If your day job is putting a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey on with your name on the back of it, you’ve got a pretty tough gig—especially if that name reads “James.”
Even if you’re not a basketball fan, you probably have caught the story line of this year’s NBA Finals: it wasn’t just the Cleveland Cavaliers vs. the Golden State Warriors; it was Lebron James vs. whichever five players were playing for the other team.
Now, that’s an unfair assessment. The Cavs wouldn’t have been in the Finals if the other four guys on the team were terrible. Lebron James wasn’t on a “bad” team—but he was certainly the best player on an inferior team.
The series ended last week when the Warriors beat the Cavs in four straight wins, bringing the season to a swift and rather unexpected finish. However, until the very end, Lebron’s goal stayed the same:
Some of us find ourselves in similar roles. We’re in churches, or we’re on teams that are just tough. We’ve got a vision. We’ve got the drive. We know what’s possible. And we’re working hard to achieve it for all the right reasons. But when we look around, we see the challenges stacking up in front of us. We don’t have the resources, we don’t have the culture, we don’t have the talent… we don’t have what other “winning” churches seem to have.
Although we might never say it out loud, on the inside we’re wrestling with this reality:
We might see ourselves as the best player on an “inferior” team. The others aren’t bad people. They might be doing their best. But, they aren’t exactly an NBA Finals winning group of people either. And in the end, you’re carrying a burden similar to Lebron’s. Outside of God and His power, you know that the success of the team weighs heaviest on… you.
So, here’s some things that we can learn from Lebron, how he conducted himself, and how he got his team to the Finals.
Perform at Your Absolute Best
Lebron knew his city was depending on him. He knew his teammates were depending on him. He knew that his best was the only shot his team had at success. So, rather than looking at the long odds against him as an excuse for giving less than his best effort (“because what does it matter? We’re probably going to lose anyways”), he accepted the challenge of performing at his absolute best. It’s the only chance they had at winning. And Lebron wanted his team to win.
If you are carrying more than just your own fair share of the responsibility for the team’s success, the temptation for you is to justify not putting in your best effort. After all, your average is very possibly still better than the next guy’s best.
But that doesn’t matter—at least, it doesn’t matter if what you want most is your team to succeed. Then, the only thing that really matters is whether or not you’re performing at your best.
Accept the unfair odds, and do your best anyways. By doing so, you will honor both God and your team because you will give your team the best chance they have to succeed.Accept the unfair odds, and do your best anyways. By doing so, you will honor both God and your team because you will give your team the best chance they have to win. Click To Tweet
Don’t (Ever) Throw your Teammates Under the Bus
If you haven’t seen the clip from how Game 1 of the Finals ended, let me recap it for you: one of Lebron’s teammates rebounded a missed free throw underneath Golden State’s basket, with 4.6 seconds left, with no one around him, with the score tied, and…
Dribbled it out.
The buzzer sounded. The game went into overtime. And then the Cavaliers lost the game—and eventually the entire series.
Lebron took the podium at the post-game conference. He was asked repeatedly about that play, what he thought of his teammate, what his teammate was thinking, what he thought about it, etc. And after answering the same questions 32 different ways, he got up and walked out—without passing blame to anyone else.
The truth was obvious. His teammate screwed up. Royally. We’re talking a season’s worth of work lost somewhat because of an absent-minded mistake at the least excusable time. How many of us in Lebron’s shoes—and in the name of truth and fairness—would have lit our teammate up? Maybe to his or her face? Maybe to anyone else who would listen?
But he didn’t. We can’t either if we’re the strongest player on the team. The past is the past. What happened last weekend can’t be changed. You can only learn from it and move forward. The next weekend provides another opportunity—for you to succeed and for your team to succeed. Throwing your teammates under the bus might make you feel better today, but it will only add to the burden your team has to carry tomorrow.
Accept “Unfair” Expectations
The camera would occasionally pan over to Lebron while he rested on the bench (which was almost never), or when the Warriors hit another 3-pointer (which was almost always), or when he hit a wide open teammate who promptly missed a wide open shot (which was more often than not). The expression on Lebron’s face was one of bewilderment at times. His nonverbals seemed to scream, “What else can I possibly be expected to do?”The question we have to ask ourselves is this: will I push myself and my team to higher expectations, or will I push everyone else to lower their expectations for us? Click To Tweet
Well, as it turns out, plenty. And plenty is what Lebron chose to do until the very end. He communicated with his teammates, he hit 3-pointers and he continued to find the open man. He did all of these things that kept his team in it, that kept the other team aware of his presence, and that kept the outcome from being absolutely hopeless.
And we can do the same. It’s not about whether or not the expectations are fair; they are what they are. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: will I push myself and my team to higher expectations, or will I push everyone else to lower their expectations for us?
Know Your Role
There is one major difference between our role on our team and Lebron’s on his:
In reality, we’re not the best player on our team, nor are we our team’s only and best hope.
Success isn’t ultimately summoned from deep inside ourselves. We’re not the hero in our church’s story, the Savior for our city, or the only hope our team has of winning. That role was filled when the stone was rolled away. So, let’s not slap the name “Messiah, Jr.” on the back of our jerseys. Know your (secondary) role.
Nevertheless: accept the challenges of the place and team in which God has planted you—even if you do happen to be the best player on your team.