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A Disordered Recipe for Greatness from “Mind the Game”

May 14, 2024

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There is one thing that can force humanity to stop in its tracks and watch what is in front of it: greatness. We can’t help but watch as our preconceived notions of human potential shatter and the horizon of what we thought was possible expands. Witnessing greatness leaves us both awe-struck and inspired. Desiring to emulate these high achievers, we often study their lives, hoping to discover the secret recipe to greatness that we could utilize in our own pursuits. As a basketball enthusiast who once played and now coaches, I have continuously looked to basketball greats for this recipe. Maybe that is why I was so eager to tune in to the new podcast Mind the Game, hosted by two basketball legends I grew up idolizing—JJ Reddick and LeBron James. 

Mind the Game has an interesting concept that sets it apart from your average sports show. Rather than focusing on highlight reels and MVP front-runner debates, this show focuses on “celebrating basketball” by offering viewers insight into how two of the greatest basketball minds to grace the earth think. It really is a gold mine for any player or coach searching for greatness in the game. Using their experience and basketball IQ, LeBron and JJ answer abstract questions surrounding basketball, such as the topic of their first episode: “What makes a good basketball player?” In answering this question, they provide a recipe to greatness applicable beyond just the court. While doing so, they also unintentionally reveal the disordered undertones our desire for greatness can sometimes embody. 

They begin their discussion by looking inward and backward. With over thirty-five years of combined NBA experience, these two were able to hone in on one quality in particular that separated them, and the other basketball greats, from the busts—discipline. If you have ever heard a motivational speaker describe what it takes to be great, these two may sound like a broken record. We all know that discipline is required if we want to achieve anything. However, it was not their seemingly unoriginal discovery of the importance of discipline that struck me. Instead, it was the moment in which LeBron began describing how discipline manifested in his life:

“You have to have the ability to sacrifice loved ones.”
—LeBron James

Admittedly, he was half-joking when he said this. He was primarily setting the stage so that he could tell stories of his family not understanding his daily regimented schedule of early rises, all-day workouts, rushed family dinners, and early bedtimes. Yet the casual nature of his statement revealed a dangerous sentiment that is all too commonly found in the hearts of those chasing greatness: there is no price too high for greatness. Everyone knows that greatness comes at a price, but for some, there is no limit to what they would do to taste just a tidbit of that glory. However, individuals embracing this mindset are tragically mistaken. We were not made for earthly greatness but for the source of greatness itself: God.

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Things begin to go awry when we lose sight of this reality. There are countless examples of athletes, musicians, and CEOs who have sacrificed their family, friends, and even their values in the name of achievement. These individuals, while often heralded in their domain of work, are also often criticized for their personal lives. So much so, that it’s not uncommon to hear their own children publicly critique them! Sadly, this is unsurprising. A blind pursuit of greatness is really just a pursuit of oneself. It cares not for what or who it runs over in its path, so as long it reaches its intended end. This is not to say that pursuing greatness is a bad thing. Nor that one should not sacrifice anything to be great at something in this life. Pursuing greatness can be a good thing to do; in fact, I think it could be great! So long as our pursuit of it is properly ordered toward what will truly quench our thirst. 

It is not earthly greatness itself that we long for, but Jesus. As Pope St. John Paul II put it in his address to the 2000 World Youth Day pilgrims

It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.

The thirst for greatness can only be satiated by the one who put that desire in our hearts in the first place. Once we firmly believe this, we can begin to evaluate the desires of our hearts and discern what the Lord may be calling us toward or away from. No matter how the Lord’s call may manifest itself in our lives, one thing remains true: our pursuit of greatness ought to help us, and those around us, achieve the ultimate goal of heaven. 

So if by some unlikely turn of events I someday find myself as a guest on the Mind the Game podcast, I’ll add this: Go ahead and chase greatness. The Lord created you to do so. But first, make sure you know what greatness is. Greatness is not championship rings or fancy cars. The false peaks of these achievements satisfy us for a moment but leave us empty and craving more soon after. The only greatness that truly satisfies and fulfills what our hearts want most comes from Jesus. We were made for him and to be united with him forever in heaven. If our earthly pursuits get in the way of this, we can be sure that the Lord is calling us to take a step back and reexamine our priorities.