Chapter III

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Having the Courage to Compete

What does it really mean to compete? Compete means, to strive against another or others to attain a goal. Also, to compete is simply to take part in a contest. I have expanded my understanding of what it means to compete, after watching a special on HBO last week covering the Magic and Bird rivalry.
Throughout my amateur experiences coaches would drill competing to me. I remember running Kansas 17's for simply not competing with teammates in practice. If I was a coach, I think I would build my entire philosophy on teaching my team what it means to compete. Now that I think about it, I've never had a coach help me define what competing is and how to help me apply it to my game both on and off the court. I think they just assumed I should already know. After watching the HBO documentary of the Magic vs. Bird rivalry, I am more aware of what it means to compete.
Compete: A competition is the act of competing in a contest between rivals. A rival is a competitor you compete with in a match. A competitor is someone considered your equal and capable of competing with another. To settle a dispute between two equal rivals; I must compete.
Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, both arguably top 5 basketball players of all time. The HBO special highlights their fanatical obsession with being considered the better player out of the two.
Bird is a small town guy from Frenchlick, Indiana. With his blue collar work ethic,he played the game with a get'er done mentality, and a old fashioned grit that bothered opponents. The controversy that surrounded Bird was that he was that good and white. Bird couldn't escape the volatile racial situation of that time. When Bird first entered the NBA he was considered the Great White Hope in a NBA that was labeled as too black by its fans.
From the outside looking in Magic was a city boy who grew a affinity for the bright lights in big games. Magic thrived in the spotlight. On game night at the Forum, it was show time in LA. Magic and Bird competed for glory on many occasions. Both shared similar styles on the court but different approaches off the court. Magic a more flashy, show time type of style, Bird more grit and blue collar. The one thing that set them both apart from everyone else during their eras was how far they was willing to go to win in. They have what I consider the courage to compete.
Bird admitted his need to even hate his competition in order to be successful. He even made up things about his opponents to get himself jacked up for the game. Bird's personality amalgamated with confidence and a will to prove people wrong. Bird had the perfect personality to play the bad guy in the NBA. I think it is safe to say that between the borderline dirty play, the grit, and racial climate in the NBA; Bird was hated by a majority of his competitors in the NBA and I don't think he would have it any other way.
Thinking about Birds courage to compete against any and everybody he matched up against, I realized that same approach is what made him who he was. Instead of running away from his nature, he embraced it and applied it to his game, now people don't call him the Great White Hope, its Larry Legend. Having the courage to hate his competition gave him a slight edge that eclipsed 99% of the best players in the world. There was only one that could compete with Bird, the 1% er himself, Magic Johnson.
Magic, was the opposite from Bird with his temperament in tune with his gregarious nature, and his approach to the game didn't deviate from his persona. Magic was the revolutionizing 6'8 point guard that led a exciting up tempo offense that earned the name show time. Similar to the offense, Magic was flashy and flamboyantly brilliant. Magic was out going and loved people. My theory is his love for the game and to be the man motivated him to succeed. Magic knew that in order for him to be successful against Bird he needed to be fully committed to the game of basketball.
I like to think in order to respect someone as competition you have to walk the line carefully, between love and hate. In the Art of War, the writer talks about having respect for your enemy and the decorum to approaching war. Animosity is a emotional sign of weakness and can breed dissension and incongruity between masses, with that being said you lose a connection with your enemy thus losing the ability to know what's coming. I think Magic was well aware that the best thing he could do was have a love/hate relationship with his opponents. Magic was nasty on the basketball court, but off the floor he love people and being the man. Bird mentioned Magic's ability to charm people and light up a room, he even called Magic a con artist. Magic mastered the delicate balance more then anything else. Magic excelled when the odds were great and the stakes was high. He loved competing against the best and Bird was the closest thing to him.
In heated debates between peers on who is the Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T) in basketball, I don't believe we should focus solely on the physical, because at the highest level the physical margin of separation is small. I think a mixture of skill, and approach to the game and the courage to see that approach through determines the legend. That, and championships! This is Benson Callier ProWings Journal Owt!!!!