April 29, 2014
It’s almost Mother’s Day, and who doesn’t like to see a classic, tug-at-the-heartstrings mother-child story to get the old tear ducts worked up? Well I, for one, love it.
One of my favorite kinds of tear-jerkers reliably comes from the sports world, when an athlete “pays back” his mom for all she’s done – whether in word or deed. Work in a little rags-to-riches storytelling, overcoming a painful father/husband relationship or successfully battling medical issues and you have a bona fide winner on your hands.
This week, we were treated to two such stories.
On Tuesday, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant was named the NBA regular-season MVP. It’s obviously a huge achievement, and KD is a worthy honoree. In his acceptance speech, Durant expressed his appreciation to a number of people in his life, but none more important than his mom, Wanda Pratt. As he spoke, his voice cracked, his eyes watered and the guy nearly broke a couple of times as he described his meager beginnings and some of the things his family went through. As she looks on, Ms. Pratt cries – and cries some more – until finally her kid tells her she’s the MVP. And, dammit, that’s when the floodgates just burst. She watched him with such pride, joy and admiration she could not contain herself. For a few surreal moments, Wanda is the mom everybody loves, and the mom some people might wish was their own.
On a scale of 1-10, this one easily rated an 11.
Meanwhile, in other well-reported news, new Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was “captured” giving his mother, Rose Murphy, a remarkable birthday gift. The event began with a restaurant date, where they were filmed by Spike Lee for a documentary on, in part, Ms. Murphy’s battle against breast cancer and their family journey toward Teddy’s selection in the NFL draft. Outside the restaurant, with cameras in tow, Rose gets her first glimpse of a brand new pink Cadillac Escalade – the gift Teddy promised to give her way back in third grade. (To be fair, Cadillac actually gave her the car, but let’s not split hairs.)
However, this story was – in contrast to Durant’s – such a letdown. While Durant’s mom literally choked me up, Bridgewater’s mom left me wishing for a lot more.
The whole scene was so weird. So contrived. There was really very little emotion outside a little bit of excitement over the new car, but it all felt uncomfortably materialistic.
If the event didn’t leave a lot to be desired already, coverage the next day on GMA made it so much worse. The ramp-up was nauseating: Michael Strahan suggested I might want a Kleenex; Robin Roberts promised me it would be “a moment.” But neither rang true. Instead, I watched a mom who actually admitted she expected to get the car from her son at some point. The nerve!
Here’s the thing: I don’t mean to be so harsh on Rose Murphy. I concede, these are two very different scenarios: one an acceptance speech in which a guy is speaking from his heart; the other a staged (albeit very well-staged) “event,” complete with a hired camera crew, a star director and a sponsor. Different people express emotion differently, and if you watch the Spike Lee/Cadillac documentary, Ms. Murphy more than redeems herself with her very touching story.
In the end, I think it was the marketing that muted what could have been a much more engaging story. While it’s great to get a vaunted GMA hit, you don’t want your story to fall flat. Even with all the right ingredients at your disposal, this tale proved to me that you simply can’t manufacture emotion or authenticity, no matter how hard you try.