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Thursday, December 08, 2005

"Buy Me a Drink When I'm Alive"

Years ago, when what's now the Continental Airlines Arena, was built next to The Meadowlands, a controversy ensued. No, it wasn't about where Jimmy Hoffa's body was supposed to rest. It was about the naming of the arena.

They named the arena after Brendan Byrne, the Governor of New Jersey. There was squawks from many camps, from those who didn't want it named after a current politician to those who didn't want it named after someone who, well, wasn't deceased. Ultimately, the name stuck -- at least for a while. Former Marquette coach turned TV commentator, the late Al McGuire, uttered the most memorable line. McGuire, for one, had no problem with the arena's being named after Byrne. "It's like my father used to say," McGuire was quoted as having said, "'don't send flowers to my funeral, buy me a drink when I'm alive.'"

(That very sentiment, by the way, prompted my annual golfing pilgrimage with some college friends. Most of us had trouble keeping in touch. We don't live near each other, we have families, and, well, we're very busy. After having had some friends die in their forties (and realizing that if I didn't do something about it, I would be having more reunions at funerals than in fun places), I decided several years ago to call the question about the annual trip -- and the responses were such that you would have thought I invented cable television, the iPod or the driver that corrects errant shots. It's become an annual tradition. But I digress. . .)

Vince Carter, former Carolina all-American and now running mate of Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson in New Jersey -- now at the Continental Airlines Arena, nee Brendan Byrne Arena, ironically, made a big contribution to his former high school -- $2.5 million, to be exact -- to help it to build a new gym. That's a very nice gesture. Except, as with many kind acts, there are complications.

In this case, a sculpture.

Of Vince Carter.

Apparently, three years ago the superintendent of schools and a few board members agreed to accept the sculpture when the offer of the donation was made. Mr. Carter's mother is donating the artwork. That doesn't sit well with some in the community. Click on the second link and read the whole thing. In essence, a board member doesn't think that the sculpture sends the right message to kids about the types of people who should be honored. She didn't knock Carter, but she did indicate that there are others who are worthy of praise but who don't get it -- because they don't make a lot of money. (It could be argued that they don't get that type of attention because they didn't donate that type of money, but that's for another post somewhere else).

Is this a battle worth fighting? Or not?

I couldn't imagine wanting a statue of myself anywhere, even if I donated money for the entire gym. Then again, I don't have the basketball skills of Carter, and sometimes those who achieve at a level Carter does have to have such a high opinion of themselves to achieve those heights in the first place. Further, that high opinion obviously doesn't stop on the basketball court, it permeates into other areas of the star's life. That, perhaps, is what gives them "star quality" and gives the rest of America something to talk about it, whether they like the pretension or not. (For what it's worth, after he left Carolina early, Carter went back and earned his degree).

It's a fact in this world that some people get honored precisely because they donate money. Meg Whitman, CEO of eBay, just donated somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million to her alma mater, Princeton, to have a residential college named in her honor. Yes, it will be called Whitman College. It won't be named after one of her roommates, a library staff member who might have helped her order some publications she needed for her senior thesis or a junior faculty member who inspired her. It's named after her. I don't know whether there will be a statue of Ms. Whitman, but my guess is that there will be a plaque. Put differently, universities do this thing all the time.

Even if they stop short of erecting statues.

Perhaps the difference is what will happen to the pigeon refuse. In the case of Meg Whitman, the pigeons no doubt will find the nooks and crannies of the beautiful buildings Princeton constructs as a part of Whitman College and do, as they have done to gargoyles on other buildings, adorn it with some white coloring that, if you didn't know better, you would think happened because some painters got a little too sloppy and spilled some paint on the edifice. In the case of Mr. Carter, his cranium will be adorned with a similar white coating, which will look either like someone spilled paint on it as a prank or decided to try to place a colonial-type whig on his bald dome. If Vince can take that type of abuse, I suppose I can live with it.

It's nice, what Vince Carter did, the same way it's nice what Meg Whitman did. And it's not wrong that they have their names attached to the structures they've helped build in some serious way. We all should remember that.

As for the statue, well, to each his (or her) own.

Just watch out for the pigeons.

Depending on where you sit (or where your likeness is erected), they could be a small price to pay for fame.

Or not.


Blogger NY Warrior said...

Coach Al had a memorable point of view on his own statue, btw.....late in life he agreed to let the university use his name for the new on-campus athletic facility, and he asked that the statue of him be located inside --- see, Coach Al didnt appreciate the thought bird excrement on the statue.

A lovely statue of Coach graces the foyer at the new Al McGuire Center.

2:28 PM  

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