First off, it's great to be back. I hope some of you remember me, but if not, no big deal. I don't make mistakes.
Language is our friend. As someone who writes for a living, I really want to believe this. Otherwise, I'd be contributing to the downfall of the human race every time I wake up and step into the office. More often than not, I think it's on our side. After all, it enables us to build tall buildings and put men on the moon. But there are times when language does nothing more than make our lives into one big, gigantic mess.
This happens all the time in sports, actually. Take, for instance, the terms "star" and "superstar." These get thrown around as a matter of course, but mean next to nothing. At least we know the two sides of the debate over what "Most Valuable Player" stands for (and by extension, what makes an All-Star). "Superstar" and "star", though, are just ways of saying that players matter in sports. We can all agree that Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are superstars. But where do we go from there?
We could take the easy way out: Superstars are the best players on their respective teams. However, does that automatically disqualify Pau Gasol -- arguably the most gifted post presence in the league -- from superstar status? What about the Chicago Bulls, or the much-beloved (but still inchoate) Sacramento Kings? I have trouble calling Derrick Rose or Tyreke Evans a superstar yet. It gets even more vague when it comes time to deem a star a star. If we merely mean "a good player," then wouldn't us basketball-savvy folk be forced to refer to Carl Landry or Anderson Varejao as one? Consider the other extreme: To the casual fan, Shaquille O'Neal and Allen Iverson still probably count as superstars. Are these lifetime achievement awards, or just a function of their celebrity?
Tedious stuff, I know. The point I'm trying to make is that handing out this honor is arbitrary business, and can sometimes indicate nothing more than excitement on the part of the speaker. Sure, go ahead and call Brandon Jennings a superstar-in-training, or wonder if Monta Ellis has elevated himself to this supposedly elite class of player. If context is everything, anyone taking a look around the Bucks or Warriors would have to give these claims serious consideration. Let me preempt at least one angry comment: Andrew Bogut is a star, no more and no less. See how easy that was?
I know I should be trying to launch my second act here with a bang, but really, this seemingly obtuse topic is really relevant to what, as far as I can tell, is the only story in the NBA right now. That's right, all things flow back to Gilbert Arenas, who at the moment is the most important man in the Association. He's a real superstar; across the media, that's the label he's been assigned, in part because it makes the story even more sensational. Then again, let's think back to better times for Gil. He was the Rodney Dangerfield of the new generation, getting left off the All-Star team when averaging 29 points per game (he made it on as an injury replacement) and fighting to gain mainstream recognition. When he suggested that he might be up there with Kobe, Bron, and Dwyane Wade, laughter was heard from all corners of the world.
There's a reason why, at least when I watched, everyone in the WWE was a "superstar." And why Warhol stuck that title on anyone who emerged from his Factory scene. It's the ultimate stunt to pique interest in advance, and heighten the effect when something crazy goes down. We like to think that, in sports, it's something players earn. Apparently, though, "stars" and "superstars" aren't badges of honor. They're just a fancy way of telling people to pay attention, no matter what the player's track record.