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Vignette 36/52. Michael Jordan.

“I can’t accept not trying.” – Michael Jordan

In 1994, Chris called me on the phone for the first time. After some initial awkward small talk, we talked for 3 1/2 hours. What finally broke the ice, and what sustained this conversation, was our love of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

Putting aside his personal flaws which all great achievers and innovators have, I was in awe of his athletic ability, his dedication to practice, his need for challenge, and most of all, his mental discipline.

Our oldest daughter’s middle name is Jordan.

I can’t accept not trying became one of our family mottoes.

When the Netflix series came out, The Last Dance, we were stuck at home wondering how we would be able to download it so we could watch it on the bigger screen. We can only download Netflix to our devices. Chris was fortunate enough to work with an NBA player who was able to connect us with some links to the episodes.

As a family, we watched them as a weekly treat. We savoured each episode. As we sat together to watch the doc, Chris and I explained to the kids why we cared about it so much, why sports matter, and why greatness matters.

Not everyone understands sports and competition. They see the surface. The big money for entertaining the masses. The aggression. The questionable benefit to civilization. No war that is being fought. There is no winning at the expense of millions of lives.

But I remember when the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series in 1994 and in 1995. I remember the collective joy of a whole city and feeling that energy. I remember high-fiving strangers and hugging random people. It’s a beautiful feeling to connect with normal people who have jobs and families and who suffer and who laugh just like me. For that moment, we were all connected.

When I watch Michael Jordan, I am inspired to push my mental edge. We watch the work ethic and the physical and emotional toll of achieving difficult goals, goals that no one else has achieved while millions watch.

Many philosophical questions arise around the dinner table:
When is it enough?
Are some people hard-wired to never be satisfied without challenges?
Why are people complacent and others driven?
How do you cultivate a work ethic and a disciplined mind?
Can we accept not trying? What is the cost?

Chris and I watch with nostalgia because of the basketball highlights we relive through the documentary and because we relive our own highlights in our early years. We watched games on TV, talked statistics, and finally watched him play live against the Raptors – we were the only ones in Bulls jerseys. Today we still go to sleep listening to a podcast on basketball. It is part of our own identity as a couple.

The kids watch intensely at this man who is neither a hero or a villain. He is human with human frailties and weaknesses. They see the cost of this type of journey. We often don’t talk about these costs – the isolation, the solitary choice, and the loneliness. The cost of being the best and the cost of trying to stay that way.

There is a flip side to everything, good and bad, but we won’t know unless we try.

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