From the Book Pile: The Life (Be Like Mike or Be Like You?)

Most people my age have grown up with Michael Jordan and for much of my adult life the jingle for Gatorade to “Be Like Mike” has been trapped in the recesses of my brain:

While he’s not locked in my consciousness like the stars of my childhood such as Oscar, Pistol Pete, and Havlichek, Jordan’s career was contemporary to my career in basketball.  But as his superstar career ended in a disturbing Hall of Fame induction speech, his gambling pursuits and marriage problems became more public, and his competitive drive pushed the extremes for most of us mere mortals, I rarely think about the most talented player to ever play the game. I’ve come to realize too, that I don’t need or want to be like Mike.  I want to be like me.


Roland Lazenby. Michael Jordan: The Life. New York. Little, Brown and Company, 2014.720 pp., $20.95

Veteran NBA beat writer Roland Lazenby is known for digging deep into the lives and backgrounds of the superstars of basketball.  While many books during Jordan’s career have come through the presses, Lazenby’s Michael Jordan: The Life  provides a look back at MJ’s transformative playing career and the impact it had on the NBA and our society as it exists today.  It’s the most comprehensive biography ever written and with the way that Jordan guards his private life, will most likely be the most informative biography we will have while he remains alive.  For fans of the game, especially those who enjoy revisiting past glories in the NBA, this book is a terrific read  (Lazenby’s discussion of Jordan’s relationships with Dean Smith, Jerry Krause, and his Bulls teammates are fascinating!) – but, if you’re not up for the 700 page challenge, you can get a taste in Pro Basketball Talks review and this interview with Lazenby will give you a good sense of the book’s content:

The LifeWhen we say “I want to be like Mike” most of us are referring to his super-competitive drive that propelled his career.  Lazenby gives us a glimpse at the forces that developed Jordan’s unique spirit from his family structure, the societal factors involved in his youth, and the effects of Dean Smith’s regimented system at North Carolina, but then also shows us how those experiences affected him as he entered the upper echelons of elite super-stardom that most of us can never comprehend . To me, it’s unfathomable and as I read about its effects, I may envy MJ’s drive, but I’m left with a sinking feeling that I wouldn’t want or need to walk in his shoes – OK, maybe just the Nike shoes I wear, but certainly not his actual shoes!

LIFE – Be You

I’m thrilled that my daughter is receiving prospective student mail from Baylor University – it’s been a dream that will probably remain a dream to have her attend, but they have a terrific pitch; “At BU You Can Be You!”  I can’t think of a better message for my kids or for any of my players to hear after having the message of being like Mike, or any other successful figure, repeatedly pounded into their brains.  We tend to get so focused on outcomes and what we do, that we neglect the process of development and we allow what we accomplish to define who we are.

Joshua MetcalfeJoshua Medcalf who is a tremendous resource for coaching athletes today with his website Train to Be Clutch, spoke with veteran coach Bendan Suhr on a recent CoachingULive Podcast about how so much of our coaching has been outcome-based.  We get so caught up in results, that we neglect training our players and ourselves to focus on mastering those things we can control.  Too often, when we just “try to be like Mike” we develop questionable behaviors and traits simply to attempt to reach that goal. And before we even realize, who we are has changed.

FAITH – Who You Are & Who You Will Be

I enjoyed The Life.  It was fascinating, but it also troubled me because I know I’ve been influenced in my life by the achievement-thinking culture. There’s nothing wrong with being competitive and making sacrifices to pursue passions, but focusing only on the results leads to a life of envy, bitterness, and regret.  It’s also contrary to what God says about you.  God loves you for who you are – His creation; His unconditionally loved creation.  You don’t need to be Mike, just be you.

As Christians we’re taught a different goal – Be Like Jesus; which, because of sin, is as impossible as it is to be like Mike.  The difference though, is not only does God love you for who you are, but He also covers your mistakes of the past and has a beautiful plan for who you will be.  So, even if you’re not qualified and even if you haven’t accomplished much, God can change that:.

The old King James Version of the Bible states it well:

Therefore if any man BE in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.                          (1 Corinthians 5:17)

So, who do you want to be?