Words of Wisdom from the 2-time MVP

On this past Wednesday night, April 26, the number one seeded Milwaukee Bucks lost to the eighth seeded Miami Heat in the NBA Playoffs by a score of 128-126. The Bucks, led by superstar MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo had the best record in the NBA, and were a team that many predicted would win the Championship.

After the game, a reporter from The Athletic Eric Nehm asked Giannis if he deemed this season a failure. Here was Giannis’ passionate response:

“You asked me the same question last year, Eric. OK. Do you get a promotion every year? On your job? No, right? So every year you work is a failure–yes or no? Every year you work, you work toward something. Toward a goal, right? Which is to get a promotion, to be able to take care of your family, to be able to, I don’t know, um, provide the house for them or take care of your parents. You work toward a goal. It’s not a failure. It’s steps to success.

“Michael Jordan played 15 years. Won six championships. The other nine years was a failure? That’s what you’re telling me. No, I’m asking a question, yes or no?

“Exactly. So why did you ask me that question? It’s a wrong question. There’s no failure in sports. You know, there are good days, bad days, some days you are able to be successful. Some days you’re not. Some days it’s your turn, some days it’s not your turn. And that’s what sports is about. You don’t always win. Some other people [are] going to win. And this year, somebody else is going to win. Simple as that. We’re going to come back next year, try to be better, try to build good habits, try to play better. Not have a 10-day stretch with playing bad basketball. You know, and hopefully we can win a championship. 

“So, 50 years from 1971 to 2021 that we didn’t win the championship–it was 50 years of failure? No, it was not. It was steps to it, you know? And we were able to win one. Hopefully, we can win another one.”

When I first heard this, the die-hard sports fan within me cringed– as I have said repeatedly for my Denver Nuggets that anything less than a Championship victory would be a failure for this season.

But upon further reflection, I realized that both in sports, and in life, Giannis is one hundred percent correct.

I recently saw an article published in 1999 by Malcolm Gladwell in the NewYorker called The Physical Genius. In it, he describes how a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania name Charles Book conducted a set of interviews with young doctors who had resigned or been fired from neurosurgery training programs. He sought to figure out what set apart the top neurosurgeons who achieved the best surgery outcomes from everybody else. He discovered that more than their scores, where they went to school etc… the top predictor was how they handled their mistakes. He found that the top neurosurgeons were fully dedicated to understand what they did wrong, and they would analyze everything– while others would have often make excuses. He said:

In my interviewing, I began to develop what I thought was an indicator of whether someone was going to be a good surgeon or not. It was a couple of simple questions: Have you ever made a mistake? And, if so, what was your worst mistake? The people who said, ‘Gee, I haven’t really had one,’ or, ‘I’ve had a couple of bad outcomes but they were due to things outside my control’—invariably those were the worst candidates. And the residents who said, ‘I make mistakes all the time. There was this horrible thing that happened just yesterday and here’s what it was.’ They were the best.

Life is filled with ups and downs. Sometimes we achieve our goals and get exactly what we want. We get into the schools we want, we get the jobs we want, we get the promotions we seeks, marry the spouses we want and are blessed with unending happiness in this world.

But for most people, life does not work out this way. Sometimes people have a terrible experience in their first job. Sometimes they have very rocky relationship, that are by no stretch easy. Sometimes they make horrible gaffes on the job.

Are all of these things failures? Or are they setbacks, that we learn and grow from? When we experience disappointments do we cower down and feel bad for ourselves? Or do we utilize those experiences as the impetuses they are for growth?

That choice is our alone.


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