In some ways, it feels like the NBA offseason is becoming more exciting than the actual season.
This trend accelerated this year when the league pushed the official start of free agency up to 6 p.m. on June 30, allowing for an absolute deluge of activity and player movement (it also further showcased how incredible Adrian Wojnarowski is).
Fans spend months, if not years, acting like amateur front office executives and salary cap experts in an attempt to figure out to get the best available players on their favorite team, obsessing over the smallest of details. Even during the NBA Finals, much of the conversation revolves around what will happen when the season ends.
The championship is just a prelude.
Some have suggested this is because it gives fans of non-superteams (or non-superhumans) something they don’t get when the games are being played: hope. Every team makes moves in the summer and, if they squint hard enough, any fan can convince themselves that this is the year their team will finally get over the hump.
There’s also the element of fantasy sports. While fantasy basketball doesn’t have nearly the same amount of interest or activity of that of fantasy football, the way many fans now think of sports is via individuals, not teams, and since the NBA has always marketed its stars and their personalities, it’s easier than ever to root for a player regardless of where he plays.
Both of those theories have merit, but I also think there is a third, subconscious element at play.
I think fans love free agency because we wish our jobs worked that way. We love the idea of being able to reinvent ourselves with a new locale or get a fresh start in a major market. Most of all, we want to be the ones in control.
Many of us are envious, not just of the money or the fame, but of stars’ ability to choose precisely where they want to play. They hold all the cards. Teams clear cap space and open up roster spots and hope a superstar free agent chooses them, like a hoops version of The Bachelor.
It is the employer begging the employee to join them rather than the other way around.
The majority of us are closer to the players making the minimum salary or signed to two-way contracts, just trying to make ends meet, while it is our boss’s boss’s boss’s boss who is akin to Damian Lillard making the supermax. Still, that doesn’t mean we have no say in the matter.
Take it from me: when I began treating myself like a coveted free agent, my career trajectory changed forever.
“Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned.”– Ryan Holiday
I had been a history major in undergrad but began my career working in the finance department of a large nonprofit organization before transitioning to healthcare. I wanted to move on, preferably to a publicly traded, multinational corporation, but due to my nontraditional background and meandering professional journey, I always seemed to be a few steps behind my peers that had majored in business and had thus followed that path from the beginning. I was repeatedly turned down from even securing an interview. Early on in my career, I had several recruiters tell me that I was not a desirable candidate. They told me to stop trying to achieve more and simply be content that I had a job.
I went on many interviews and received many rejections. I repeatedly got my hopes up only to have them dashed in one way or another. The door kept closing in my face.
Early on, when I entered an interview — any interview — I was desperate. I wanted something new, but only because it was new. I was in my mid-20s but positive that if I didn’t get hired right now I’d never get another job for the rest of my life. I would’ve done anything to get the job and, paradoxically, that may be a reason I kept getting rejected. I reeked of that desperation. I was needy and naïve, and that’s not someone people want to hire.
Things eventually began to change. I received my MBA and Six Sigma Green Belt and I also had more experience, but that still only took me so far. It was my shift in approach that made the difference.
As Ryan Holiday writes, “Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned,” and my hard work helped shift my mindset.
Can you imagine Kawhi Leonard acting desperate in a meeting?
I ultimately began to take a more calculated approach. Not only did I apply to positions for which I was qualified, but I also walked into the room treating it like a conversation or an exchange. I treated the interviewer with respect, but not as if he or she were above me. I no longer felt like they would be doing me a favor by hiring me. Instead, I wanted to see if it would be a good fit for both of us.
In short, I flipped it. My mindset went from “Please hire me!” to “Why should I work here?”
The different approach has certainly worked. I’ve had far more success the past five years than I did in my first ten — and it’s not even a close comparison.
I now embrace my skills and abilities and value myself and my contributions like I never did before and, like those in the NBA, I have also been able to make decisions based on what I value: I left a storied organization to try to do something different my own way, like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving just did; I have opted to sign for less money so that I can ply my trade in a better situation, like Paul George, Anthony Davis, and others; I’ve turned down generous offers and chose a different one because it was better for my family and for my life outside of work, like LeBron James and Nikola Mirotic.
I may not be fortunate enough to sign multiyear contracts that guarantee me hundreds of millions of dollars, but when I began to treat myself like a prized free agent, my entire career changed.
Maybe the next time I switch jobs, Woj will announce it on Twitter.
Christopher Pierznik’s nine books are available in paperback and Kindle. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.