Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sloan and Mubarak: Two Despots In Transition

This morning brought galloping rumors of two imminent resignations by aging statesmen: Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and Coach Jerry Sloan of the Utah Jazz.

In the event, Sloan followed through with his intention de partir; Mubarak did not. Mubarak announced that he is transferring powers temporarily to his vice-president while nominally remaining in office. Sloan announced that his lead assistant, Tyrone Corbin, will succeed him.

Sloan has held the Salt Lake job since the fall of 1988; Mubarak held the Cairo job since the fall of '81. Sloan, once a tough defender when he played for the Bulls 40 years ago, was known for a crusty demeanor and a martinet's touch as an NBA coach. Mubarak, who became a man while in Egypt's air force, is known for physical punishment of his perceived enemies. Sloan trods in the same rut, though his floggings are less torturous (mostly verbal) and more widely publicized. Mubarak's tenure has been characterized by a grudging peace with the country's most martial neighbor, Israel; Sloan's teams, by contrast, have always thrived on bullying tactics against the opposition. How else did Matt Harpring earn seven years of paychecks from the Jazz?

Sloan's resignation and Mubarak's slowly creeping exit have both been incited by unrest from below. Years of chronic unemployment, excessive economic restrictions, high food prices, and abuse of his own people have inspired brave protesters to hold strong in Tahrir Square over the past two weeks. Allegedly, Jerry Sloan's refusal to loosen his offensive control of offensive flow angered star PG Deron Williams to the point that recent arguments made Sloan pick retirement over continued tension. Utah also has struggled a bit this season; its remarkable set of comebacks in 2010-11 would not be necessary if the team could start games with more power. Continously poor preparation is surely the coach's fault.

When Sloan ascended to Utah's top job in 1988, an astute bettor would have picked Mubarak to outlast him. NBA coaches have a median tenure of 1.3 seasons before they are dismissed or otherwise leave the job. Meanwhile, a typical head of state in the Middle East or North Africa typically stays for a couple decades, at least. By around 2005, though, the smart money probably had shifted to Sloan. Mubarak, by that year, was 77, his dyed-black hair a fictive cover on his failure to appreciate the youthful vigor of his people. Sloan, 13 years younger, had already taken his small-market team to the NBA Finals twice, and by that year had been gifted with new stars like Williams, Carlos Boozer, and Andrei Kirilenko to replace the Stockton-Malone duo. The Jazz made the Western finals in Williams's second season, 2006-07. Why would Sloan quit? Why would Mubarak stay?

But Utah has shown little subsequent potential to slam past that barrier, losing in the first or second round each year after 2007. After trading away Eric Maynor and Ronnie Brewer for minor draft picks during the 2009-10 season, Utah's 2010 offseason saw the loss of Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, and Wes Matthews Jr., replaced by 20-year-old Gordon Hayward, 34-year-old Raja Bell, and creaky Al Jefferson, none of whom fit well in Sloan's motion offense. Egypt, meanwhile, has experienced annual GDP growth near 5% in most years of the past decade: not the pace of China or India, but better than other MENA countries and enough to convince a leader that a joyous legacy might be had with just a year or two of waiting. So by early 2011, the conventional wisdom of 1988 was back: Mubarak could hardly be imagined to leave, while Sloan's days seemed short. Indeed, we now have that result.

Perhaps Sloan, though a minor tyrant, does care about being liked. Mubarak apparently does not. Sloan also likely wants what is best for his team. Mubarak, though possibly misguided, likely wants the best for Egypt's people as well. Sloan could appreciate that his team no longer responded to him; Mubarak will not see.
UPDATE Feb. 11th: Well, Mubarak apparently changed his mind (or someone changed it for him) after his Thursday night slumber. Mubarak has now officially resigned as President. He still outlasted Sloan, though.

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