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The Examined Life

In one sense, the large, athletic men who play in the National Basketball Association can't lose.

They are young, strong, and, in many cases, admired and exceptionally well-compensated.

But the flip side of that apparent blessing is that, like lots of prominent athletes, they are scrutinized and judged to an extent that would make most mortals thoroughly uncomfortable.

Consider, for example, the flap that followed the final moments of the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday night. With his team down two, LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers drove toward the basket, apparently intending to take the two-point shot that would tie the game. Almost literally at the last second, he flipped the ball to Donyell Marshall, who was alone behind the three-point line, since James had drawn Marshall's defender into the lane.

Unimpeded, Marshall tossed up the shot that would have won the game for Cleveland. He missed. Detroit got the ball back. The Pistons won the game.

If Marshall had made the shot, LeBron James would have been celebrated for his clever, unselfish choice to pass rather than shoot.

Instead, James has been criticized for not assuming a leadership role with his team and taking the shot that, had he made it, would have tied the game.

This is the sort of thing that happens all the time to the people who are most successful at playing games for a living.

The ball that takes a weird bounce into the water rather than rolling to a stop on the lip of the green renders the golfer who hit it a reckless idiot rather than a courageous competitor.

The perfect throw from the catcher to nail the sliding runner at second base means the man lying in the dust is a selfish clod concerned only with his own statistics rather than a daring and alert speedster seeking any advantage to help his team win.

We watch them so closely. We demand of them so much under circumstances we cannot understand. From the comfort of our armchairs with the advantage of replays and all the time we need, we judge them with such certainty.

No wonder we have to pay them so much.

This program aired on May 24, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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