French revolutionist and Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, once said, “Greatness be nothing, unless it be lasting.”
Typically when we think of greatness in sports, our minds race into three phases of thoughts. The first which jump out are a potpourri of names, the Who’s-Who of legendary enshrinement: Jordan, Ali, Ruth, Gehrig, Tiger, Magic, Nicholas, Montana, Elway, Kareem, Mays, ect.
The second are teams: The ’85 Bears, ’27 Yankees, ’95 Bulls, the original Dream Team and the 1980 U.S. hockey team; to name a few.
And the final collection of brain waves, point one towards memorable moments in time: The Miracle on Ice, the Thrilla in Manila, Wilt’s 100, a 46-year-old Nicholas winning the 1986 Masters, the Shot Heard Round the World, Ripken’s consecutive games streak, Phelp’s eight golds and many others.
All of those remain legendary to this day, but do they encompass greatness?
As historical figures and events, they certainly will pass the tests of time – at least until the next LeBron, Brady, Manning, Pujols or Federer comes along. We have all heard the credo: records are made to be broken, but as much as we obsess over numbers these days, stats are just arbitrary measuring tools and ultimately meaningless.
So if greatness can’t be found in players, teams or timeless classics, where can it?
When you stand alone in the dark, peer into a mirror and reflect on the term; what do you see?
I see Little League ballparks. That is, if they can even be labeled as such, due to un-manicured fields. Fields not located in Williamsport, PA. There are coaches in coveralls, arms still drenched with sawdust and sweat from their day jobs. Parents are in the stands, but not the kind who incisively berate the 13-year-old umpire with braces. They are the supportive types, armed with coolers full of juice boxes and orange slices.
There is a grandpa, cell phone in hand, favorite pizza place dialed, ordering three large supremes and one small extra cheese, in preparation for the weekly neighborhood Monday Night Football party. He recently started letting his nine-year-old grandson begin tagging along. This week features San Francisco and Dallas. There will be decades of history to be taught. The kid eats that kind of stuff up.
Someplace, somewhere, a single mother and her eighth grade daughter drive to school in silence. It is 4:43 AM and they are headed to the girl’s middle school gym for conditioning drills. Apparently, varsity basketball doesn’t sleep. As opposed to the daughter, who is passed out in the passenger seat, drooling on the window. Her mom doesn’t have the luxury.
Look again… deeper…
Do you see the slightly pudgy, curly haired red head with freckles? He’s putting an extra sweat sock in the palm of his mitt. One just wasn’t enough padding for all of your fastballs. He adjusts his thin-rimmed glasses, pounds his glove and squats down on his front lawn once more, ready to act as your personal catcher yet again. Oh, he likes baseball, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that he’d just as soon ride bikes, or play roller hockey. It’s not that he’s a bad baseball player, he catches just fine, but he knows that of the two of you, you will be the one playing in high school, and probably college and maybe even beyond. He catches because he’s your friend. And you need a catcher. How else will you fine-tune your two-seamer?
Look again… one last time…
It’s the quiet girl. The one who you don’t know very well. She seems athletic enough, but never goes out for any sports. But you know why. It’s because instead of working on her own game, she spends her afternoons with her little brother, who has multiple scleroses. He uses a wheelchair, but that doesn’t stop his big sister from spending time each afternoon tossing him a Nerf football. She doesn’t view it as sacrifice, but rather, opportunity.
Greatness isn’t found in professional sports and it sure isn’t found in endorsements or world records. It is the example of kindness, sacrifice and love those before us have set, so we may have the opportunity to be great ourselves.
Greatness is everlasting.
Looks like Napoleon was onto something.