SQ #35--Talent and Character

Summer Quandaries #35
September 4--26 days to camp

Talent and Character

It is a real advantage to have a spouse who is not vehemently opposed to my addiction to sports blogging. Not only does it vastly reduce the negative aspects but on her occasional Sherman’s-march-to-the-sea forays through the local thrift stores she often returns with some basketball literature. Her latest offering is a book of quotes from coaches, players, pundits, and of course the inventor himself. I was struck by two things as I made my way through the many insights. First, how frequently the words could have just as strongly been generalized to life itself; and second, how frequently the quotes seemed in juxtaposition, at least at first.

The pair that seemed in most direct conflict had to do with talent and character. Now these words seem to come up in any conversation about All-Time greats but it seems to me that they might even be more germane to the discussion of borderline or failed players. The greats acknowledge the pivotal roles played by both talent and character but at least as interesting is the variation in which they are valued. The latest find by my wife was The Book of Basketball Wisdom which included the following quotes:
“Character takes you just so far. Then you’ve got to have talent.”--Karl Malone
“Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.”--John Wooden
“You have to have ability, but ability alone is not enough.”--John Thompson
“Trying to get by on talent is a fatal mistake.”--Pete Maravich

Maybe it doesn’t matter which comes first; the bottom line is that it takes both talent and character. The casual fan chortling over the ESPN highlights probably doesn’t give a passing thought about the thousands of hours, gallons of sweat, or countless times the athlete pushes past exhaustion to take another hundred shots, run another fifty dashes, or thrust those inhumane weights skyward well past the burn. There’s a reason, millions actually, that Ray Allen’s shot lifts effortlessly from his fingers to settle gently into the net after the long beautiful arc. His legendary solo sessions in the gym three hours before the bright lights come on and the cameras start rolling are just one example of the steel will, determination, and sacrifice that mark the habits of success that separate the good from the great.

That work ethic is only one facet of the character of a champion who realizes greatness if forged in the mundane servitude on the practice court. That mental component also includes the mental toughness to do it calmly and competently when all about you are in a rattled frenzy. The stalwart ability to play through the pain of injury or exhaustion. The will to impose your action upon opponents determined to reverse the tide. To thrust aside all else to focus in the moment. The ability to set aside a thousand failures to insure this latest effort does not become another. To have consummate confidence and yet to recognize an off night and suborn your ego to become the penultimate complementary piece enabling greatness in teammates to thrust your team to the finish.

We’ve all seen plenty of examples of supremely talented players who forever remain underachievers. The fact that so many with so much going for them fall so short should make us that much more appreciative of the real article.