Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Pursuit of Excellence

My son has to write a paper in college English using example in his composition. Here my example.

Larry Bird joined the NBA Boston Celtics in 1979. Before Larry Bird's arrival, Boston finished a bottom of the cellar 29 and 53. The following year, in which Larry Bird won Rookie of the Year, Boston went 61 and 21, the league's best team season record. Early proof that to Larry Bird, winning mattered.

During Bird's 12 year career with Boston, they won three national championships in 1981, 1984, and 1986. As a player, Bird won the Most Valuable Player award three times, the Finals Most Valuable Player Award twice, appeared in 12 NBA All Star games, voted 9 times to the NBA First Team, and the list goes on and on.

Larry Bird epitomizes the pursuit of excellence. His choice of words would be "drive", a word which summarizes his autobiography, Drive, the Story of My Life. Once long ago, I recall watching a television interview with Bird after his retirement. The interviewer, whose name I don't recall, asked Larry what he would have done if he had not played basketball. Larry responded by saying that he would have been the best darned sanitation engineer in French Lick's history. Off camera, Larry would have said "best damned sanitation engineer".

Larry Bird's rise to the top in basketball is a bit of an improbable story. First, he grew up in a dirt poor family in the small Indiana communities of French Lick and West Baden, Indiana. Larry recalls being so poor, that the rent often went unpaid. If the kids need shoes, his mother took the rent money and bought the shoes and then dealt with the bankers. Larry's father, a Korean War Veteran struggled with life after his return to Indiana. Alcoholism and financial problems together with a divorce caused him to commit suicide in 1975, Larry's freshman year at college.Confused by the size of the Indiana campus, Bird dropped out. For a year he  worked for the Sanitation Department in French Lick picking up garbage, repairing roads, removing snow in the winter, mowing lawns in the summer.

You have to ask yourself, what turns a poor white kid from French Lick, Indiana into one of the NBA's greatest players? One factor was certainly his dedication to practice. Even in high school Larry Bird would often go to the gym early, shoot between classes, and stay late into the evening. He quit both football and baseball to focus on basketball. Likewise in the NBA, he was one who was known to relentlessly, hour after hour, practice his jump shot. Practice makes perfect so the saying goes,  but practice, practice, practice is not enough.

Success in life is more than  practice. It is also having a proper attitude. Attitude is something hard to define, but, that said, we know that it is a belief in success. Attitude is the recognition that you control your own destiny. Attitude is the predominant factor in determining both success in life and happiness. Attitude is a will to win. Larry Bird used the word "drive" in describing his attitude to life. It was the confidence to take shots and make defensive plays that resulted in wins. As an example, in only his second season in the NBA, Bird led the Celtics into the playoffs. They faced off for a second consecutive year Julius Erving's Philadelphia 76ers. Bird helped the Celtics overcome a 3–1 deficit by winning the last 3 games by 2, 2, and 1 point margins, propelling them into the NBA Finals, where they defeated the Houston Rockets in six games. Throughout his career, Bird was known for clutch game winning shots and clutch defensive plays that turned games around.

Attitude is hard to define. It is a confidence in one's own abilities that allows of only one result - winning. Where a winning attitude comes from is equally hard to discover. In Larry Bird's case, his mother's hardscrabble approach to caring for her brood obviously impacted Larry's take on all comers attitude. And there were coaches along the way that encouraged Larry. But it has to be something within that makes the difference. The pursuit of excellence is something the individual has to adopt and hold out as a personal mantra. This Larry Bird did.

Excellence is something that can't be compromised. It allows of only one result and that is winning. All other options result in failure. But importantly, one has to accept the notion that in striving for excellence failures will happen. In Larry Bird's life these were many: his family's poverty, his father's death, his first year at college, all of these obstacles were mere bumps on the road to winning. Moreover, it is obviously a fact that Bird didn't make every shot and the Celtics didn't win every game. The pursuit of excellence admits to failures, but recognizes that it is only though failure that success is achieved. In another field, Thomas Edison once remarked that he failed to make a light bulb work ten thousand times, learning each time what didn't work. And, eventually, what did.

Larry Bird is great example for anyone. Find something you are good at and be the best, whether it is as a basketball player or a sanitation engineer. Strive to get better, work at it, make every failure a life lesson, and enjoy the journey.

1 comment:

  1. you burried your thesis, your main point. this article should have begun with a phrase you reserved for the third paragraph, "larry bird epitomizes the pursuit of excellence." start with a grand general idea and then use your examples to illustrate why you are right.