The 1998 NBA Finals ended with an iconic moment. With the Jazz up by one point in Game 6 and the game on the line, the Chicago Bulls regained possession and handed the ball to Michael Jordan. Seconds remained on the clock, as Jordan squared up his defender. He then drove to the hoop, stepped back, and shook off the defense before clinching the Bulls’ third consecutive NBA title with a jump-shot that was in as soon as it left his fingers.
Michael Jordan was a prolific scorer throughout his career, but he is best known for his ability to show up when everything was at stake. Even more impressive was his ability to make the shots, not only when it mattered most, but when every person in the building knew he would be the one taking it. In one word, Jordan was clutch.
As a boy, whether on my driveway or in a gym, I often pretended that I was taking the shot to win the game with the clock winding down. I would imagine being ‘the guy’, overcoming whatever pressure was coming to rise to the occasion and come through when it mattered most. I suspect this same scenario plays out on other driveways, fields, courts, and rinks everywhere.
John Eldredge discusses the question that is written on the heart of every man: Do I have what it takes? Boyhood fantasies of coming up big to win the game is one way that question is revealed to us. Yes, we probably desire the glory that goes along with making the big shot. But more than that we want to believe that when everything is on the line, we will answer the call. That when it matters most, we will come up clutch too.
I recently had the privilege of participating in a discussion with a group of men I respect and admire on the state of men’s hearts in the present time. It was a very interesting conversation, and as we searched for analogies to describe some of the points the guys were raising, the discussion shifted to sports – Michael Jordan showing up in the biggest moments. While some men are struggling and some have stopped engaging, there remains in us a desire to show up and make a difference.
In our lives, most of us will not get the opportunity to try and make a jump shot to win a professional basketball game. That said, there will be other chances for us to come through when it matters most.
As the pandemic has dragged on through its second year, it has felt like life has been temporarily suspended. There is a deep longing in the culture for a return to ‘normal’. Many of us in search of the ‘big moment’ are waiting for life to pick up again to arrive at that moment.
While I was on the call, one of the men extended the basketball analogy in a way that struck the rest of us in a profound way. He observed that many men are living right now as if it is halftime or intermission. We are waiting for the game to start again. But what if this moment is the game? What if by wishing for the return of a memory, we are missing the fact that the ball is in our hands and now is the moment to act?
As he shared this observation, I thought about an interaction that I had with my wife a few weeks earlier. After a particularly long day, one that involved much conversation on current events and left me drained, I arrived home. Katie started talking to me about some of the things in the news that day, hoping to process her thoughts with me. I had no appetite for this and basically said “I can’t talk about this anymore – I’m done for the day.”
When she followed up by asking me who else she should talk to about the things she had been waiting to talk to me about, I realized that I had dropped the ball.
Where I am in my life, these moments with my wife and my kids, these are my ‘game winning shot’ moments. They are not dramatic or seen by a crowd, but they matter. What is going on in our world and culture is distracting and draining, and yes, I too long for a reprieve, but this is not a time to quit or check out. It is not a pause when we wait for life to resume. Life is happening all around us and we must be ready to take the shot when the moment arrives.
In It to Win
At the end of a game, fatigue sets in and mistakes happen. Mental focus to overcome weariness and heart to fight through pain are what set champions apart. It is not a coincidence that Michael Jordan’s name is synonymous with winning. But the game winning moments were not born out of thing air. Endless hours practicing helped, but Jordan also missed many shots throughout his career. He is quoted as saying, “Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
It is important to know that one missed shot does not define us. It is not an excuse to give up or fold when the going gets tough. As we face adversity, particularly in the time of history that we find ourselves in, we will stumble. What is important is not the failure, but what we learn from it.
Going back to my earlier example, I realize now that I cannot tap out when my wife and kids are relying on me. This does not mean running myself on empty to the point of breaking. What it does mean is recognizing the role I have in the life of my family. I strive to prepare myself to be the best husband and father I can be when those moments arrive. Through daily prayer rooting myself in God, exercise, rest, and relying on the friendship of others, I can keep myself fresh and ready to go when called upon.
Scripture supports this. In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul says: “Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.” We are called to run the race in our lives. Recognizing that the present time represents a tough section of the race, we must fight on.
Many wish to sit out and wait for the game to start again. Those of us who realize that life has not stopped and that there are opportunities to come through every day will find those chances. Each time we face a challenge, regardless of the outcome, we learn more about what it takes to win.
When the biggest moment comes, we all desire to come through – to show we have what it takes. We can only do this if we stay engaged. When our hearts are engaged in the battle, only then are we ready to meet the moment.
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