Quietly Into The Night: What Make a Competitor?

by S.A. Prince

What does it mean to be a competitor? Being a competitor simply means to compete. Compete comes from the Latin competere which means to “strive for.” Competere is then broken down into com, which means “together” and petere which means “aim at,” therefore, compete means “to aim at something together.” You cannot compete alone.

Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, undisputedly two of the best ever to play the game of basketball. Quickly they would crescendo to the top of their game, heralded by their “competitiveness.” More outspoken than a third-world dictator, Bryant and Jordan led with an iron fist. Their exploits, including taking swings at and verbally eviscerating teammates, though clearly emasculating somehow motivated their teammates to achieve greatness. Buried in championships, the modern era has placed these men at the pinnacle of what it means to be a competitor.

But what about those who are not outspoken, the leaders who inspire but do not berate, evoke accountability but do not emasculate? What about them? Where is their place?

Popular culture has us believing that competing like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant is the only and best way to compete. They do us a disservice. While I do agree that Jordan and Bryant were excellent competitors, there’s more than one type of competitor. Pushing your team to great heights in a Machiavellian manner, subjecting those around you to behavior that is condoned because of “any means necessary” isn’t what we should admire, but admire it we do.

President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Roosevelt led by example. While everyone around him shouted threats and were outspoken, Roosevelt kept his cool and carried on. He was the president at the turn of the 20th century during the American Industrial Revolution, a revolution that spurned the prosperity we now enjoy.

A competitor who “speaks softly” and carries a big Spur is oft an afterthought when we think of basketball’s top competitors, but Tim Duncan has been a diligent metronome-like competitor. He led his team to five NBA championships, while achieving two back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards. In an era where athletes crave the spotlight, Tim Duncan did his best to stay out of it. He did not have a hunger for fame, only championships.

We are so attracted to the brightly burning stars that many times we fail to see the greatness that is right before our eyes. We are so busy staring at stars like Jordan and Kobe, we disregard Tim Duncan, the beautiful and deeply rooted tree that reaches to the heavens like Jack’s bean stalk. We teach our children through our behavior, and our behavior has told them to try to be like Kobe and Jordan, a competitor that wants to win by any means necessary, no matter the cost. Is that really what we want for them though, to forgo kindness and understanding just to be successful? No, it is time to get back to our humble roots. Be like Duncan.

Enjoy retirement #21.

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