Depending on the teller, Andrew Bynum is a heartless disgrace to his God-given talent or an unfortunate victim of injury-ravaged circumstance. He’s probably a little bit of both.
Yet while Bynum’s recent suspension, which has evolved into the Cleveland Cavaliers excusing the 26-year-old big man indefinitely from all team-related activities, has been hung on both Bynum and on the Cavs for being foolish enough to offer him a $12.5 million contract in the first place, the bulk of the blame likely lies with neither. If anything, Bynum’s saga is a reminder that talent and physical attributes aren’t the sole factors necessary for a professional athlete.
The first coach to put a basketball in the hands of the oversized youngster in New Jersey could not have known Bynum would never develop a passion for the game — or at least would develop a passion that could be lost so easily. This isn’t just a matter of playing through pain. Other players have played through debilitating injuries — some more serious than Bynum’s — and handled it more professionally. Saying Bynum is merely discouraged by the constant pain in his knees gives him a pass he doesn’t deserve.
But perhaps a bit more culpability lies with the folks who pushed Bynum to make basketball more than just a hobby. He left his public high school in Plainsboro Township, N.J., as a freshman and eventually landed at elite St. Joseph in Metuchen to gain greater exposure for his athletic talents. Now it is worth wondering if that is truly what Bynum wanted or if it was just what the adults around him wanted for him.
Playing sports for a living is hard. Lucrative but hard. There are nagging discomforts and career-altering injuries, and often the only thing that keeps athletes lacing them up is a love of the game. Without that love, playing becomes more than just a job — it becomes a chore. At that point, very little will keep a player from calling it quits, no matter the dollar amount.
Yes, Bynum could show more professionalism after signing his partially guaranteed contract last summer. Yes, the Cavs are not without responsibility for giving so much money to a player with a history of injuries and indifference, who didn’t play a minute for the Philadelphia 76ers a year ago. But the fiasco that has surrounded Bynum for the last two years might have been avoided if some grown-up had just taken aside the man-child in the gym one day, years ago, and asked, before any more effort was spent at his expense: “Do you really, truly love this game?”
Maybe someone did ask, and maybe Bynum gave an enthusiastic “yes.” But loving something is simple when it is easy. Now it has gotten hard — too hard, from the looks of it — and for Bynum, it appears the love is gone.