When I was in high school and my self-esteem was still finding its sea legs, I tried out for the basketball team. I’m sure many of you can recall those tender years when you tried out for something you wanted so badly. Ernie Cline was the high school basketball coach and though I didn’t realize it at the time, Coach Cline would nurture the team player he saw in me, but in ways I never dreamed of.
You see, I wasn’t good enough to make the team but Coach recognized a fire in my belly and a desire to be part of the sport, so he made me the team manager. Unlike most managers, I wasn’t simply washing towels and uniforms—he entrusted me with bigger responsibilities like handling the team logistics and itinerary when we traveled. That was an incredibly pivotal experience for me. I realized my attitude and effort were more valuable to the team than the position I played.
Right about the same time my basketball management career was underway, there was an athlete by the name of Michael Jordan attending Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina. Jordan’s hopes were initially dashed like mine when he tried out for the varsity team and didn’t make it. We both rebounded from early disappointment in our respective ways, but this is where the similarity between our stories end.
The world would soon revel in the jaw-dropping 32,292 points Jordan would score during his 15-season career that was punctuated by six championship titles. If you haven’t already devoured the 10-part documentary series, The Last Dance, about Jordan’s stat-defying career, I strongly recommend you make time. Much more than a documentary about basketball, Jordan’s story is about the human spirit and how one person can influence a team to be something great.
What I admire most about Jordan’s passion for the game—and a quality I don’t think he earns enough credit for—is his uncompromising work ethic and commitment to winning. Jordan was known for calling teammates who were late to practice or addressing fellow athletes if he felt they weren’t pulling their weight. He expected an all-out effort from everyone 24/7.
You’ve heard me talk about how much I appreciate attitude and effort because it’s one of the few things we have absolute control over. Jordan is a prime example. What’s also worth considering, which the documentary explores, is for years he was the best player without a championship. As Jordan started to trust his teammates, the victories multiplied.
You might recall I learned that painful lesson when I recently shared my story about getting fired. I thought if I worked hard and fast alone, that would take my career to new heights. Later I realized that if you want to go far in life, you go as a team. As you start each day, ask yourself what you’re doing to support the people around you.
Stand by your why,