in the draft and left ourselves with a reach pick in marcus smith. even if we wanted this guy, he would’ve been there in the 2nd and most likely in the 3rd as well.

just as baffling, we traded up in the 2nd round to get a WR whose skill-set and physical attributes match those of other WRs taken in the late 2nd (cody latimer), 3rd (donte moncrief) and 4th (martavis bryant). the hype surrounding latimer and moncrief have been incredible. for sure, there was a terrible opportunist cost paid here in the 2nd round.

even two months later, i think it’s obvious that the Eagles should have taken Dennard at pick 22, and if it’s a starting nose tackle they were looking for in this draft, then Louis Nix should have been an obvious sit-tight selection in the late 2nd round. the 3rd round had plenty of receiver options for us to look at, and there was no reason to reach for an undersized, underskilled receiver in Josh Huff. we would’ve been fine with Moncrief or Bryant as our receiver of the future.

if Marcus Smith does not become an all-pro outside linebacker in the NFL, Howie Roseman should be relieved of his duties. i think we’ve tolerated enough of these bullshit defensive draft selections from his camp.

now, onto even browner pastures… the Sixers draft.

Embiid’s injury is a tragedy—for him and for the Sixers. it’s a tragedy for him because i think those in the know understand that his career lifespan is now very limited. a navicular fracture is a nearly fatal flaw. think Yao Ming. even think Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who actually fought back from the navi fracture to have a productive late career. anyone who watched Z will understand the toll the injury took on him. he was a plodding mid-range shooter who was perennially an underachieving rebounder; they worked the offense around him. he lost explosiveness in his game. he became a fixture in the low post.

Embiid’s entire potential is predicated on his athleticism. yet, he’s suffered a vertebral stress fracture and the foot fracture in relatively light activity, which is proof to me that he doesn’t have “NBA body”. these are unusual injuries, and unless he was catching a toppling piano, they are ominous evidence that his body is not built for 82 games of banging, jumping, crashing, and colliding. i can’t see him going top 10; and any team that takes him will be sitting on a time bomb.

which leads to the Sixers’ plight at pick 3. we can’t trade up now; picks 1 and 2 are now patently valuable. but we can’t trade down past pick 7, for fear of losing our shot at a key piece. orlando, utah, boston, and L.A. are unlikely to give up much to get higher up the rung, as players 3 through 7 don’t have clear separation. it’s a real tough spot for the Sixers—and it’s a bummer, because we miss out on two obvious stars in the making, in Wiggins and Parker.

this has to be Brett Brown’s call, regarding system fit, but i like Exum at 3rd and Saric at 10th. these are two international players who have high game IQ, lots of athleticism, and all the basic skills. a team with MCW, Exum, Saric, and Noel can run, shoot, and pass, like D’Antoni’s Phoenix teams of old. none of these players will be great defenders in their career, but they can gel as a squad, well enough to play for playoffs, and i think that’s about as much as we can hope for at this point. any other player than Exum would be a mistake; Vonleh doesn’t have the IQ or mid-range game to make him a cornerstone, and at pick 10 i think that the wing players available (LaVine, Harris, Stauskas) just don’t have Exum’s upside.



Posted in Uncategorized at 11:12 pm by Administrator

the trip back home also got me thinking a bit about success, among many other things.

when i was twenty, i defined success as “distinctive achievement”. for example, i thought that publishing a book or winning a Nobel prize would comprise success. later, when i was thirty, i defined success as “happiness with my career and with my family life”. the change in definition had something to do with the shift of my orientation from milestones to relationships.

now, approaching forty, i would define success as “surety in self, and in the value of one’s contributions to others”. anyone who’s followed my blog will understand the origins and evolution of this particular definition, so i won’t waste my time trying to explain.

the interesting thing about this evolution in perspective is that it implies a shift away from “high” sentiment toward a more subtle and formative sense of conviction. success, in other words, used to be something that made me feel happy (if not euphoric), accomplished (if not self-congratulatory), and free (from future responsibility or anxiety); but now success consists in the understanding of my role. as simple as that sounds, it is not a simple thing. and the deeper i understand my role, the more thorough is my satisfaction in my influence, my giftings, and my personality.

i sense success in others more intuitively than i once did. i think that this is because i once viewed the success of others as a fact, rather than as something to be discerned. making a lot of money, achieving career milestones, starting a profitable venture—these things used to constitute success, in and of themselves. but i became dissuaded of this idea when i began to realize that attributed success does not always correlate with personally felt success. in particular, i’ve met people who’ve been bewildered by their achievements, almost as if they chanced upon their windfall by accident. they viewed themselves as fundamentally unchanged by these circumstances, while their friends and colleagues viewed them as entirely transformed. this contrast disturbed them. instead of confirming their identities and their roles in community, the experience of “success” profoundly disconnected them from the person they were and from the people they thought they knew.

more often i sense success in people who’ve undergone a major change—often a risky, difficult, but nevertheless necessary change—and seen things turn out OK on the other end. the testing of themselves and of their bonds with others affirms who they are. they feel a greater sureness in the things which once eluded them; they have a stronger understanding of the very spiritual thing underlying their motives and feelings. to me, they seem interested in others, without being envious of them; they are able to live in the present, without being haunted by either the future or the past; they are self-aware and even confident in themselves, to the degree that they can leverage themselves at will and in any situation as necessary.

the most successful man i’ve met in the past year is a patient of mine who overcame drug addiction, imprisonment, and a prior life of crime as a gang member, to discover excellent health and influence within his community in his middle age. those aspects in themselves might constitute success in an objective sense, but that is not why i considered him successful. i sensed his success in the way that he carried himself and expressed his joy of living. the man offered to pray for me, his doctor. in the most genuine spirit of care and concern, he offered to pray for my health and for my ability to continue treating other patients. that struck me with awe. it was unusual personability, driven by a powerful sense of his personal influence, rooted in a self-awareness he earned through the testing and understanding of himself.

that’s the path. there’s a certain success that we only experience when we are touched by the Spirit in our weakness. it’s the kind of change that drives one to consummate authority by way of total humility. that man can do anything; but even if he doesn’t, he has still become something that the world cannot corrupt. for me, on the eve of turning forty, that is the look of success


there’s no 401 for what really matters

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:02 pm by Administrator

this past week, i went back to D.C. for six days, for a wedding and also a visit to folks back home. i had a chance to reconnect with a lot of old friends, and there were enough interesting moments and conversations that i’ll probably be reflecting on the trip for months. but one specifically interesting aspect of the trip was the opportunity to reconnect with influential men who are now retired or facing retirement. each of the three men i talked with are facing this “stage” of life fairly differently; but the one common theme that emerged from my conversations with them was a profound, underlying need to remain relevant. and i saw through their eyes that relevance wasn’t about being meaningful to others and connected to community; rather, relevance was primarily about maintaining a personal sense of vitality.

a long time ago, i blogged something about relevance, with regard to the experience of the elderly. i’ve long believed that it’s the principal thing one must fight to retain as he ages. even if one can maintain mental sharpness and authority into his older years, he invariably loses the peer group with which he is most intimately connected; and without a peer group of advocates, one is quickly forgotten or marginalized. in this world, one can transcend racial and cultural divides more readily than one can overcome a generational divide. particularly with how furiously technology and infrastructure turns over in these times, a man disconnected from the cultural pulse can die a social death of a kind, well before his physical dissolution.

one of the men i talked to is a prominent leader in the church, and he admitted to me that though he makes it a rule not to envy the young, he often reflects on what he would do differently if he had the chance to do it again. i felt that between the lines he was expressing a real wish to have one more go at it, one more chance to push himself and his community in a truer direction. his unarticulated fear was palpable—the idea that even if his physical body did not fail him, the dismissive judgments of younger leaders might render him irrelevant, however hard-earned and invaluable his wisdom might be to their common cause. it was a moving conversation for me. and it opened my eyes to the finiteness of life, in a new way. i realized that my influence in my various communities is a precious and transient privilege—and one which i will eventually concede, perhaps even before i am willing to relinquish it.

the world unceasingly moves forward, favoring the young and revolving around their obsessions and inquiries. in many situations, we have even legislated the changing of the guard. people can be forced into retirement; and even as ageism galls the young, it truly debilitates the old. as modern society transitions into postmodern society, not only in the West but also in traditional societies around the world, the pressure on the elderly is to avoid being a burden to their young. and thus even in our generative years, we anticipate retirement with an almost obsessive fear of losing our financial independence. but one can’t bank emotional capital; one can’t call in a debt of devotion when she is unfashionably old. there is no 401 plan for relevance.

here and there, i’ve reflected on emerging ideas about crowd sourcing for social change. i’m wondering now if there might be a good case to be made for merging two ideas: crowd sourcing for non-profit work and retirement planning. specifically, can we make it possible for working people to contribute toward causes of social reform in a way that permanently invests them in the organizations that drive these reforms? in other words, might it be possible to restructure retirement planning so that people can secure not only financial independence but also long-term employment with corporate entities that align with their values and interests?

on the one hand, it seems nonintuitive to contribute toward a retirement plan that keeps you working. but there’s a natural intersection of interests here, between non-profit NGOs that need a flexible, experienced, part-time workforce and an elderly cohort that wants to remain influential and active in the society that they have built. it seems sad to me that the concept of “retirement community” usually revolves around shopping malls and golf courses, when many of the retirees i’ve met want a retirement lifestyle that connects them with the institutions that they feel passionate about: schools, libraries, universities, hospitals, and political campaigns.

and that just speaks to the needs of the elderly workforce. the non-profit sectors offering employment and growth opportunities to the elderly have as much if not more to gain from those that “buy in”. as it stands, most workers pack away their savings into institutional funds that make money for fund managers and other stockholders. if workers could be incentivized to develop “alternate retirement investments” in social causes that they believe in, non-profits have a much stronger foundation upon which to plan strategically, in ways that can exponentially improve their ability to achieve meaningful milestones. just as importantly, the expanded conduit between the citizen and the non-profit organization would necessarily drive more accountability for results, in the same way that retirement portfolios warrant broad-based scrutiny.

nowadays, we live in a society that defines old age as a time of abandonment—a stage of life that demands thirty years of savings as the cost of basic survival. however, as much energy as this society puts into retirement planning, i wonder if we don’t think about it enough. i wonder if we don’t invariably realize in the end that paying the bills is perhaps the lesser challenge of growing old; and that retaining vitality requires the ongoing ability to produce, to create, and to drive change. our elders can do this, perhaps better than the rest of us in many ways, and i think that they need to, for all the psychological and spiritual reasons rooted in our inexorably human quest for immortality.

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