The Blurred Lines of Truth and Consensus
Perspective is one of the underlying themes in Mary Shelley’s famous book, Frankenstein. The author gave birth to a monster; one who, like all inexperienced newborns was extremely impressionable. Except Frankenstein was more powerful than anything you’d associate with “newborn.” And unfortunately for both the Creature and his master, his first impressions of the world were that of humanity’s baser instincts. The world, because they hadn’t seen anything like him, immediately feared and rejected him In turn, the negative reactions to the monster took their toll on the monster.
In a way, how everyone viewed him became a portion of who the monster was as a being. With the expectations of being an evil entity already established in his psyche, he soon began to operate as if those expectations were more than just others opinions. Soon enough, the opinion of the masses evolved into a definitive reality. He wasn’t simply born with premonitions that hoped to harm human beings, or the man who created it. Like a baby, he simply was in a state of learning about the world. As soon as that development fully bloomed, the Creature dedicated his life to ruining Dr. Frankenstein’s. He eventually succeeded by killing Elizabeth, which in turn lead Victor down the path to killing the very thing that he created.
Too often, NBA players see their tale become synonymous with the Creature. Their condition in the league is set by the perception generated from a few seasons of failure, and without a chance to fix those preconceived notions, they become monsters in the eyes of fans. The rumors and headline materials define them in our public perception, and eventually their NBA tales are set in stone as well. They fade out of the public light, transforming from potential-laden youngsters to cautionary tales.
Yet under the right circumstances, the Creature’s story might have been different — one of redemption and rising to the occasion in dire situations. A nurturing environment and room to grow could very well have rendered a different outcome. And while it was too late for the Creature, there exists a faction of NBA players who’ve been afforded the opportunity to throw off the chains of perception.
Two years into his NBA career, Lance Stephenson was just another brick in the wall of players who failed in the NBA. He played in only 54 of his first 164 games and was far away from being the second-round steal many slated him to be on the night he got drafted. He even had a defining moment for the monstrous nature of the early stages of his career, when he taunted the Miami Heat — as a bench warmer — towards the end of a Game 3 loss with an infamous choke sign.
Few gave Stephenson much thought past that low point in his career, and fewer still expected him to make noise in the NBA again. This moment became his pitchforks-and-torches turning point, that under normal circumstances, would have defined his career. The player who was once brashly nicknamed “Born Ready” surely didn’t seem ready to make any plays for the Pacers at all, and he was poised to fade into the unbecoming history of his not-so-lucky predecessors.
Except Stephenson didn’t let that moment define him. The Creature’s downfall in Shelley’s novel was that the public’s view on him soon played into his decision making process. But Stephenson didn’t let the creeping vanity of failure seep into his consciousness. He kept his head down and kept trying to move forward. It paid off. Last year, seven games into his third season Lance Stephenson became an NBA starter. Inevitably, the move was met with skepticism. The entire season anticipation was building for the moment Danny Granger would come back and send Lance back to a small bench role. It never came, however, and Born Ready stayed relevant all the way through the playoffs, earning the respect of many who doubted him the season before and forcing them to douse their torches, at least for the time being.
And this season, Stephenson has continued to make fans and analysts question their preconceived notions of who he is and could be. He’s come into his own as a player, no longer defined by his existence as a stopgap while a better player healed. His scoring ability has vastly improved, and his ball-handling adds a new dimension to what the Pacers offense does. George Hill excels as a spot-up shooter and Paul George‘s off-ball cuts are venomous to other teams’ defensive schemes, and now both will have more opportunities to ply their craft with Lance initiating the offense. Indiana’s offense is now molded around Born Ready’s skills the same way it accounts for the other four starters.
For a player on the brink of irrelevancy thirteen months ago, it’s an unlikely existence. Lance has made the most of his situation and his naivety of the world; he’s refused to let perception of what he was prevent him from becoming what he is. Mind over matter; Stephenson’s plight is a lesson the NBA’s wayward youth should take to heart. The appearance of the absence of hope is not the absence of hope itself.