The week ahead: Basketball and politics

150 150 Chris Nelson

Few basketball superstars have had more raw physical talent or had to endure more criticism en route to their first championship than the Miami Heat’s star forward LeBron James. As a state, we are a ways away from the same level of redemption James felt when lifting that trophy after their convincing victory in 5 games over the Oklahoma City Thunder, but California’s path shares more with James’ than one might think.

Like James’ overwhelming physical talent and basketball IQ, we as a state are blessed with vast resources such as the brainpower of Silicon Valley and the agricultural prowess of the Central Valley. We are the most populous state and therefore should be flush with tax revenue when we constantly boast about being ranked among the top 10 economies in the world. We are a leader in forward-thinking regulations that often make their way to the other 49 states.

But like James, we also receive much criticism from the rest of the country. Although he has had two extra years in the NBA than Michael Jordan did at this point, it doesn’t come up often that James won his first title at the exact same age (27) as Jordan did. Some say it’s because James was expected to be great from the onset and made questionable decisions that made people feel he took his own greatness for granted and believed in his own hype.

And here we are as a state, mired in a fiscal crisis that is a result of taking our own greatness for granted and allowing questionable decision-making to go unchecked. When you are truly great and everyone and every thing around you reinforces this idea, it becomes more difficult to recognize when some cracks in the facade begin to appear.

It took a humbling experience of epic proportions before James finally settled into the focused, driven player who led his team to the ultimate prize in his sport last week. When he announced that he was “taking his talents to South Beach” and boldy predicted a string of championships only to lose to the older, wiser Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals last year, it brought him down to size by his own admission and showed him that nothing comes easy.

And how here we sit, looking and feleing as a state much like James felt sitting in that locker room last year after losing what he thought belonged to him. Maybe what was owed him.

California is still called the Golden State despite losing much of its luster because the promise is still there. However, safetynet programs and public education institutions that were once some of the best in the country are being stripped down to make room for yet another round of trigger cuts if revenues again fall short of expectations.

Here we sit as other states brag about poaching our businesses. Here we sit as other states marvel at the idea of not one but three revenue-increasing tax measures qualifying for the November ballot because the richest state in the nation must lean on its taxpaying citizens to dig itself out of a multi-billion dollar hole.

James realized that he couldn’t continue going as he had. He knew that he needed to become a different player with a different outlook in order to validate all of the greatness that everyone, including himself, had assumed would always carry him.

And now we must correct-course as well. We must continue to champion reforms to the process and infrastructure of our government, not just band-aids that will get us through the year. We must overhaul a state budget system that is so clearly broken that we are depenent on an uncertainty — one of the three tax measures actually passing — to keep us afloat. We must figure a way to make the business climate friendlier and return to glory in the manufacturing sector if we hope to continue to compete.

Changes in how distrcit maps were drawn gave a better voice to the people. Enacting a top-two primary system will ideally cause a movement away from the extreme partisanship that has paralyzed both our national and our state-level politics over the past few years. And we the voters must turn out en masse as the vital cornerstone of our democracy. What happened on June 5th is simply unacceptable in a state where so many residents bemoan the situation but aren’t willing to take a stance on what should be done by casting a ballot.

Few states, if any, are scrutinized in the way California is. We are in a position to lead the rest of the country, whether we like it or not. This is the burden of greatness. As we sit and watch a smiling LeBron James basking in the glow of redemption, knowing that he made the changes to himself so that all of the criticism leveled against him over the past two years was no longer valid, we must ask ourselves: can we become a different state?


Chris Nelson

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