After an 82-game season in which he led the lead in scoring while only averaging about 30 minutes a game, led his team to 73 wins, became the first player to hit 300 AND 400 3-pointers in a single season, defied all kinds of creative defensive schemes designed uniquely for him, led the league in steals, and forced every single team to completely reinvent the way they played basketball just to compete, the common refrain after last night’s game is that Steph Curry was exposed as some sort of fraud.
It took two full seasons of the world’s best basketball strategists to finally figure out how to really challenge him and now he’s just an overrated overhyped shooter. And while the sports world sings the praises of Lebron James as “The greatest player in the world,” I can only smile at the irony of how people said the same things about Lebron when things weren’t looking so great for him.
The thing about greatness is that we rarely recognize it until the crowning moment of achievement. We have a hard time holding to the idea of a person being great when they’re in the middle of a moment that doesn’t look so good. We do this to people like Lebron James and Steph Curry because this is what we do to ourselves. We just aren’t that good at recognizing non-obvious forms of greatness.
I have an article from the Chicago Tribune that was published in 1995. I keep it in my desk and read it every other week or so. It’s an article that was written right after the Chicago Bulls were eliminated from the playoffs by the Orlando Magic. It’s a scathing criticism of Jordan and Pippen’s shortcomings. The article concludes with a convincing claim that the Bulls dynasty was over and that we had seen the last of Jordan and Pippen as a dynamic duo that would strike fear in the hearts of other competitors. The once invincible Bulls were now brought down to earth and exposed. For those who know your sports history, that Bulls team came back the next season and became the first squad to win 70 games in one year. They went on to win three consecutive championships. And of course, the critics changed their tune because we all acknowledge greatness when things are going really well.
I once heard it said that a “champion is never made inside the ring, but only recognized inside the ring.” Crowning moments of achievement are great, but there are always moments before those moments. And if you hit the pause button during one of the moments before the crowning achievement, you’re likely to find a great person who looks vulnerable or stupid or arrogant or incompetent or whatever. But it’s always about the overall story, not just the temporary hells we have to go through while creating our story. Everyone, including the winners, looks like a loser at some point. The question is, how do you take control of your narrative when you reach that point?
As we celebrate champions and criticize contenders, let’s not forget that both are who they are because of the relationship they choose to have with a larger story that’s not yet finished. And by the way, that’s true of your life too.