Jun 1, 2009

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“Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.”

This quote is unattributed but it rings true.

Much has been made by the fact that following his team’s exit from the NBA Eastern Conference Finals LeBron James refused to shake hands with the Orlando magic and refused to address the press.

There is no shortage of assholes in the ranks of professional athletes and if any of them had done what LeBron had done, no one would notice.  But LeBron is different he is King James, the Chosen One.  An engaging, up beat presence when all is going well.  The consummate team player, who in this moment got let down by his team and wanted to crawl into his cave.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”   Well apparently the opposite is true for LeBron.  He has actually been doing just fine with all the largesse that has been bestowed upon him but maybe he hasn’t quite mastered the art of the stiff upper lip.

Everyone will eventually come face to face with disappointment.  Probably no one more so than athletes.  Michael Jordan went through a lot of losing seasons and early playoff exits before he entered into the promised land of NBA champion.  His tearful embrace of the NBA trophy is etched in sports lore.  Those tears came from an appreciation of weathering adversity.

So LeBron gets a pass for bad judgment and temporarily shirking the mantle of greatness and failing to acknowledge Dwight Howard as his better on the court for that moment.  Had he had the backbone to acknowledge Dwight and the Magic in that moment he would have realized it was just in that moment.  He is only 24 and that which did not kill him only will make him stronger.  It is why many really true champions will watch the other team celebrate a victory.  Standing in the presence of someone else’s victory and realizing it does not diminish your own gifts will only allow you to take on future adversity.

I will never forget an experience I had in my early days with my men’s organization.  I had recently taken on the leadership of a struggling group of men in New Jersey.  I was in the job all of two weeks.  A group of us from New York headed off to Vancouver to meet with some other men to “inspect” one another on the jobs we were doing.  Unbeknownst to me the writing was on the wall and I was to be unceremoniously taken out of the job and our little circle of men was to be disbanded.  In the moment in stung.  3000 miles from home, I felt helpless and bitter.  It was the kind of experience that had led other men to walk away, quit and never be heard from again.  I had thought about going that route.  Instead I hosted a gathering of some 1000 plus men at my house.  I was there as just another man, not a leader; someone else had been anointed to be “the man”.  I held my tongue and supported the moment. It sucked and I got little pleasure  out of the experience.

However, it taught me that failure is inevitable but it is never the end.  I developed a commitment to change things, slowly.  To work to build an organization that empowered men rather than seeking to subjugate them.  Ten years later, I am the leader of 100 plus men.  The organization in my opinion is healthy and clearer of purpose than it once was.

I learned that in honoring my adversary, I honor myself.   I am sure LeBron will see that some day and in doing so he will be able to walk in the rarified air of Magic and Bird and MJ.

Seneca the first century Roman statesman probably said it best:

 Not to feel one’s misfortunes is not human, not to bear them is not manly.


So LeBron James……. Man Up.ity dmired. d.

  1. This quote is actually a tweak of John Wooden’s:
    “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.”