As much as I am devoted to seeing social changes taking place in my beloved Haiti, I have to admit that I am a passionate sports fan. Soccer being in the blood of most Haitians, living in America, many of us has come to be passionate about other American sports such as basketball, baseball, football to cite just a few.
The summer in America is known as baseball’s season, but just before the American pastime can get a hold of the entire sports networks, the end of spring is really the best time for basketball fans.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs have just come to end, as the Los Angeles Lakers claimed their 15th championships lagging behind only the Boston Celtics for the most trophies in US Basketball top league.
The point of this article is not to write about the history of the NBA, but to try to understand why Americans look into their sports’ superstars for role models and leadership, and what we, immigrants, can learn from the sports culture in America.
I am not old enough to have watched the likes of Bill Russel and Wilt Chamberlain played, and definitely wasn’t lucky enough growing up in Haiti to have witnessed the greatness of the Magic-Bird rivalry. Although, Diego Maradona was truly my first encounter with a phenomenal athlete, whom every kid wanted to emulate, as a member of generation X, I grew up with Michael Jordan as an iconic figure in the world of sports.
I remember when I was growing up in Haiti, after watching the Italian soccer league on TV every Sunday, all of us in the neighborhood would put on our soccer outfits and try to do our best impression of what we have just witnessed on the TV set. Sports in fact have always played a crucial role in our society.
Many of us are crazy sports fans. We are so consumed by the game that at times we think we are a part of the team we root for. I used to cry when my team would lose. I would never accept anyone to say anything negative about my favorite players.
The point to the matter is why do we embrace some athletes unconditionally, and have a hard time accepting others no matter what they do. Michael Jordan could have done no wrong in most people’s eyes. Besides his great talent as a player, he also seemed to have a great charisma. Michael was hard to hate, even if you weren’t his fan.
Now let’s analyze why Kobe Bryant always have to prove something regardless of what he does. After twelve seasons, three championships and five trips to the NBA finals, this guy’s greatness was still up in the air.
With no fault of his own, when he entered the NBA in 1996 he joined a team that has just acquired Shaquille O’neal in his prime. At that point O’neal was clearly the best player and leader of that team. Together they failed to win anything until 2000, and were separated after a lost in the finals against the Detroit Pistons in 2004.
Kobe was entering a new journey. He was looking for his place among the greatest basketball players of all time, and he knew in order to even be considered as one of the greatest he had to be the leader of a championship team. The challenge was clear, and Kobe never shied away from it.
Through it all, Kobe endured a rape lawsuit in Colorado in 2004, a constant media blasphemy on how he is too egotistical as a player, an incompetent leader, unable to make his teammates better, and on and on the negative stories ran. Kobe never faltered on his mission, for he always kept his eyes on the prize. All he needed was one championship without Shaquille O’neal, and all the negative publicity would go away.
As Kobe Bryant reached the pinnacle of his profession, if there’s anything that we could learn from his journey is that we should never ran away from a challenge, and we must never shy away from challenging ourselves.
A sport is just a game, but it presents us with actual examples of how we can succeed in society. Most sports fans want to see their team win, and win at no cost. We cheered on our favorite athletes to succeed because in them we saw what we could have done if we had their talents.
What is evident with many great athletes is that they will not be liked by everyone. As much as they try to play their sport to please as many people as possible, at the end of the game, they know they could only play to satisfy their fans, and people who love great competitors.
We follow sports because we can see how great players can take something very basic like shooting a basketball, kick a soccer ball, throw a baseball or even swing at a golf ball and do magical stuff that only the top athletes can do. They turn the ordinary into extraordinary.
There isn’t much difference in being a great leader of a sport’s team with a great leader of a nation. The great athlete understands that great leadership is not about pleasing everyone, and most importantly it is not about being always right, but rather to always try to take the basics to an extra level, and to accept the blame when they are wrong without losing confidence in trying again the next time.
In sports, we can see the whole spectrum of what makes human society so great. It takes great determination, hard work, confidence, talent and trust in order to win in sport. Those are the same ingredients needed in building a great society.