- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2007

Tyrus Thomas has received a $10,000 fine and a rebuke from the Bulls after saying he was interested in only the prize money of the NBA’s dunking contest.

Thomas, a 20-year-old rookie from LSU, can be forgiven his crass admission on some level, if only because we are all in it for the money and he is young enough to bungle the phrasing of what is inherently obvious.

Yet his view also smacks of entitlement, whether intended or not, as if somehow he is doing the NBA a favor. And, of course, he is not.

Thomas is just another young athlete with potential. He is not a difference-maker. He is merely a talent, and those types come and go so quickly in the NBA that their names are soon forgotten.

Thomas tapped into a me-first perception that hurts the NBA and leads all too many potential supporters rushing to embrace the so-called honesty of college basketball, a misguided proposition if ever there was one.

What is funny about the me-first perception is that we all are me-first types. We’re human, after all, and if we don’t do what we think is best for us, you can be certain no one else will.

Still, Thomas has to recognize that he is paid an absurd amount of money to play a game that so many play for free on asphalt courts and inside gymnasiums across the nation.

If it weren’t for a hyperactive pituitary gland — usually the No. 1 prerequisite in reaching the NBA — he would be playing basketball on the same nondescript courts as the masses.

That is not to say anyone should begrudge his lot. It is just to say he should have a modicum of respect for those who made the NBA what it is today and the fan base that actually makes possible the grand life style.

Thomas should know the NBA of today is long way from the NBA of Providence, R.I., Syracuse, N.Y., Rochester, N.Y., and Fort Wayne, Ind. He should know the NBA of today is even a long way from the drug-afflicted NBA of the ‘70s.

Shaquille O’Neal certainly recognized the important contributions of his predecessors after George Mikan, the NBA’s first great big man, died on June 1, 2005. O’Neal offered to pay for Mikan’s funeral, an act of generosity that Mikan’s family accepted.

You can be certain Mikan as well others in the embryonic days of the NBA recognized their good fortune, no matter how modest the paycheck.

The accidental NBA fan who glimpses a headline here or there or catches the occasional highlight or news flash on television can have a skewed impression of the NBA today, what with this gun charge or that paternity suit, what with this player gone wild or Carmelo Anthony gone backpedaling out of Madison Square Garden.

Bad news sells, of course, and Officer Shaq making another arrest is nowhere near as captivating as the footage of Ron Artest going bonkers in Auburn Hills, Mich.

But there are a lot of good guys in the NBA, a lot of dedicated guys who actually understand that their place in the NBA is a gift to be cherished.

It is not all about taking from the game. Gilbert Arenas, to name a player, instinctively understands that.

The Bulls, starting with John Paxson and Scott Skiles, are a strong organization again that finally has enough young pieces in place to be thinking championship in the seasons ahead.

The Bulls are hardly the most talented team in the NBA, but they play hard, as the pugnacious Skiles would have it.

Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng — they go at teams on a consistent basis.

Thomas has a number of good role models to emulate, if he ever truly wants to be somebody in the NBA.

If not, he will be gone in a couple of seasons and the answer to a trivia question: Who was that guy who just wanted to collect a check in the dunk contest?

Hmm. Darn. What was that guy’s name?

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