I recently had the chance to see basketball legend Kareem Abdul Jabar. He came to LMU to do a live interview with the Laker’s play-by-play announcer John Ireland. The minute he walked into Gersten Pavillion, I was immediately struck by his immense size. I was sitting a good distance away but was still quite aware that this man is a true giant. He made his chair look like one fit for a doll, not a person.
The interview began with him talking about what it was like for him to grow up in New York City in the ‘50s. He commented on the major influence that jazz music has had in his life and the excitement he felt living in an era of social change and prosperity.
He went on to discuss what it was like to play for the great John Wooden in college and the life lessons imparted on him by the legendary coach. He mentioned one specific takeaway he got from playing for Coach Wooden: Anyone and everyone can learn from and can contribute to greatness in all areas of life.
Wooden famously told his players over and over again “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” He spoke about the emphasis Coach Wooden placed on thorough preparation for each game and each opponent. He recounted that he never heard Wooden utter the words “we must win this game” – only that we must give our absolute best effort.
This reflects the mindset the great coach imparted on all his players, that the outcome is less important than the effort one gives. He believed greatness was achieved by staying true to the process and the values that guide one to victory.
These values comprise Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, a copy of which was given to each audience member upon entrance to the event. Cooperation, loyalty, self-control, confidence, skill, team spirit; these are all included in the pyramid and all paramount to performing optimally. At the top of the pyramid is what Wooden called competitive greatness or the ability to “perform at your best when your best is needed. Your best is needed every day.”
The coach asked no more than to exemplify and live these guiding principles and believed the rest would fall into place from there. As a basketball legend, an author of multiple books, an activist for children’s education, and an intellectual, Kareem is a prime example of someone who truly lives these values of success and applies them to all aspects of his life – mental, physical, and moral.
Personally, I was taken aback at how scholarly and articulate Kareem is. I didn’t know a whole lot about him going into it other than his greatness in basketball. But after the interview, I realized that he is an extremely well rounded man. He keeps his mind body and spirit in excellent shape, which I think is a major reason why he continues to be so spry at the age of 67.
“I realized that one of the keys to remaining sharp and active throughout your life, into old age, is to devote your time towards activities that keep your mind sharp, your body strong, and your spirit awake. I was also reminded of the fact that when it comes to achieving greatness in any venture, there is no substitute for hard work and discipline.”
As the great John Wooden once said, “Ability may get you to the top, but character keeps you there – mental, moral, and physical.”