The tyranny of the unpossessed in America

It’s come up before in this column that I’m a big basketball fan. I’ve traveled as many as 700 miles to attend an NBA playoff game, and I’m proud to say I once caught Kenyon Martin in my arms when he leapt over his team’s bench for a wayward ball.

There are few in my life who share my passion for pro ball. So when I get together with those select friends who have a similar interest, we “nerd out” about the latest trade rumors, playoff predictions and how many pure centers there really are in the NBA.

With the trade deadline near, talk about which players would stay and which would go has been a hot topic among nerdy fans. One thing led to another, and my friend and I – on the way to a Dallas Mavericks game, I might add – revived a years-long debate about the controversial trade of Steve Nash to the Phoenix Suns a few years ago.

I won’t bore you with all of the details, but to put the debate in context, my friend named his son Nash after the all-star point guard. Talk about someone who was heartbroken when Nash was traded away!

Anyway, we chatted once again about why it was that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was willing to part with Nash, who went on to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award two years in a row, and why Nash agreed to leave an up-and-coming team, as well as Dirk Nowitzki, who is one of his best friends in the world, for a bigger contract.

Though the six-year, $65-million offer from Phoenix was a year longer and almost $20 million richer than Dallas’ offer, my point was that, at that level, a guy can play wherever he wants. Twenty million dollars, though a huge chunk of change, wasn’t going to change his long-term retirement plans. Why not stay, I asked, and at least push them to counter the offer? Instead, Nash took the offer from Phoenix and never looked back.

“It became personal,” said my friend who, ironically, is named Steve. “When Nowitzki’s contract came up for negotiation, the Mavericks offered him the league maximum contract, no question. When (Michael) Finley (the Mavs’ former star forward) came up for renewal, they signed him to the maximum too. But when Nash’s contract was up, they didn’t offer him the same deal. He was insulted.”

Insulted? How can anyone ever justify being insulted by an offer of $45 million to play basketball for five years? Though I admire Steve Nash, such an argument smacked of brazen greed.

“I try to put myself in his position,” said Steve. “If I got a raise at work, I might be happy with it. But if I found out two of my friends who did the same job and had the same experience were making more, I’d be upset.”

Come to think of it, so would I. Why is that?

We tend to draw so much of our self-worth from how we measure up to others. In a relatively affluent society like ours, such benchmarks have less to do with survival, as they may have in scarcer times, and more about where we are in the pecking order.

The problem with this mindset is that it sets all of us up – save for the one left on top – for dissatisfaction. And as for the top dog, they are too busy looking over their shoulder to enjoy their privilege.

Brian Feille, a professor of theology at Brite Divinity School, once called our insatiable covetous nature the “tyranny of the unpossessed.” As long as we have our basic needs met, we’re satisfied, but only until we become aware either that there’s more to be had, or that someone else has more than we do. At that point, we become enslaved by our desires, shackled by greed, regardless of what we have.

There’s an old saying that claims there are only two paths to wealth. One leads us to gain more, and the other, to desire less. In reality, however, only the latter path leads anywhere but in an endless circle.

So, how much do you deserve?

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