Fail To Greatness

Spring '16

If you want to be the greatest basketball player of all time, you can’t be afraid of failure. I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career, lost over 1,200 games, and have been dunked on too many times to count. Twenty-six times, I took the game-winning shot on the wrong basket.

It’s because I’m not afraid of those failures that I’m able to succeed.

Listen, I’ve been in your shoes. You’re the hotshot rookie trying to become a superstar. But you’re also afraid. You’re worried you’re going to suck. You’ll pass the ball to the mascot by accident or you’ll be attacked by a bird during a game because you kept throwing the ball at its nest the day before. Sure, these things happened to me, but I don’t let them define me.

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You’re probably scared that, by trying too hard, you’ll make the wrong impression. Well, hey, if showing up early to play with the T-shirt cannon or staying late to finally find where they hide the zamboni is making a bad impression, then I guess I made a bad impression.

But bad impressions are okay, and so too is failing. 

I remember during one particularly bad week in Phoenix, I yelled at a fan who was mean to me during a game. I guess I lost it because he said I sucked and that I didn’t know how to play basketball and that I shouldn’t be kicking the ball into the stands when I miss a shot.

So Coach sat me down to talk at halftime. He said he could tell that I was afraid from the way that I yelled at a fan and the way I started crying after all the other fans joined in with him. Then, instead of putting me in the second half, he kept me in the locker room and showed me old footage of Jordan when he was afraid. Like me, Jordan was afraid that his failures would define him, but then the Looney Tunes helped him out and together, they beat the Monstars. I wasn’t exactly sure how this lesson applied to my life, but by the time the tape ended, I learned that we had won the game, so I guess I did something right.

The road to greatness can be bumpy at times. Most of the time, actually. But here’s a little secret I’ve learned: nobody makes it to the top of the mountain without pouting on the bench until Coach puts you in.

It’s going to be tough at first, and, even after coach puts you in, you’ll still face challenges. You’ll trip over your shoelaces constantly. You’ll get tricked into thinking the court is hot lava by your own teammates. You’ll want to run away with the ball until coach promises you’ll get a turn to shoot. But eventually you learn to keep the ball to yourself and run away with it until you find an outdoor court a couple miles from the stadium, where you can practice eyes-closed half-court shots unopposed.

Remember, though, that even at the top, these challenges persist. Some nights, I still have trouble dribbling with one hand. Some nights, I forget you’re not allowed to climb up the net, or throw the ball back through the net to take away the points the other team scored. But if you put in the work, greatness will follow. You may be a rookie accidentally tying your shoes together now, but someday, you’ll be an experienced veteran of the game who knows what to do with a pair of scissors to get the knots out.

Sure, you’re going to fail. You’re going to fail night after night after night. You’re going to fail for a few years, and then fail for a few years more. You’ll fail after that, too. But from where I stand, that’s the sure sign of a champion.