Dec 4, 2013
An Icon Without a Clue
Posted on Apr 8, 2010
By Mark Heisler
Tiger Woods is finally getting on with his life in this week’s Masters. If Monday’s press conference offers a clue, when he finally got it right, taking real questions and showing some if not perfect humility and the charm that was always his to flash when he saw fit, he’ll be fine.
Best of all, seeing as how he reigns over a subculture that doesn’t really care about anything but winning and having heroes to worship, he needs only be as good as he was to reclaim a lot of hearts.
The warm reception at his first round shouldn’t have been a surprise. Golf fans don’t pay $200 for a Masters ticket (face price before Woods’ entry drove it into the thousands), drive to the suburbs and walk around those exclusive country clubs to heckle anyone, even if a lot of them read about Tiger’s sexual exploits in the grocery store press, exploit by exploit.
Mark McGwire’s acknowledgment of his misdeed was much more open and more human than Woods’. Unfortunately, Big Mac is now just a Big Batting Coach, and can’t bring crowds to their feet with his majestic drives, prompting sports writers to reassess him in the context of continuing, quote, heroism.
Not that Tiger’s life can ever be what it was when he was the unquestioned, untainted, most famous, most admired, richest, greatest athlete of all time.
Iconhood is a mystery to all but icons, but judging from what we can see them go through, it’s not as easy as it looks.
That, of course, is a surprise, in itself. Any instruction has necessarily come from people who were never icons, like Earl Woods, and have no reason to think it isn’t the best thing there could be.
Not that anyone in the history of stage parents ever took it as far as Earl, whose son wasn’t just going to give back to the community, but “do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity.”
So that was going to be Tiger, Abraham, Jesus, Buddha and Gandhi?
Actually, the best thing you could be is at peace with yourself, so whatever you have is enough and the rest of your life is win-win.
In Tiger’s case, that’s a lovely wife who has stuck with him this far, two kids, more money than they can ever spend and a job he lives.
In real life, things are very different in the stratified air of iconhood.
It’s actually a high-wire act with something more always to be won—or lost—whether it’s major titles or the biggest prize of all, the one quantifying and proving one’s pre-eminence over all others ...
Very few people have ever been around someone who was raised to believe he was destined for greatness and actually achieved it, since there can’t be too many on Earth at the same time.
I was as inner circle as press people got in Kobe Bryant’s first eight NBA seasons, which included the year he stood trial on a rape charge.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that someone whose whole life has been on crusade will never reach an end point in which he realizes he has captured all there realistically was to capture.
Both Woods and Bryant are demon workers with iron wills who will throw themselves at anything they target over and over until it’s theirs.
And if there’s something out there they can’t have, like the greatest popularity, or the most endorsements?
They just keep throwing themselves at it over and over.
Bryant has made an amazing comeback, professionally and commercially. The rule in advertising, which abhors mixed messages or inferences, used to be: Once you’ve lost your glow, it’s gone forever. Kobe was the one who broke it, having gotten a lot of his back, with his No. 24 jersey outselling all others, even LeBron James’ 23.
Nevertheless, there’s a ceiling Bryant keeps bumping his head on. When he broke Jerry West’s Laker scoring record, play-by-play broadcaster Joel Meyers called him “the greatest Laker ever,” starting a mini-uprising among local fans supporting Jerry West and Magic Johnson.
Like Woods, Bryant is well-spoken, capable of charming anyone he wants to, and has years of competition left to buff up his image. At present, Bryant is no more enamored of the press as a useful institution in society than Woods.
Bryant’s father, Joe, was an NBA player, and as the youngest child and first son, Kobe was the darling of his parents and two older sisters in a close, nurturing family.
Nevertheless, it was Kobe who chose his own destiny—at age 5, he once told me.
Woods was handed a golf club by his father but didn’t rebel at the regimen and expectations. He embraced them and believed in them, as he loved and believed in his father, whom he still quotes to this day.
Monday, Tiger said he finally figured out what Earl meant when he used to tell him, “Before you can help others, you have to help yourself.”
It’s Tiger’s new mantra, as he picks back up on his mission: saving the world.
“When I went through that period when my father was sick and my father passed away, it put things in perspective real quick,” he said Monday.
“And when my kids were born, again it put things in perspective. And what I’ve done put things in perspective.
“It’s not about winning championships. It’s about how you live your life. ...
“Going forward I need to be a better man than I was before. I’m trying each and every day to get my life better and stronger and if I win championships along the way, so be it.
“But along the way, I want to help more people that haven’t quite learned to help themselves, just like I was.”
I don’t think he meant he wants to help sex addicts, but it’s clear his messianic instinct persists, as does his controlling instinct and hunger for money.
Superstar athletes now compete for endorsements as keenly as for championships. Michael Jordan, the first athlete to become transcendent commercially, not to mention being the first black athlete to do so, made that the new measuring stick.
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