It’s both lazy and unfair to apply sweeping generational stereotypes universally. But make no mistake: The stereotypes that people often resort to when complaining about Millennials—chiefly, narcissism and entitlement—absolutely apply to soon-to-be ex-Pacer Paul George.
In a league where preening is an art form, Paul George is a virtuoso. After hitting a big shot, he’s always the first to congratulate himself. He loves him some him.
I’m not saying George is a clinical narcissist. The symptoms speak for themselves. Take, for example, his allergy to criticism. After a string of bad games that culminated in a shameful loss to the New York Knicks last season, the crowd at Banker’s Life booed the team. This hurt George’s feelings.
To cope, George created a fictional world where Indianapolis is home to some of the NBA’s most unreasonably hostile fans. “That’s Indy in general,” he said. “We’ve been No. 1 in the East and lost a game at home and got booed. That’s just Indiana.”
Of note: It had been three years since the Pacers had been No. 1 in the East when George made these comments. Also of note: Indianapolis sports fans are cuddly little kittens compared to fans in most major markets—Los Angeles included.
And entitlement? In Paul George’s mind, he’s entitled to a foul call if he smells a defender’s deodorant. George’s foul-call entitlement runs so deep he even accused the NBA of rigging games against the Pacers last season. “They see it,” he said. “They know what’s going on. They know what’s a foul. They know what’s not a foul. It comes down from somewhere else how these games are going, I believe.”
More broadly speaking, Paul George believes he is entitled to more fame than a middling flyover market like Indianapolis can deliver. His desire to return to Los Angeles is being sold by the media as a “homecoming.” Do you think George would want to “come home” to Oklahoma City? Charlotte?
George doesn’t want to play close to home. He wants to play close to famous people. He wants to build his personal brand (another classic Millennial concern). He is entitled to more: more endorsements, more Jimmy Kimmel appearances, more cosmically lame TV commercials.
If I’m being a little hard on George, it’s only because I am a Pacers fan. With Paul George, the Pacers are An NBA Team That Matters. Without him, they’re the Sacramento Kings.
The most maddening thing about it all is this: While the Pacers may not have been able to keep George from leaving, they could have at least mitigated the damage if they had bothered to figure out how to manage Millennials.
Out here in the real world, the challenge of managing Millennials has been the topic of endless magazine think pieces, blog posts, and corporate seminars. Local publisher Wiley even recently published a Dummies book on the subject. Unfortunately, it didn’t come out soon enough for recently retired Pacers president Larry Bird to read it.
It’s hard to imagine anyone less well-suited to manage Millennials than Larry Bird. Every indication suggests he is stubborn, remote, and profoundly uninterested in the emotional lives of the people in his charge. For Millennials, that simply won’t do.
In recent years, Bird managed to end up on the bad side of some of his best former employees: Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, and David West. Whatever finesse he had on the court didn’t carry over into his management style.
Bird’s dictatorial approach clearly chaffed George over the years. Like that time Bird tried to force George to play power forward when George obviously didn’t want the job. Or the time he fired Frank Vogel—a coach whose supportive, hyper-positive approach made him the perfect Millennial manager. Bird replaced Vogel with an old-school disciplinarian known around the league as “Sarge.” We’ve seen how that worked out.
Perhaps finally sensing that time has passed him by, Bird stepped down after last season. But the damage has been done.
Here any minute now, the Indiana Pacers will trade away Paul George for far, far less than he’s worth. And while George’s personal foibles will almost assuredly keep him from ever becoming the best player on a championship team, this is still a gutting loss for the franchise.
But it’s also a teachable moment, and hopefully one where new Pacers General Manager Kevin Pritchard will start instilling a culture hospitable to the peculiarities of the generation to which his employees belong. May I recommend some light reading?