NBA

Confidence Vs. Arrogance: Difference Between Devin Booker and D’Angelo Russell

How did two rookie guards, Phoenix Suns Devin Booker and Los Angeles Lakers D’Angelo Russell, wind up with completely different reputations? The fine line between confidence and arrogance.

Over the years, I’ve been a huge fan of blogger Seth Godin. He has a great way of distilling complex concepts and turning them into simple sentences. As I perused his blog recently, he somehow managed to explain a complicated NBA subject in simplistic terms, Phoenix Suns rookie Devin Booker, while talking about marketing and business structures.

“Confidence is arrogance if the market doesn’t believe the story.”

Since first meeting him last summer, I’ve been saying the 19-year-old shooting guard is somehow the most confident individual I’ve ever met and watched perform his craft without ever having a hint of cockiness. The reason for this escaped me, though. That was, until I read the aforementioned line from Godin.

The story that has been built around Booker can be boiled down to this, a heady player willing to do whatever it takes to win, including coming off the bench in college, who was overlooked in the draft but whose confidence and dedication can help will him become a star. Obviously, like everything in life, it’s more complex than that. Hell, even Batman v Superman couldn’t be as simple as the title suggested and that’s fiction. But at its core, that’s the narrative that has emerged with fans, media and even internally with the organization.

The question is, why does anyone buy into it? Where is the line between being a grounded, well-adjusted young man and an overconfident kid?

It’s all in the believability of the person the story is attached to.

Despite being marred in a tumultuous season, everything Booker has done and said along the way has fed into the narrative. His quotes to the media are those of a 10-year veteran as if he took a course in his one year at Kentucky on dealing with the media taught by Crash Davis. When his teammates pranked him by filling his car with packing peanuts, he didn’t get angry, he laughed it off and shared the experience on social media.

On the court, his game has blossomed at a rapid pace in part because he hasn’t been afraid to go right at the game’s best despite rarely playing in the first few months of the season. Whether it was crashing the lane on LeBron or going straight to Kobe’s “move” the first time he faced off against him, he’s shown no fear and been successful at it.

It’s not just passing the eye test, though. It’s the fact that the NBA’s old guard has openly praised him. Whether it was Dwyane Wade metaphorically passing the torch by calling him one of the “future top two-guards in the league,” Kobe calling him “fantastic” or talking heads calling him the next Klay Thompson, he’s gained the respect of those in the Association.

Just how easy is it for things to swing the other way for a young guy in the NBA?

Take a look at Los Angeles Lakers rookie guard D’Angelo Russell. Drafted 11 slots higher than Booker and nine months his senior, his story should be the one playing out like Booker’s has. The problem is that confidence has come off as arrogance in the eyes of Lakers fans and the media. Not all of it is his fault, having your growth stunted by the Kobe farewell tour couldn’t have been easy, but it’s the way he’s carried himself that has turned what is confidence for one rookie into arrogance for another.

His actions on and off the court led his coach to say at times he “acts like a 14-year-old” and Kobe, who praised Booker, told reporters that “torches never get passed…you have to earn them” and even said the future leader of the team isn’t on the Lakers’ roster. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

The latest example has swept the internet this week faster and with less mercy than Johnny swept the leg on Daniel in Karate Kid. Russell allegedly secretly taped teammate Nick Young talking about indiscretions with women that weren’t his fiancé Iggy Azalea and said tape made its way onto social media. The situation, according to reports, has led to teammates isolating the rookie and not in the way that’s beneficial on the court.

Two young, talented and confident NBA rookies. One getting praised by his peers for his effort, talent and poise. The other being praised by a teammate’s rapper fiancé on Twitter for leaking a video. How are things so vastly different for two players with the same opportunity?

Maturity that leads people to believe in one storyline of a path to success while dismissing the other. It’s because there is a fine line between confident and cocky and it’s not in the hands of the individual, it’s in the hands of the people watching. It’s all a matter of perspective.