Friday, November 1, 2013

The Miami Heat & the Importance of Glory for Athletes

I watched the Miami Heat received their well deserved rings for their second NBA championship and one night later watched the sheer joy and pandemonium of players and fans as the Red Sox won the world series. Both scenes reminded me how powerful and important winning glory remains for athletes at all levels and their fans. 

I am not crazy enough to argue that money does not matter, but the more than a few  Red Sox signed for a chance to get "the ring." The entire Miami Heat success is built upon the much maligned decision of three players to forgo more money in order to put together a team that could win championships and win glory for them (the money was not bad either). This is a slightly modified repeat of an earlier piece I wrote defending the decision of the Heat players to come together not just for money or self-interest but for the specific chance to win fame and glory.

When an ancient Greek won a sporting event, he was crowned with a laurel wreath. Not given gold, silver or trophies but crowned, like royalty, with a wreath that symbolized life. Nike,  the goddess of victory, stood holding the wreath as an invitation to athletes to excel and prevail.

The Greeks figured this one out, athletes seek glory. For Greeks glory represented a pinnacle. Glory mean recognition and memorialization against the annihilation of death. Athletes enjoy the sheer joy of pushing their body to its limits; they enjoy the mastery of craft; they enjoy competing against the best; they enjoy winning. In the end as in the beginning of sports, athletes seek glory. This accounts  for why LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh joined each other in Miami.

They want to win it all--to be the acknowledged champions. The Win, the Ring, the championship brings glory like no other win. The win brings not just internal satisfaction but glory--the fleeting recognition of your worth and value. In ancient cultures heroes struggled to achieve in order to  be remembered in song and memory. Death closed the door on life, but stories remained.

Memory and glory go together. Glory means people recognize you for a moment as the best, but they also remember your achievement. They sing your praise just as the ancients wished.

Modern athletes garner glory and recognition like no one else in society.  Successful and superb athletes much like ancient gladiators are idolized and possess celebrity. Others make money on them through media and endorsements and their own lives can generate wealth; but the fame grounds it all.

Many executives, workers and artsans achieve wonderful things but are seldom recognized or achieve glory. No one would say the president of Exxon or Nucor lives in glory. But great elite athletes earn glory.

Several years ago after a huge amount of fire and smoke and endless speculations   LeBron James' left Cleveland for Miami. Despite accusations and curses about his "disloyalty." His decision reflected could be seen as revealing the core at the heart of many great athletes, the question for glory. LeBron gave his home team seven fine years; Cleveland basked in  his reflected glory. He lived in Akron for heaven's sake and invested in charity. But Cleveland management proved it would never build a winning team; LeBron would never win true glory--the renown of triumph; of being acknowledged not as the best player but as the conqueror, the player who lead his team to a championship.

Athletes lead very very short lives  The average professional career lasts 3-5 years and many find themselves retired at age 24 unprepared and untrained for the next 50 years of life. They can lose their career in a micro-second. This decision by all three basketball players to come together in Miami was not just about money. They all have ample money. More importantly LeBron and Bush chose to make less money in order to have a real chance to the laurel wreath. They wanted the Ring.

The three took much abuse from the national media about their goals. Many mocked them when they started out slowly and took a year to meld. Many others even thought it was somehow unfair and unAmerican for them to take less money to help build a championship. It somehow felt unAmerican. Yet amid the struggle and jostling as they had to meld talent and egos and the adaptable defenses of other teams, the three stuck to their goal. Even as a younger generation challenged them and the weakness of the team in the center was revealed, they adapted and their great General Manager Pat Riley brought in support players like Ray Allen who were willing to take less money for a  chance to win the glory.

The olive and laurel wreaths the Greeks bestowed soon withered. The memory, however, remmained engraved in stone. All  too soon, another Olympiad, another game, another season beckoned and challenged. No athlete and no team can handle the endless flow of talent and challenge for long especially as age saps their talent from the inside.

But the wreaths symbolized the glory of NIKE of victory. Victory and championship and being the best, the very very unchallenged best for that one brief moment. The creation of a story, a myth and a memory. The wreath also reminded the  athlete and us of glory's transience.We should celebrate the Heat for their ambition and achievement.

Grab the glory, enjoy it, hope to be remembered for the moment of supreme achievement.

James, Wade, and  Bosh chose to seek the glory, not just the money. Good for them.

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