Like most sports fans, I’ve watched the The Last Dance Documentary describing the prolific accomplishments of the Chicago Bulls Basketball team headed by the legendary player, Michael Jordan (MJ). It is quite riveting even if you aren’t a basketball fan, primarily for the life lessons about teamwork and winning imbedded in their journey. Throughout the series, we get a glimpse into the mindset of this incredible player, also known as Air Jordan, #23 or simply “The Goat”, and his competitive spirt and commitment to winning at all costs. His fundamental goal to win would drive him to push himself to the limits, mentally and physically, while embracing a tough leadership style that included trash talking and bulling those around him to rise to his level. I was a little surprised at the extent to which he used his power sometimes seemingly traumatizing the other players. The mere fact that he could back up his own performance made some of the tactics acceptable, to some degree, with the notion that in order to achieve greatness – – one has to “Just Do It” (as the famous Nike slogan suggests). This idea triggered me to wonder whether abuse is needed, as a motivating factor, for true greatness.
As a result, I had a debate with a tribe member and started to analyze a long list of high profile individuals who have been known to have had previous motivating or abusive encounters contributing to their success. For the record, motivating experiences can be inspiring and challenging while abuse can be defined as any action done against another that emotionally, mentally, physically or spiritually damages the individual leaving them permanently altered (sometimes for the worse). Countless young actors, actresses, musicians, singers, artists and ordinary people have had extraordinary careers with inspiring backstories involving family support, mentorship and even enduring industry abuse (sexual, mental or physical) while pursuing their dreams. It is almost unheard of to encounter anyone on this journey to greatness without them experiencing some form of drama or trauma. The long list of dreamers ranges from young children, women and men forced to make tough boundary decisions along the way. Criticizing their decisions feels judgmental especially since most of us understand that there are costs in any situation. What would we do if a similar opportunity was given to us? Even if rumors of “unfair or abusive treatment” are never confirmed, one can find some trace evidence of its existence by looking at the lives of these individuals and their personal demons and battles often engaging in destructive behavior (via alcohol abuse, drugs etc). Many young artists have also died much earlier than one would expect. We can all easily agree that to be personally motivated for success is a core requirement. Is abuse a necessary component for one’s eventual success as well? Also – – what about the the long term repercussions of such treatment? Let’s take a look at a few successful celebrities with publicly known troubled backstories.
The other MJ, Micheal Jackson, acknowledged before his death that his father, the late Joe Jackson, verbally and physically abused him and his brothers for years. The Jackson Five were undoubtedly talented, particularly MJ, but the father’s Svengali type demands of consistent practice and training helped transform these young kids from Gary, Indiana into a powerhouse group. Unfortunately, MJ, the most sensitive and talented of the brothers, suffered tremendous emotional abuse at the hands of his beloved father with verbal taunts and comments about his looks and appearance. My intuition says there may even be more to his story but the late great, Michael Jackson, went on to use his vast talent to become the most successful entertainer in the world. He also remained a little usual in terms of his shyness, insecurities, phobias and questionable interactions with young boys that would plague him until his untimely death.
In reviewing another legend, the great Tina Turner’s life story has been showcased in the the movie “What’s Love Got to Do With It” where we see this young, innocent, yet talented singer from Nutbush, Tennessee, get discovered by musician, Ike Turner. Ike, as a musical genius in his own right, is a task master for practicing constantly with the hopes of achieving the perfect style, vocals and image for Tina. Unfortunately, he would also resort to verbal and physical abuse sometimes to get the best raw performance from her. It was also done simply for power and control. Some have questioned whether Tina, with her God given talent, would have achieved her success without both Ike’s mentorship and even the physically abusive tactics forcing her to stretch her vocals and dance moves to a rhythmic frenzy.
I have personally experienced both motivating and abusive treatment in my personal life and professional career. The individuals who put me to the fire, often challenging, pushing, bullying or harassing, ultimately helped to shape and mold my foundation. I suffered at times but I also developed strength and courage. You never know who you really are – – trUe character – – unless you are tested by fire. It may break you if you do not have the drive, ambition, spiritual foundation or support system to rise another day. Even today, I can come close to the line of no return (temporarily broken seeking the strength to succeed). But if you survive these experiences – – having learned the lesson and proven your worthiness as a trUe, real life gladiator in the flesh – – the universe will seemingly reward you for the effort. Some individuals, however, are unfortunately destroyed by the pain and hardship leaving long lasting scars. Even if one becomes successful, the damage created is too much for them to live a normal life free from the remnants of the previous challenges or abuse. For the record, I have also found when the pendulum swings back, after a major challenge or abusive trial, those who harmed others have some “splainin” to do in the universal court of judgement. This courtroom is fair and just in its delivery of KARMA (rewards and punishment). So, be very, very careful in how you treat others. The universal courtroom is hard and black, no chaser. Ouch!
“A legendary leader does not have to be a legendary jerk.”Anonymous
So, is there a price for success (No Pain, No Gain)? Yes sir! Nothing is trUly appreciated and gained without hard work, energy and effort unless one wants to beat the system by cheating or taking a short cut to win. The six pack stomach is made by eating heathy and exercise. The straight A’s in school are accomplished with countless hours of listening, studying and participation. The wonderful marriage is made with lots of love, support and forgiveness. The trUly great athlete is blessed with raw talent but the success is cultivated and earned after spending countless hours practicing their craft (perfecting the art of the game). Yet, I also caution everyone to remember that there is a fine line between productive, enriching, motivating hard work versus abuse that can permanently damage someone. Many will survive the abusive tactics and achieve their dreams but some remain damaged in ways that distort the soul throughout their lives. Many also cannot rise above some personal choices, even if successful, often falling into despair with tragic endings.
Air Jordan, the goat, seemed addicted to his brutally raw, natural competitive instincts but his passion and commitment to winning is undeniable. He also helped to inspire and bring out the greatness in everyone around him. Perhaps this gives him a slight pass to some extent. If he had destroyed the lives of those he encountered, history would characterize his behavior more harshly than we do today. No one on the winning Chicago Bulls teams turned to drugs, alcohol, or some other self destructive behavior after being his teammate. Even Dennis Rodman didn’t change. He was already into partying being the wild, rebel child needing freedom to perform at his best. Although MJ did not necessarily agree with Rodman’s choices, he still respected him because his performance was on a level worthy of admiration.
As the myth of Michael Jordan is unveiled for the world to see, we finally get a glimpse of the man – – incredibly talented and distinctly flawed. MJ, who was once able to fly in the air as if he had wings on his shoes, is still a human being walking the same earth, learning lessons just like the rest of us. It should be acknowledged that his level of commitment and success probably triggered some envy or jealousy from others as well. These folks – – call them haters – – may not be as talented in the same way (gifts are quite different from person to person) but they are always willing to criticize your tactics and decisions, on the sidelines, out of spite. The only difference between the hater and Michael Jordan is the fact that he pursued his dream, with everything in his soul, and got the opportunity to fulfill his destiny to become one of the greatest sports figures of all time. Perhaps this same journey awaits for you, me and even for the haters with our unique destiny assignments and challenges designed specifically for us to make the ultimate decision to just “Be Like Mike.”