Let’s talk about greatness. Specifically, in the context of the NBA and the Michael Jordan / LeBron James GOAT debate. First, the NBA is my favorite sports league. The guys are super athletic, the games are entertaining, the story lines are compelling, the interviews of the coaches and players are thoughtful and informed, the stars have unique fashion style (which I’m not ashamed to say I admire) and it’s the most socially forward league in pro sports, encouraging the players to have a voice regarding topics outside of basketball.
I also admit I’m a fair weather fan, or bandwagon fan, or whatever you want to call it. My position is that sports is entertainment. Just because you’re born in a city doesn’t mean you have to like a team from that city. That’s like saying you must drink Coke and no other soda’s if you’re from Atlanta. Just think about that for a minute. Ok, good. I view sports the same way I view any other entertainment. It’s something to enjoy if I have some downtime and since I have precious little of that I’m not going to waste it watching garbage. If a movie sucks, I turn it off. If a song sucks, I skip to the next one. If a team I like sucks I stop watching and find something better for my entertainment pleasure. This is my personal preference and not suggesting everyone be this way, but this is how I see all sports and entertainment.
That said, the teams I enjoy the most are the teams with the greatest players. I appreciate greatness as I understand how hard it is to be great, especially over the course of an entire career. I am not great; yet. However, I’m always striving to be better and move closer towards being great. Obviously, there is a long way to go, but it’s a worthy aspiration. I appreciate greatness in any form. This is why I follow players and teams with great players more so than teams themselves. Players in my lifetime that fall in this category include Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Mike Tyson, Tiger Woods, Tim Duncan, Derek Jeter, Serena Williams and handful of others.
What Defines Greatness
Let’s be clear. I don’t put them a pedestal outside of sports as they, like everyone else in the world, are flawed. I’m speaking here only regarding their greatness in their chosen profession. Now, looking at the list above, there are common attributes they all have. First and foremost, at least to me, their greatness is more mental than physical. With a few exceptions the greatest aren’t the most athletic, the strongest or the fastest. What they are is mentally tougher, they worked harder and prepare more than their competition. And not for one week, month or even a season. But they do it year, after year, after year, after year.
All of them perform at their best when it matters the most and they truly believe they are always going to win. They can literally will themselves to win. I’ve watched virtually everyone on that list snatch a win from the jaws of defeat by completely taking over the game or the match and doing things that are virtually impossible to do; except when they do it it’s expected. That, to me, is greatness. That mental determination, calm under pressure, unwillingness to waiver and belief in oneself that regardless of the circumstance they will prevail. That. Is. Greatness.
This is also why I don’t get caught up in the MJ / LeBron GOAT debate. I don’t care. They are both great. Period. I appreciate them both for the same reason, they believe and have proven, that if they are on the court they are very likely going to win. Instead of a debating who’s better, which is a flawed argument for innumerable obvious reasons, I appreciate them for what they are able to do on the basketball court. Specifically as it relates to watching the mental flip switch (the zone) and taking over games.
By watching greatness, it gives me something to aspire to. Whether is reading books on great historical figures, listening to podcasts that interview uber successful business people or watching best in class athletes perform I’m always looking to understand what people who are great do differently than those that aren’t. Sports is a great forum for this as it’s personally relatable being that playing sports was my passion growing up and through college and I get to see it play out live, in real time, under tremendous pressure and the brightest lights. Reading books and listening to podcast is great, but it’s retroactive and I get a more polished storyline. Those mediums are less raw and more reflective.
Imagine if you could watch real time at a corporate board meeting while a company is getting crushed by bad publicity and underperforming against expectations (Facebook, I’m talking about you). What could we learn from that. Well, that’s what’s live sports is. Given, I don’t have time to watch it daily or weekly, but I make sure to tune in for the higher-pressure events with the bigger name players as this is when you get to see their greatness come to life.
I often ask myself, how do I perform when it matters most? Do I want to be in the seat? Can I handle the pressure? Do I want the ball at the end of the game? The answer is always, yes. It’s not even yes, it’s hell yes. They’re have been times where I didn’t get the outcome I wanted. They’re have been times when I have. Regardless though, I want the ball in those moments as I would rather have control of my success or failure vs. leaving it up to someone else. So, to me, greatness is defined by being at your best when the lights are brightest and being able to do that year, after year, after year after year. In order to get to that spot takes time, dedication, hard work, focus, consistency and a plan. But those are just the ante in to the game.
The difference between greatness and mediocrity is the ability to be able to perform when it matters most and do it for the course of an entire career. I certainly still have a very long way to go, but, again, it’s something worth striving for.