On ‘coming off the bench’ a la Pau Gasol

The author: ‘A good worker is a good worker whether he’s paid millions or $9  an hour’

The author: ‘A good worker is a good worker whether he’s paid millions or $9 an hour’

By Cecile Caguingin-Ochoa

My budding interest in sports perked up lately with the drama involving the NBA play-offs by realizing how this impacts real-life work.

It started with the injuries. So it is — the L.A. Lakers were scheduled to meet with the Brooklyn Nets Tuesday February 5 at the Barclay Center with injured players from both C.J. Watson (sprained left ankle) and Jerry Stackhouse (stiff neck). Toko Shengelia (concussion) continues to recover, but is out. The L.A. Lakers has its share of injuries with Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, and most likely not to return this season is Jordan Hill. But physical injury is not the extent of this piece.

The Lakers forward-center Pau Gasol

The Lakers forward-center Pau Gasol

Besides his physical wounds from a concussion, Lakers’ forward Gasol has recently been “hurting” from his new role in the team: coming off the bench. Blame it on management or Coach Mike D’ Antoni’s decision, Pau was not designated to continue with starting lineup led by Kobe Bryant. He said in an interview with CBSSports.com that never in his professional career did he come off the bench. Gasol, a four-time All-Star and one of the most gifted 7-footers in the world, has struggled with his demotion to the second unit — calling it “not ideal” and adding, “Whether I like it or not or whether I agree with it or not, I still try to go out there and do my job.”

“It’s hard for anybody who considers himself one of the top players in the world to say, ‘OK, I’m OK with coming off the bench,'” Gasol said.

It’s truly a tough call to accept any change in one’s course of professional position particularly when that change may mean a “demotion.” My buddy from the police force and a Facebook friend joked, “Boohoo…but he’s still getting the millions!”

My daytime job calls for me to offer mediation at the workplace. Sometimes I come across complaints that involve what is oftentimes referred to as “de facto demotion” or change in assignment that calls for lower level assignments, even without a change in pay. In Pao’s realm, this means “coming off the bench.”

One sees the anguish in the faces of the employees who have been stripped of “power” at work. When asked to define their needs at the mediation table, employees often articulate they want to “be made whole” because the change was “demeaning” and “embarrassing.”

But think about it: Are they still employed? Did they lose their benefits? Did they lose their friends? Oftentimes the answer is no. But they “lost face” among their associates; or they may have lost opportunities to advance in their career. Really?

Now let’s segue this classic workplace situation with Gasol’s disposition on coming off the bench during the playoffs. The big forward has been quoted in TV interviews last week that he doesn’t feel alright in not being a starter and that “it’s a difficult situation that we’ve been dealing with here.” But he had stayed positive because he doesn’t need “any other distractions, any more negativity.” He said the team needs “positive embracing; focus.” Ok, it’s given that Gasol has more validation from his star profile (and millions) to carry him through this drama. But heck, doesn’t he have the same emotional downturn as a regular caseload-carrying city or county employee?

Commitment. That’s a winner in my books. A good worker is a good worker; paid millions or $9 an hour. A team, an organization, an office dictates goals — whether it’s a sports franchise, for-profit business or non-profit. The rest demonstrates commitment by taking whatever role the organization wants them to play.

If I’m more excited now during the Lakers game, it’s because the players in this team demonstrated some morals that I’d like to hone into; that I’m hoping my sons would take as inspiration no matter how old they are; no matter what stage in life they are in.

Gasol told an NBA writer: “You’re going to have to change your role for the better of the team. And that’s something that each and every one of us has to do in order for the team to function.”

Someone from the NBA please tell this player he has a career waiting for him outside the franchise. And please thank him.

The Los Angeles-based Cecile Caguingin Ochoa is a freelance writer. She obtained a Master of Arts in Public Administration from the University of Southern California (USC) and a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of the Philippines. Cecile has co-published two books of Philippine folk anthology. She works for the L.A. County managing its Mediation Program for employment discrimination. She and her husband Dante – also a journalist — have three sons.
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