By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
EVERY good story needs a three-act structure.
There’s the setup, the confrontation and ultimately, the resolution. It’s a necessary process that endears our characters to the audience, elicits emotional responses and keeps you connected to the journey of the storyline.
When we last left our hero, he was in the infancy of establishing himself as a household name. He was already one of the most sought-after recruits on the circuit, but the UNC game thrust Deandre Ayton into the international spotlight and at the forefront of everyone’s consciousness.
The world has changed a lot since then – both for us and for our hero.
The star climb has continued with each passing milestone. There were the video game numbers on the AAU circuit, his appearance on the roster for every honorary team, his Bahamian national team debut and of course, the Arizona decision.
Since he suited up for the Arizona Wildcats, Ayton has become one of the top players in the NCAA, averaging 19.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game and is considered a can’t miss, top three prospect in June’s NBA Draft.
This is someone that is already considered a transcendent talent, already a Bahamian icon at 19.
This one season in Tucson has been everything we expected.
The setup was in place and on a random Friday night in March, came the confrontation.
ESPN reported that FBI wiretaps intercepted phone conversations between Wildcats coach Sean Miller and Christian Dawkins, an employee for ASM Sports agent Andy Miller. According to sources familiar with the government’s evidence, Miller and Dawkins discussed paying $100,000 to ensure that Ayton would sign with the Wildcats. The Bahamian public met it with a collective shrug of the shoulders. In fact, my initial reaction was one single thought: “They got him at a bargain.”
We knew that our hero was on loan to Arizona for five months before he even stepped foot on campus. In fact, there were questions over whether this would ever occur in the first place.
My mind quickly shifted to the fascination of human behaviour and the way people approach this particular subject. Are there still people naïve enough to think this doesn’t happen in all bigtime revenue generated college sports programmes? Furthermore, are there people that still buy into the faux nostalgia and the archaic notion that college sports are pure amateurism done for the love of the game?
It makes it difficult to be surprised at any of these stories.
I come into this with my own confirmation bias. Simply put, I believe that college players should be paid and it’s an absolute travesty that they’re not.
At the same time, I love college basketball more than any other sport and I take it way too seriously.
I loathe the system of unpaid labour as the driving force behind a billion-dollar industry that in no way benefits them monetarily. The social justice warrior in me recognises that I should hate this…but I went to Kentucky…so I don’t.
I was nine when I watched Blue Chips for the first time and even then, I thought Butch McRae’s mom should get to keep her house and job. It seemed to be that this was the price of success in big business. I never got why Nick Nolte’s character felt remorse or why he felt the need to resign (that team was incredible).
The revenue-generating sports, i.e football and men’s basketball treat players like the fictional Butch McRae as professionals in every aspect, all but the one where it matters most – the pocketbook. The system is broken, yet the response and punishment for these supposed “infractions” are as disproportionate as the wealth distribution generated from the sports.
And of course, there is the racial component that becomes impossible to ignore when the majority of the aforementioned labour force is black and the decision makers, the ones perceived to be benefitting from this revenue, are white.
According to the Huffington Post: “A majority (52) of black respondents are strongly or somewhat in favour of paying college athletes, while only 15 per cent strongly or somewhat oppose the idea. Among whites, however, the numbers flip: Just 27 per cent support paying those athletes, while 43 per cent oppose it.”
Ayton has already produced signature moments at home in KGLI as a high school student.
Compounding these issues are the facts that elite prospects like Ayton are almost forced to enter this corrupt system due to the NBA instituting its age minimum and refusing to budge on altering the “one and done” rule. The NCAA acts as the feeder system for NBA talent so both organisations benefit from the process.
This is the world in which our hero has existed in as a pawn in the sneaker wars for the last five years.
Furthermore, the case with Ayton resonated with us because anyone with a Bahamian passport gets to take the easiest and most passionate stance – we get to drape ourselves in nationalism.
The first voice we heard in defence or our hero was another Bahamian basketball icon, Ayton family lawyer, honorary consul of the Bahamas to Texas, Lynden B Rose.
Rose was a former college basketball star in his own right for the Houston Cougars and is currently the president of LM Rose Consulting Group, Rose Sports Management, National Education and Sports Solutions, and Texas Organisation of Youth Sports.
Through Rose, the Ayton family has denied any wrongdoing and has cooperated with the FBI dating back to over a year ago. I would argue that the basic premise of “wrongdoing” is flawed in this case in the first place – whether money was exchanged or not. One of us, defending one of us against the system, against the giant comment section of the Internet and against every ravenous fanbase Ayton will face for the remainder of the season.
The game immediately following the release of the probe, the Wildcats were without head coach Sean Miller and Allonzo Trier is still sidelined appealing his ruling on PED use.
What would the Wildcats programme look like without Ayton and Iso Zo? - the PAC 12’s leading scorers.
Oregon was particularly hostile Saturday night in Ayton’s first game since the results of the FBI probe were released and the Ducks home crowd took every opportunity to rattle our hero.
It didn’t work.
Chants of “$100,000” and “Where’s the Money” only seemed to fuel Ayton on his way to 28 points, 18 rebounds and four blocked shots.
What the crowd at the Matthew Knight Arena could never understand is that there’s a certain level of bravado and irrational confidence that comes in making it from our ends to the pinnacle of the sport.
From an island nation of just under 400,000 with virtually no feeder system for the sport to become the top player in college basketball is the most unlikely of all results.
American players may have their hard luck stories, but to come from the Bahamas and become this mega-star from the age of 15…that’s never supposed to happen, but in this case it did. The strength it took to beat those odds is what we draw on our hero from this moment and what we expect to be his rudder through the second act.
We knew the confrontation would come at some point. We’re in it now and this is where the story takes a turn.
Prepare to see our hero vilified for something that in 2018 should have no more of a stigma attached to it as does recreational marijuana use. Prepare to see stories rehashed questioning his eligibility, his morality, his family’s knowledge of the system and belittling the Bahamas in general. I promise, the comments section of the Internet will take it there.
This FBI probe continues to unravel and we have no idea where it will lead. Hopefully, at the macro level it leads to a place where this entire NCAA system is forced to restructure the way it does business and the unpaid labour force becomes properly compensated. At the micro level, we wanted our hero to run roughshod over the competition in the NCAA tournament and have that Oregon performance again and again throughout the month of March – double fingers to the NCAA the entire time.
It didn’t quite turn out that way, but we knew Tucson was just a pitstop to where we need to be.
Steven Spielberg said it best, “People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don’t have a middle or an end anymore. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning.”
Whatever the result of this investigation, we stand by our hero and await the NBA Draft, another beginning. Our third act is coming in June and “The Promise” has yet to be fulfilled.