“People wanted to see us play against one another. … If you like competition you want to play against the best, and that’s what we wanted to do.” –Larry Bird
The Best. If you have even an ounce of a competitive fiber in your body, you don’t want to engage in a game or an endeavor and just be a player. You want to be the best. Doesn’t matter if it is a sport, a job or a hobby, you work hard to make yourself better each day so that you can get one step closer to being the best. But the Best isn’t a solo journey. Like me, you might be your toughest critic, but your journey to being the “best” can’t be single seater. The “best” inherently involves a comparison between two or more people or performances (or statistics). If you were the only person that had completed a task or achieved a milestone, how could you ever know that you’re the best?
You have to compare yourself to someone else. No, it’s more than that. You have to compete with someone else to be the best. It’s the only way to provide evidence to yourself, to your competitor, to everyone else that you are in fact the best. And, especially in sports, it is the absolute moment of truth where you put your abilities to the ultimate test: against someone or something else. The feedback is immediate and is definitely not sugar-coated, convoluted or unclear. It tells you exactly who you are, where you stack up and confirms whether or not you have become…The Best.
However, it is this comparison, this competition where I find that people often get stuck in their pursuit of The Best. They engage in competition regularly to continually gather feedback on their abilities and skills so that they can more effectively train, practice and get better between competitions. They bring the same intensity to each competition and each training session. They even choose different people or statistics for each competition so that they can diversify the measurement. They feel like they’re getting closer to being the Best, but they’re still far away. Why? Well, because it isn’t just the intensity or frequency of competition, it is who you compete against. It is the quality of competition. If you want to be the Best, you have got to compete against the Best. And that’s no walk in the park. In fact, those competitions probably end with you coming up short more often than not. But those “losses” provide the most valuable of lessons and guidance in how to not only get better, but how to make yourself the best. Thus, as a competitor and a pursuer of “the Best,” you cannot shy away from competing against the Best. In fact, the greatest of athletes and of people in general are those that not only embrace the competition against the Best, they want it. They crave it. They even fear not doing it. Just like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. They used their competitive relationship to help drive each other to always be on top of their game, to always be fighting to be the Best. And along the way, they just so happened to accomplish great things. Things like 8 NBA Championships, 6 MVPs and 24 All-Star games combined. They both wanted to be the Best and they knew they had to beat each other to get there. Not just once, every day, every game and every season. And you know what? I’d say they just so happened to be two of the Best basketball players to ever play the game.
But how might that apply to regular, non-professional athletes like you and me? Well, I think it’s being able to recognize and respect those around you that don’t just bring the best in you, but actually challenge you to be the Best you. Case in point is my wife and her incredible running ability. Each time we set out for a run together, we’re engaged in a competition (even if it we both put on the façade of “casual”). And I am without a doubt competing against the best. The best runner I know. She starts off at a brisk pace that immediately puts me outside my comfort zone. She pushes the pace further as we climb hills. She takes the “long way” to increase the distance that we run. Heck, I swear she only gets faster the farther we run. All of that only makes me better. It pushes me to the limit as I try to be the Best runner I can possibly be. I could choose run with other people who I know are slower or even just closer to my pace or just run by myself. But I choose to run with my wife because (besides the obvious reasons) she is the Best. She pushes and challenges me to be my Best.
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