One day a pair of all-time greats had a conversation on the basketball court.
Shaquille O’Neal: “There’s no ‘I’ in team.”
Kobe Bryant: “Yeah, but there’s a ‘ME’ in it.”
Kobe wanted the ball at all times. He wanted to be the person to take the shot no matter if it went in or went wide. He knew he was the best and he wanted you to know it as well. Shut up and pass me the ball.
That demeanor endeared him to fans but also contributed to the breakup of the band. The Lakers sent Shaq to Miami so that Kobe no longer had to share Hollywood’s crown.
The team broke around their larger than life personalities like water around rocks.
As always, pride came before the fall. Now it can be argued that Kobe went on to great things after the split. And Shaq put together a few more decent seasons as well. But what they did separately was nothing compared to what they did together.
Kobe thought he was bigger than the team. And the people in charge agreed. Showtime version 2.0 ended because of a toxic dressing room and an owner who gave the player all the power.
The story of the Lakers is one that is told countless times every day across the world. From sports to boardrooms to sales bullpens and on and on. Producers get more leeway from their bosses because of the money they bring in.
But what happens when the leeway starts to be a detriment to the entire culture?
Instead of the Lakers story, I like to think of what’s happening right now a few thousand miles away in England. Christiano Ronaldo is arguably one of the greatest athletes of all-time. He’s won every trophy he’s competed for and is a millionaire hundreds of times over. He is an icon. To some, he is bigger than the sport.
And therein lies the problem. Christiano plays for Manchester United and the Red Devils have suffered greatly since his signing. He refuses to adapt. He refuses to be coached. The owners have given him leeway and he has become cancerous in the dressing room. All of this is rumor of course. Locker room sources. Whispers. The internet in action.
Two coaches have been shown the door as they broke against him, and the rumors all point to the same thing – Ronaldo, and his faction in the locker room, is killing the team.
But finally a light bulb went off in the mind of the man who signs the checks. A new coach came in this year and he’s put Ronaldo on the bench as well as other perceived troublemakers.
The result? Energy from younger players that hasn’t been seen in years. And smiles. And wins. United isn’t championship level yet. Far from it. But one thing is clear – they are United.
Pride is the worst sin any of us can commit. And even if you don’t believe in the concept of sin in the traditional sense, I can scarcely believe any of us could ever ask ourselves what our greatest mistakes were and not trace the root of them back to our vanity.
Pride wrecks. Pride destroys. Pride breaks apart good things and leaves bitterness in their place. I have been prideful. I have thought I was bigger than “the team” numerous times throughout my life. Sometimes it worked out. Many times it was encouraged just like it was with Ronaldo and Kobe. Our society teaches this behavior. It glorifies it in our songs, our movies, our way of life. The person with the most is the winner, and we must win at all costs. Vince Lombardi and coach speak and be competitive and don’t take no for an answer. Keeping up with the Joneses. Toxic Masculinity and Toxic Femininity. The American Dream. Shut up and be an Alpha. Shut up and be a Chad, as the young people say these days.
What’s not romanticized is when the “I in team” mentality” fractures what was already a good thing and everyone else is left to pick up the pieces and scramble to lay the blame.
I hope Ronaldo undergoes some reflection and realizes he is a cog in what can be a powerful machine. I hope he doesn’t continue to insist on being the wrench in the gears. We can all learn a lesson from this coach and his player. We all should reflect on where we fall short in our relationships.
Putting on the whole armor of God is more than just going to church and displaying a Bible verse on your Facebook feed. We all need help recognizing pride for what it is – the original sin – and I pray that all of us have a loved one, friend, coach put in our lives to help us right our own ships before we tear our own personal teams asunder.
(Josh Beavers is a teacher and writer. He has been recognized five times for excellence in opinion writing by the Louisiana Press Association.)