MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, June 9th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Well, we’ve had no sports to enjoy, so many sports fans are turning to nostalgia. ESPN recently aired a documentary about the Chicago Bulls winning six NBA championships in the 1990s. Maybe you saw it.
It’s called The Last Dance. WORLD’s Les Sillars saw it, too, and it prompted him to ponder not only great basketball, but Christianity and “greatness.”
COMMENTATORS: A spectacular move! Good! The game’s over! Chicago stadium is going wild…
LES SILLARS, COMMENTATOR: I enjoyed The Last Dance. It highlights key players Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman along with coach Phil Jackson. But one person dominates the story.
OPRAH: The most famous man on the planet is here! Jordan: My name is Michael Jordan. I played with the Bulls…
Jordan is one of the few truly “legendary” figures. That’s not just because of the NBA titles, scoring records, and MVP awards. He was also famously—or perhaps infamously—driven.
JORDAN: My mentality was to go out and win. At any cost. If you don’t want to live that regimented mentality, then you don’t need to be alongside of me. ‘Cause I’m going to ridicule you until you get on the same level with me.
That’s pretty much how it worked. Here’s Jud Buechler.
JUD BUECHLER: We were his teammates and we were afraid of him. It was just fear…
He found losing—at anything—deeply painful. And everything was personal. Trash-talking rivals, critical sportswriters, doubting fans—he turned any kind of real or imagined “disrespect” into a reason to crush you.
To be fair, Jordan could be generous to friends and kind to strangers. Teammates, like Bill Wennington, admitted that Jordan’s relentless drive turned the Bulls into a dynasty.
BILL WENNINGTON: He was pushing us all to be better. Because he wanted to win. And guess what. It worked.
Did it? Jordan’s life is in a way exactly what Ecclesiastes warns us about. The Teacher won everything there was to win. In the end he dismissed it all as just a vapor. As for Jordan’s need to dominate, Jesus said, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” And Paul wrote, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Be like Christ, not like Mike.
But then a friend asked me, is there a Christian version of greatness? And is there such a thing as healthy competition? Or is wanting to win just vice and pride?
Jesus didn’t say, don’t be great. He said, here’s what greatness is. Do too many Christians settle for mediocrity when God is inviting us to try to do something amazing? Do I sometimes excuse my fear and laziness as humility? Maybe competition can be healthy, provided winning and losing doesn’t define you. Sure, fame is so much smoke, but can’t we learn something from Jordan’s single-minded focus?
These are such dangerous waters. It’s so easy to slip into ambition, and we all have mixed motivations. Maybe Olympic champion and missionary Eric Liddell’s famous line from Chariots of Fire offers some perspective.
LIDDELL: I believe that God made me for a purpose. For China. But He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.
AUDIO: [Chariots of Fire theme song]
I’m Les Sillars.