Redemption is a tricky thing.
It takes time to cultivate and putting in that work itself is part of what we want to see. An effort to be better because they understand that who they were before is simply unacceptable and it has to feel genuine.
Given the recent hires of Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd and the backlash that has ensued, I’ve seen those defending the hires asking “What do you want from these people to deserve a second chance?” and want to try and answer that question.
Let’s take a look at what most people would call successful second chance stories and see how they have shaped our expectations moving forward from athletes going through other personal integrity questions.
Kobe Bryant was a rapist.
For years, his reputation lay in shambles as the court of public opinion convicted him on a rape charge that was ultimately settled out of court.
However, that genuine feeling of change was easy to see as we watched Kobe Bryant transform as he aged into retirement; going from entitled bully to mentor to proud girl dad.
Before he left his prime, Kobe was one of the greatest basketball players I’ve ever seen and is routinely ranked as one of the 10-20 best players in the history of the game. His work ethic was so legendary it struck up a life of its own that will probably outlive all of us with his Mamba Mentality branding.
That work ethic was all Kobe but a lot of what else he allowed the public to see was more fabrication than reality when you listen to how those who were close to him over the years.
How the walls started to come down just a little once he got a ring without Shaq; a teammate turned rival who Kobe thought made a mockery of the game he was so passionate about.
Once a title was clearly beyond his reach how he pivoted to Godfather of the game and mentor for so many young players. The stories about him softening once he has children.
And once Kobe let those walls crack and eventually come down, he found his redemption arc through that vulnerability.
Mike Vick was a monster.
The most electrifying man in quarterback history, Mike Vick was convicted of dogfighting and sent to prison in the middle of his prime.
Even after paying his debt to society with that prison sentence, most people in the NFL landscape felt he needed to redeem himself further to be deserving of a spot in the league.
Vick hired a PR team and went to work. He accepted a mentorship from Tony Dungy, donated to at-risk youths, and went to speak in front of lawmakers about increasing the penalties for dog fighting in the future.
Would he have gotten another shot in the NFL if he hadn’t done any of those things? I’m 100% sure he would have; the workouts he would have been able to put on for GMs needing a competent quarterback would have surely swayed someone looking to save their job.
But by not only doing the right things but spending time doing them gave us all a reason to feel better about his second chance.
There’s a Path to Redemption for all of Us
We aren’t all rapists, domestic abusers, or dogfighters, but we all have been the villain in a few stories in our lifetimes.
Everyone makes mistakes and when we recognize these mistakes we all want to be better people moving forward. Cheering for other redemption stories comes with the territory of wanting people to cheer on your own story.
People also appreciate when it’s not just money being spent but actual hours putting in the work.
No matter where we live or our social status there is always something more we could do that we can guilt ourselves about not doing so when someone spends their free time actually going out of their way it resonates.
Dallas has been a dumpster fire of an organization for years now with detailed reports of the toxic environment enabled there readily available with a quick Google search.
So when the reports surfaced they were going to hire Jason Kidd without even giving Jamahl Mosley consideration it wasn’t surprising but it was disappointing to see the franchise have so little regard for outside factors.
With the front office shuffle only to continue to do more of the same, Mark Cuban reeks of the guy who is always complaining about running into assholes when he can’t look in the mirror and see that he’s the asshole.
That lack of self reflection plays out in the Mavericks organization and if Luka ends up leaving expect nothing but more finger pointing.
The Trailblazers, however, don’t have a lack of awareness to lean back on. After the Billups situation started making the rounds and the negative reaction started pouring in (to the point Dame had to speak out to get people off his back) the Blazers had a chance to right the ship.
Instead, they hold a press conference and refuse to have Billups answer questions about his statement regarding the incident and his statements about how it has changed his life while also attempting to tarnish Becky Hammon’s ability as a coach as a scapegoat for why Billups was the correct choice.
Dallas is either completely oblivious or like that Uncle we all have who lives in a trailer and justifies the constant bruises on his wife and kids as “tough love” while Portland is hiding the sexual predator in the family that no one will let be alone around the kids.
The blueprint is out there for the road to redemption. And sure, sometimes it comes off as disingenuous and just like the person is going through the motions to try and repair their tarnished reputations. But as we watch Dallas and Portland refuse to even be that decent it’s a stark reminder of how far we have to come to just be decent.