Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 5, 2007

In a world obsessed with fame, wealth and the trappings of celebrity, it’s heartening ó even downright inspiring ó when other values assert themselves.
That’s especially true when it comes to professional sports, where we’ve no shortage of athletes who cling to the myth of themselves long past their prime because they can’t wean themselves away from mass adulation or the truckloads of money dumped at their doorstep. Often, they’ll make Faustian bargains to stay in the game, sacrificing family, community connections, even health itself for a few more years at center stage.
But two stories came our way this week involving high-profile sports figures who are charting different paths.
Derek Fisher is ó or was ó a veteran NBA player who made almost $6 million a year as a guard for the Utah Jazz. At 31, he still has the legs and lungs to play for several more years. But he doesn’t have the heart ó not when his 11-month-old daughter is battling a rare form of cancer.
Fisher asked to be released from his lucrative contract so that he and his wife could concentrate full time on finding the best medical care for their child and live in proximity to treatment centers. Obviously, he could hire people to help with this, but as a parent, he wants to give his undivided attention to what could be life-or-death decisions involving his child.
“Life for me outweighs the game of basketball,” Fisher said.
Mike Hargrove might say the same about baseball. He stunned the baseball world last Sunday when he announced his resignation as manager of the Seattle Mariners. Ordinarily, the departure of another baseball manager would hardly merit a scratch and a yawn. These days, baseball managers have about as much job security as crash-test dummies. The Cincinnati Reds and Baltimore Orioles have also changed managers within the past few weeks.
The difference is that Hargrove apparently wasn’t forced out because his team was in a tailspin. The Mariners are having a solid season, their best run since Hargrove took over four years ago. Baseball conspiracy theorists have speculated on behind-the-scenes turmoil, but Hargrove says it’s a lot simpler: He lost his competitive fire, and, after 35 years on the road, he wants to spend more time with his wife and grandchildren.
“I’m not expecting (people) to understand it, because I’m not sure I understand it myself,” he said. ” … But it’s time for me to leave.”
From a cynical perspective, it’s easy to shrug this off. Given the millions they’ve made (and, presumably, invested), Fisher and Hargrove have the luxury of choice unavailable to many. Few parents desperately trying to look after a sick child can get ample time off from work, much less turn in their resignation; few who’ve lost their passion for a particular job can simply walk away. Still, that doesn’t discredit the choices made here. Fisher and Hargrove have walked away from the sticky web of fame and wealth that few can resist, and they’ve done it for the right reasons.