When Miles Bridges announced that he wanted to address the Spartan faithful, it was impossible to believe he was going to pull a “LeBron” and tell everyone that he was going to “take his talents to the NBA.” Bridges’ “Decision” turned out to be one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time.
In October, prior to the start of the season, Tom Izzo told me something about Bridges that I’ll never forget. It was the most glowing remark a player could ever receive from Coach Izzo. Tom described the heralded recruit as his “Blue Collar Blue Chipper.” Clearly, he was thrilled with what he saw from Bridges in the few months they had been together.
I think we can all understand why Izzo loves that characteristic so much. It likely best describes Izzo himself. While Miles and Izzo are arguable one of the nation’s top player-coach tandem, it’s their underlying motivations that make it so special. Their approach to the game, life and the pursuit of success separates them from the rest of a world that values pomp, circumstance, image and fluff. Regardless of how talented and successful they are, they attack each day as if there is still something to prove and more to be earned. Nothing is ever given to ‘blue collar’ guys; it’s earned, and that’s who Izzo and Bridges really are.
The Spartans are the likely favorite to win the Big Ten next season and will also (most certainly) be in everyone’s preseason top 5. Their talent is what jumps out at you, but what makes them a winner is their foundation. Bridges knows he’s in the best position possible to become the best basketball player and leader he can be. Izzo and his staff have historically molded young men into great leaders, and Bridges will undoubtedly be the latest addition to that long list. The biggest key to their development is the understanding that it’s not about Bridges or any other individual on the team. It is about valuing your responsibility of making your team and your teammates better. It’s not about how you can serve yourself as a member of the Michigan State program, it’s about how you can serve your brothers and sisters in the program and throughout the institution.
The focus on serving others is nearly a lost concept in today’s day of big business, money, power and perceivable success. Bridges knows the only way he can truly make his mark on this program is to make his teammates, his coaches and the basketball program, in general, better than it was when he got there. Blue Collar guys like Izzo and Bridges will always strive for something better for themselves and for everyone around them. It’s what makes them such a rare breed.
If I were a NBA exec, I’d be shocked at the news, but I’d be extremely intrigued by the decision and the character of the young man behind it. While many teams are looking at potential when it comes to lottery picks and first rounders, I’d say look beyond that. Look beneath the surface at what motivates someone like Bridges to come back to school, to improve, to grow as a leader and to leave a legacy that others will have to strive to mimic in the future. Blue Collar guys play with a chip on their shoulder and constantly strive to achieve while many others feel entitled to succeed, whether they have earned it or not. Bridges clearly seems to believe there’s still work to be done in East Lansing, and for that I am sincerely grateful.