25 October 2007
Greatness, whether you're a fan or not . .
One of the things I've said a lot recently is that when you have an opportunity to witness greatness, you should stop and take it in. Whether you're a fan of sports or not, there's something awe inspiring about watching an athlete who's just head-and-shoulders better than all of their competition. I have used this speech at work in the past, when some extra motivation was required to get my team really fired up. To watch an athlete who has combined a God-given ability with an extraordinary work ethic to make him or herself a dominant figure in a sport is remarkable. It's the pinnacle of achievement and perseverance. In my lifetime I can think of six athletes that were (or are) completely untouchable, some of whom I can appreciate right now and others I wish I had stopped to marvel at when they were playing. The guys from the past who in my memory stand out are Nolan Ryan, who still holds the record for the most no-hitters in baseball history; Joe Montana, who re-invented the quarterback position; and Michael Jordan, who is the most complete and dominant player in NBA history. I look back on my fleeting memories of those three players and wish I had learned earlier to appreciate greatness.
While those three played in what I would consider mainstream sports, two of the three playing right now are dominating largely niche sports. But their greatness takes events that the majority would otherwise ignore and thrusts them into the spotlight. That's called transcendence, and it's what turns above-average into great. Roger Federer is poised to be the most dominant player in the history of professional tennis, a sport that a grand total of zero non-tennis enthusiasts pay attention to. But I'm telling you, watch him play once and you too will be awestruck. Tiger Woods, the most dominant and intimidating golfer ever to walk a fairway, not only shone the world spotlight on the game of golf, but he did it as a minority. That's what great does . . it walks in, takes all your best shots, beats all your odds, and then punches you in the mouth and leaves you cowering in a corner.
The player that precipitated this post had his A-game on display last night, and while I only stayed awake for about a third of it, I was able to fall asleep completely confident that I'd read about his dominating results this morning. Josh Beckett, the Red Sox staff ace, has become one of the best post-season pitchers ever. He took on a Colorado Rockies team last night that hadn't lost a baseball game in over 3 weeks and completely dismantled them. You could see the dominance in his smirk as he stood on the mound, impervious to the rain and the pressure of the World Series. The look on his face said simply "We're going to do this my way, and there's nothing you can say or do to change that." It was exhilarating to watch, and I can only hope to have one more chance to see him pitch before the series ends. If it happens, it'll be Monday night, and I strongly encourage you to watch a few innings of the game. I'll bet it makes you, like it does me, want to improve yourself and inch closer to greatness in your life.