Story by Joanna Delalande
Searching for greatness
“I would give up everything to... play the game [again]”
- Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan is often described as the greatest basketball player of all time. In the minds of fans he will live on for decades as an icon of the sport, the holder of many trophies, and the face of his own shoe brand.
But in reality, that person no longer exists. Michael turned 52 this February and retired from the NBA in 2003. All that is left of the sports star aside from his legacy is a man filled with nostalgia and unsure of what to do with himself.
"I like reminiscing," he told ESPN writer Wright Thompson after he turned 50. "I do it more now watching basketball than anything.
"Man, I wish I was playing right now. I would give up everything now to go back and play the game of basketball."
Michael will give up everything? Meaning what? His wealth? His fame? His family? His children?
It seems a strong statement to make, although Michael probably meant it in that moment.
His entire identity is tied to basketball and to the persona he has built around it.
Having come to the end of his career he is confronted by his own mortality, his finality. He is forced to live exclusively in his own mind, through memories of a brighter past.
Michael is realising what all of us will one day have to come to terms with: that no matter how successful, famous, rich, or respected we become, those treasures are temporary.
DIFFERENT CELEBRATIONS: Michael Jordan in 1997 and Stephen Curry in 2015
Everyone – whether they are the emperor of their own army or the most loved artist of their time – will at some point be faced with the inevitability of their death, and the subsequent insignificance of everything they have accomplished while they were alive.
Faced with such comforting thoughts, it is no wonder Michael has become nostalgic, choosing instead to reminisce about his better days.
His successes on the field were usually celebrated with fist-pumps and shouts of victory, but not all basketball players do it that way. When he makes a shot or a good pass, young NBA player Stephen Curry pounds his chest and points to the sky.
Stephen says that sign symbolises his heart for God.
"It is something that my mum and I came up with in college, and I do it every time I step on the floor as a reminder of who I'm playing for," Stephen says. "People should know who I represent and why I am who I am and that's because of my Lord and Saviour. I can't say that enough."
Stephen might be one of the most talented players in his field at the moment, and was named NBA Most Valuable Player for 2014-2015, but his identity is not tied to his success in the sport.
He knows what Michael perhaps never knew: that his happiness cannot be linked to something as temporary and fragile as his sport, not when one injury could mean never being able to play again.
Stephen's happiness is tied to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is not only constant, but eternal. He knows his greatness and success comes not from himself but from God, and that it could easily be taken away. So he chooses to be grateful for what he has, to remain humble, and to not let success be his ultimate goal in life.
After years of riding a wave of fame and importance, the great Michael Jordan is left wondering: "How can I enjoy the next 20 years without so much of this consuming me? How can I find peace away from the game of basketball?"
But Stephen knows what his answer to that question will be when his own greatness begins to fade.
"I love to play the game, and I love when good things happen," he says.
"But when I get home, it's about my family and just enjoying the blessings in my life without letting [basketball] define my personality or my character."