Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Day 87: It Takes More Than Talent to Build Something Great

I remember watching a documentary on a basketball player. The opening scene was a post-game interview with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, arguably one of the top 5 basketball players of all-time. Given his status as one of the elite NBA players, he was asked the question – "Who do you think the greatest player of all-time is?"

"The Goat," he answered.

Even if you follow basketball closely, "The Goat" is most likely a name that you don't recognize. Most of us know Abdul-Jabbar, Magic, LeBron, Kobe, Shaq, and of course His Airness, Michael Jordan. But very few of us know "The Goat," which was the nickname given to playground basketball legend Earl Manigault. He dominated basketball at a young age, even growing legendary because he could jump like nobody had ever seen; in fact, he could touch the top of the backboard (in the biopic of The Goat, there's a scene where he jumps and "makes change" off the top of the backboard, grabbing a bill that had been placed there and exchanging it for a quarter. The top is 13 feet high).

But we've never heard of him, even though throughout an illustrious NBA career, Abdul-Jabbar would still go on to make the bold claim that the greatest player he'd ever seen never played a game of NBA basketball (and very few college games for that matter).

The Goat never made it far because of a number of factors, including getting mixed up with the wrong crowd and becoming a drug-addict. Although he rebounded in life and has done great work for the community, in terms of his own ability, The Goat was "the greatest that never was." And while the factors I listed above played a role, The Goat was also unwilling to go beyond his natural, raw talent, listen to coaches, put in the work, and cultivate greatness.

I reflect on his life because of that very idea of being "the greatest that never was." Earl Manigault is a metaphor for so many of us in life who rest on our laurels, carving out a place that's just good enough for the talent that we bring to the table. For some, perhaps for many, they get convinced that because of the talent they bring, greatness will come to them.

Talent, natural ability, a knack, an instinct – none of these on their own can lead to building something great. Greatness comes through trials, through fire. Too many people rest only on their talents and take the easy road, coasting through life in Never Was Land. We are unable to realize that talent is meant to just get you to the fire faster than everyone else.

If you know what you're good at, that stuff that just comes naturally to you, ask if you're just coasting on the easy road or if you're trying to find the fire as quickly as possible. That's when you know you're on your way to building something great.

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