Tuesday, March 09, 2010

HT to D-League: Lack of Skills or Cultural Disorientation?

Hasheem Thabeet’s draft to the NBA is one of those things that has not and will not regularly happen to Tanzania. It is for that reason, I was happy for Hasheem and for Tanzania, because this was a history changing event.

However, just less than a year since Hasheem was picked by the Memphis Grizzlies; he made another history by being the first second pick to be send down to the NBA’s Development League. For those who watched Hasheem play at UConn, one thing was clear – the kid was not fully developed in his game.

I would definitely cut Hasheem some slack. The kid had very little basketball experience prior to donning a UConn’s uniform. I would guarantee you that 99% of NBA ballplayers had touched a basketball by the age of 10. Furthermore, Memphis clearly understood that when they drafted him.

It is for that reason I wasn’t surprised when the Grizzlies sent Hasheem to the D-League. He truly needed some playing time to develop his game. What surprised me, however, was Hasheem’s response to his D-League’s trip. You could read Hasheem’s response here...

The comment that irked folks the most is about the kid’s paycheck being the same despite being sent to the D-League. I am not surprised he made such comments.

In many ways, I could relate to Hasheem’s comment about paycheck, haters, and so on. Part of it is immaturity, but largely cultural. When I started my career with KPMG after graduation from college, I had a lot of trouble initially because I came to KPMG hung up on my college academic achievements. Bad enough, in that lake of stupidity, I was basking in the glow of what my paycheck could accomplish in Bongoland. Boy, I was wrong.

See, after some painful experiences I came to learn – the hard way – that it was imperative for me to make a quick transition from having Tanzania as my yardstick to seeing things from an American perspective. And I think making that transition is where Hasheem is currently struggling.

I cannot blame Hasheem for having the I-have-made-it kind of mentality. Truthfully, he has made it. A very little percentage of folks in Tanzania or even Tanzanians in the United States will ever make $4.5 million in their lifetime - legally or illegally. Furthermore, a very small percentage of Tanzanians living abroad will ever have the privilege of hanging out with the President and having a “national” reception when you land at JKN International Airport.

Nonetheless, the biggest question is this – would Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, or LeBron James regard $4.5 million in the bank, but with lack of strong basketball skills and playing time a success? Hardly.

See, going back to my KPMG experience, I came on board with a purely Tanzanian mentality. I placed very little value in the desire to get ahead (Ujamaa mentality anyone?), seeking career advice through mentorship, hard work, etc. At the end of the day, despite my academic achievements (potential), I ended up frustrated and frustrating my employer. That is because I didn’t fully understand the culture around me and what was expected of me.

Playing ball in the NBA, whether Hasheem understands it or not, is just like any other career, ignoring the obvious differences. And as far as I know the American corporate culture, each employee tries to be their best without even the employer prompting them to. It is for that very reason, true “professionals” like Michael Jordan worked hard despite having more talent that the majority of their peers. Ask Kobe. Ask Carmelo. Ask LeBron. They would tell you that they have something to work on. You will never hear them talk about their paycheck first.

Going beyond the NBA, the American culture, somehow expects more. Yesterday’s technology is not good enough. Yesterday’s methodology is not good enough. The American society sort of expects improvement and not mediocrity. What Hasheem did in college is simply history. Honestly, with all the “accomplishments” Hasheem has had, getting the fact that American society expects a little bit more could be a struggle for the kid to comprehend.

If Tanzanian basketball and culture was the standard, I would not ask Hasheem to change anything. That is because most successful folks in Tanzania didn’t get there through hard work, but through dubious means. I would not ask Hasheem to mend his attitude and improve on his work ethic because in Tanzania, generally speaking, having a little more (or not having it bad) than your neighbor is good enough.

What is telling of Hasheem’s cultural orientation is this US Today's article. So the kid truly thought Coach Calhoun was picking on him for requiring hard work? That also begs the question, how much has he learned since UConn days?

At the end of the day, however, it is not all doom and gloom for Hasheem. I think the kid will learn, improve and make Tanzania proud.

Nonetheless, right about now the kid does not need criticism, but some serious mentoring to help him shift from a Tanzanian mentality to an American cultural orientation. Once he gets it, taking a vacation while his offensive game stinks wouldn’t be on his to-do list this summer. Furthermore, the “haters” would disappear, for he will realize that his NBA dream is not hinged on some blog comments, but on his own work ethic.

My struggle at KPMG was not because of the color of my skin. It was mainly because of my cultural “disorientation”. I know Hasheem is going through it right now, but he will get it eventually. Trust me on that one.
Photo credit: Shwari.com


Mbele said...

As a writer and presenter on African and American culture, I think this is an insightful and eloquent analysis. People should read and think about it.

Jaduong Metty said...


Thank you for dropping by. I know that in addition to having written a book about the cultural differences between Africans and Americans, you have continued to "lecture" on the topic in various settings. As such, I would consider you a cultural expert than I am.

Despite my shortcomings in cultural expertise, what I have come to learn is that any cultural orientation creates a set of expectations, be it social, technological or economic.

In the context of Hasheem Thabeet's experience, I strongly believe that the core issue is not his basketball skills, but a serious cultural conflict.

The scary part is that he may not even be aware of it.

Anonymous said...

Wow, very! very true! Thanks for the insight, I hope Hasheem will get to read this too.

Maabadi said...

I would recommend Hasheem to stop by in here and read this article, because what has been said is purely relevant to improving his career as an athlete of the high class basketball league in the World - NBA.

So many critics were poured in since his assignment to D - League, and yes some of them sounded hateful! But as a Professional and public figure, you take any critic as a tool to propel you towards your destiny. Sometimes skeptics can give you a direction out of the mess you are in.

Some folks dropped the real pieces of advice which could help our boy to improve, and reboot his mentality about the game and the burden he bears as an Ambassador, and a sports role model of his own Country - Bongo Land.

This is a deep analysis and good stuff!

Metty, Big up!

Anonymous said...

Nice article! I have been reading HT comments/response, but I dont think this kid will understand his real problem. Hiza

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the good insight, folks back at Tanzania, will come to realise about this at some point as well as Mr. HT. I wish him all the best and bounce back to the big league next season.

SN said...

Metty, awesome post and will definitely forward it to my peers!

Just an emphasis: How do we (Tanzanians) take on criticism?

Unfortunately, most of us let emotions take over and consequently become overly defensive; we want people around us to have that positive, good view on us, always... ALL THE TIME.

But no one is flawless. Hopefully the kid will learn to accept criticism and actually do something about it. In the gyms and basketball courts, that is.

If he ever passes by and read this post and the comments, I would advise him to read Roy Keane's autobiography. That monster had rejection issues since high school. He eventually got that "siege mentality"; just to go out there and prove every doubter wrong!

I understand it's not easy, but it can be achieved if you want to...