The role of a team captain differs from sport to sport. In hockey or soccer, it holds much more significance. In baseball its usually bestowed upon the team’s elder statesmen. The quarterback of a football team is it’s captain, regardless of whether he’s been given the official title.
But in basketball, it’s definition changes from team to team. The captains meet with the officials at mid-court prior to tip-off and for some teams, the responsibility ends there. An NBA team can have more than one captain. Back in the early part of the century, Phil Jackson anointed Shaquille O’Neal, Rick Fox, and Kobe Bryant as tri-captains. If you asked Jackson why, he’d probably tell you that Shaq and Kobe needed it for their respective egos while Fox was needed because of Shaq and Kobe and their respective egos.
Up until last season’s trade deadline, Kobe and Derek Fisher shared the captaincy. Not sure there’s a better example of Good Cop/Bad Cop than that pairing. After Fisher was traded to and subsequently released by the Rockets, head coach Mike Brown gave Fisher’s captaincy to Pau Gasol.
But next year’s Lakers might present a bit of a problem for Coach Brown. He’s got four of the best players in the NBA, all of whom have been a captain at one time or another in their career. If Brown decides to go with only Kobe then he has to strip Pau of his co-captaincy. If he keeps Pau as a captain and decides to add a third, either Steve Nash or Dwight Howard, then he leaves one of the four on the outside looking in. I don’t think you can do that.
Kobe Bryant will be a captain, either by himself or with another teammate(s). This much we know. While Kobe is one of the world’s biggest a-holes, you can’t make light of the fact that nobody is as dedicated and focused as he is. Rarely is the league’s highest-paid player also its hardest-working but nobody can deny that isn’t the case with Mamba. He insists on you giving your best effort and if you’re not willing to do so you’ll probably be gone. You’d probably want Kobe on your team in anything, including charades and Pictionary. He wants to win at all costs. All important characteristics you’d want in a captain.
But then what?
Let’s look at Pau. While not exactly a vocal leader, there are few NBAers who exemplify what it is to be a professional quite like Pau. He’s a gentleman of the highest order (pardon the pun) and the kind of guy you’d want your sister to marry. He sings for charities, hangs out in the operating room during pediatric spinal surgeries, and he actually read the books Phil Jackson used to give out. Is he the guy you’d call if you were about to get into a fight? Absolutely not. However, he is the guy you’d call to come and bail you out if you got arrested. There’s something to be said for that type of guy. All great captain qualities.
Next up: Steve Nash. Personality-wise, Nash and Pau are very similar. Perhaps his past infidelities would prevent you from wanting him to marry your sister, but its hard to come up with anyone who better exemplifies the classic definition of a captain quite like Nash. Maybe its because Nash was raised the son of a footballer. For starters, he’s 39-years-old, ready to begin his 17th season, and you’ve never heard a single teammate of his say anything negative about him. Furthermore, you can’t discount his toughness because he’s been playing with a congenital back condition called spondylolisthesis for years.
Much like the quarterback is the default captain of a football team, in many ways so is an NBA point guard. He’s the one who makes sure that everyone on the team gets to eat. I think Nash would be there if you needed someone to help you in a fight or to bail you out. But he’s also the guy you’d ask to give a toast at your wedding. You could guarantee he’d say something poignant and charming and you wouldn’t have to worry about him saying something that would get you in trouble or embarrass you.
And finally, there’s Dwight Howard. He’s not just the new guy. He’s the future. More importantly, he’s in a contract year and one of the league’s biggest stars. You want to make sure he feels respected and as equally important as anyone on the team. He’s the future CEO. Not a temp. I don’t know if Dwight is the guy you call if you’re getting into a fight or if you need to get bailed out. You definitely don’t want him giving a toast at your wedding because he’d probably do a horrible impression of your future father-in-law or spill some secret from your bachelor party. However, Dwight’s one of those guys who needs to feel important. That’s not to say the toughness with which he plays (at least up until last season) isn’t worthy of a captaincy.
So what do you do?
If I’m Mike Brown, its a no-brainer. It’s Kobe and Nash. Why? Pau will always do what’s in the best interest of the team so you don’t have to worry about his feelings getting hurt. He wasn’t a captain long enough to feel like its a real demotion anyway. You pull him to the side and explain to him what’s going on and he won’t say a word about it.
Here’s how you handle Dwight: the first day of training camp you get the whole team together and introduce Kobe and Nash as captains because they’re the oldest guys on the team. You mention the sacrifices Nash made when he joined the team, like taking less money and moving away from his kids. You remind them how close he’s come in the past to winning a championship and how he doesn’t have much time left.
Dwight will get over it because winning cures all. Hopefully the job will be his for a long time. Just not yet.