Sportspinions: It ain’t about the money, man.

By Gauntlet Contributor

I came to a rather sudden conclusion the other day: most of my life philosophy is based upon the anecdotal advice and teachings of cab drivers. Depending on who you are, this will likely strike you as either utterly nonsensical or a stroke of genius. For those of you in the latter camp, well, this article is for you.

I arrived at this epiphany very serendipitously: I just happened to hop in the backseat of a cab manned by none other than The Dude from the movie The Big Lebowski. Or at least a guy who looked, acted, and talked like him. The conversation–or lesson, as I prefer to think of it–started off with me asking how his night was going. This proved to be an important development for two reasons. Firstly, his answer proceeded to last the entire ride home and secondly, those five words were the last things I said during the course of my 23-minute journey until, “How much do I owe you?” and “Thanks, good night.” His answer, verbatim, was this: “Hey man, my night is going good man. My girlfriend is drunk man. Man, I’m telling you don’t ever get married man.” He then proceeded to expound on his views of being a father, “It’s tough,” doing drugs, “I’ve been smoking pot for 37 years and I’m never going to stop,” and money. And the money thing is what sticks with me, because it was the very next day that Alexander Ovechkin signed his life away to the Washington Capitals in a move that, according to The Dude’s life philosophy–which is now mine as well–makes no sense at all.

Alexander Ovechkin, for the uninitiated, is arguably the purest goal scorer the National Hockey League has to offer. Since joining the league post-lockout, Alexander the Great, as he is often referred to, has scored more goals than anybody else in the circuit, besting such red light luminaries as Dany Heatley and Iyla Kovalchuk. This led the Capitals to issue the 22-year-old a 13-year, $124 million contract–the richest pact in NHL history. Sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it? It should, if you only care about how big your house is, how many cars you can buy or bottles of Smirnoff you can stockpile. But the Dude thinks differently and to fully understand his line of thinking, we need to jump back to that life changing cab ride.

“Man, I tell you, I wouldn’t do anything different. My life is good. I don’t have a lot of money but I don’t need it because man, I get to jump in this cab every night and entertain and talk to people and have a good time. It’s like, hey, I could have done things different and gotten a different career, but I treasure the people I get to meet every night because they help me reach my ultimate goal of just being happy man.”

It’s an interesting view, isn’t it? The Dude does what he does for the love of the game, so to speak, and because the people that surround him in his profession every night let him move toward his goal of being happy. Ovechkin has stated before that he loves playing hockey and his ultimate goal is to win a Stanley Cup. The caveat here is that his evident need for the money has subverted his chances of achieving his supposed goal because, in the current economical landscape of the NHL, the chances of him being surrounded by a Stanley Cup contender type team is almost nil. Look at Jarome Iginla here in Calgary, or Joe Thornton in San Jose. Both are viewed as being in the top-10 talent of the NHL, and yet both are paid less than players with half their skills and none of their credentials (see Vanek, Thomas or Briere, Daniel). They both took less money to stay in a setting that would best cultivate winning a championship and their respective teams are better for it. If AO really wanted to bring a cup to the District of Columbia then he should have been willing to make only $8 million or less a year so that the team would be able to afford some talent to compliment his considerable skill. I mean, lets face facts. Chris Clark, Brooks Laich and even homeboy Jeff Schultz don’t exactly strike fear into the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings’ hearts. As The Dude was fast to remind me, you can have all the money in the world but if you don’t have anyone around you to share it with, the wealth really doesn’t mean anything, in the end. And that’s the real lesson, man.

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