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I'm Shocked!

Since the airing of the 10th and final installment of “The Last Dance”, I’ve been shocked, not at the portrayal of Michael Jordan, not at the fact that Jordan could be an arrogant jerk sometimes, not at seeing that Michael Jordan was a cutthroat competitor who would use anything and everything at his disposal to win, I have been shocked that there are people who were shocked at this is how Jordan actually was in real life.

Did anyone really think that you can become the greatest in the world at your chosen profession without being fiercely competitive, without being arrogant, without driving your teammates beyond what they were comfortable with, beyond where they could have gotten on their own, without bruising other people’s egos and sensibilities, without putting the goal of being the greatest beyond everything else. If you study all the great achievers in history, they all have these same traits in common. They were willing to trade being a good guy, being well liked for being the best.

Teammates of Joe DiMaggio refer to their time with the Yankee Clipper as “a living hell” because he demanded they perform to the highest standards, and did not care about hurting anyone’s feelings. The Yankees won 9 World Series in the 13 years DiMaggio played.

Does anyone think Michael Jordan would be sitting in a $2 Billion net worth, if he had a softer touch with his teammates and won only 2 titles? In 1993-94, when Scottie Pippen was the number one man at the Bulls, he had the softer touch with his teammates, and they got knocked out in the Conference Semi-finals. Does the average spectator truly understand what it takes to be the best in the world, the sacrifice, the commitment, the mindset, the risk, the pressure?

We found out that the queen of talk shows Ellen DeGeneres is not such a nice person recently. Are we surprised by that? She makes $75 million per year. In the cutthroat industry of Hollywood, where there is that much at stake, you’re going to have to fight and claw to keep what you have from all the competitors who want to take you’re crown.

Was the entire nation fooled by the “Be Like Mike” advertisements? Did we actually believe the laughing, smiling guy we saw in those commercials playing with kids was actually the real Michael Jordan? Do we always believe what is presented on commercials? Do 10 bikini clad girls to show up in your back yard every time you crack open a beer?

Really good nice guys don’t do commercials telling the world to be like them. Really good nice guys are humble, unassuming, embarrassed by praise and adulation. They don’t agree to do commercials advertising how wonderful a person they are. So, when you read articles or see stories about what a great human being someone is, it’s usually not true. It’s a creation of some egoist‘s PR firm.

Most of that footage from those “Be Like Mike” commercials was probably true. Michael Jordan probably enjoyed playing with those young kids on that playground basketball court, laughing, joking, messing around with those kids when nothing was at stake, but if the NBA Championship was on the line, he would have dunked on each one of those kids, blocked their shots, and talked trash to them while he was doing it. That’s the way it should be.

Do we worry about a Doctor offending people or being arrogant in the OR while he’s operating? No, we only care if the patient lives and gets better. That’s it.

The only reason why we care about Jordan is because he won. Has anyone done a 10-part documentary on Clyde Drexler or Dominique Wilkins? No, and we probably wouldn’t watch it if someone had. Why? They were great players. Hall of Famers. But they didn’t win 6 rings. We only care if you win, but we will surely criticize you if you’re not nice in the process of winning.

It was attested to by many players in the documentary that Scott Burrell was “the nicest guy in the world”. Would we watch a 10-hour documentary on him? An hour? 30 minutes? No. So being a nice good guy doesn’t matter unless you become World Champion, and then to some of us it matters the most.

When you pull back the curtain, you find more often than not that the Champions, our heroes are not much different that us in terms of quality of human being. They are not as special of human beings as they are special athletically.

Baseball Hall-of-Fame manager Leo Durocher, famously said, “nice guys finish last.” And now suddenly we are shocked that the guy who finished first, is not a nice guy?

Grantland Rice wrote a century ago, “For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.” Is that true anymore? Increasingly, in our culture, the only thing that matters is whether you won or lost. We make that obvious every day.

There are some great college coaches who run clean programs, their players don’t commit crimes and they graduate, but their teams go 7-6 and they get fired. And there are the head coaches who run dirty programs, with a higher arrest rate than graduation rate, but they win the National Championship, and we build statues for them.

In the end, we would love for our champions to be sterling human beings, but that is very rare, few and far between. So usually we are choosing between the champion or the good guy. We tend to side with the champion unless he proves himself to be a jerk, and then we punish him for that. But reward is always a better motivator than punishment is a deterrent. So, until we start rewarding the good guy for simply for being a good guy, we’re going to get stuck praising a bunch of arrogant jerks.

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