“I have never lost a game. I just ran out of time.”

This is by far one of my favourite quotes of all time. It just happens to be sports related and spoken by someone I admired in my formative years. It is one of those short sentences that has become timeless, even if it was not meant to be taken beyond the game of which it was spoken.

I was amazed by Michael Jordan during the Chicago Bulls’ first ‘3-peat’ in the early ’90’s. I was into basketball, most of my friends were as well, and many of us collected sports cards. It just happened to be one of the best eras to be into basketball and card collecting at the same time. It was at this time that Michael Jordan solidified himself as the best in the game, the most marketable person in sports entertainment, and basically he was a human highlight reel. (Yes, I know that was the nickname of one of MJ’s contemporaries)

Basically, Michael Jordan was amazing.

But as I got older I started to recognize the other aspects of Mike. The parts that were only really brought to people’s attention as he got older. The competitive edge that he brought to every game and practice, and just about everything else he did, was obvious to everyone around the game. And it was discussed a lot. But it was layers beneath this, at the base of the championship performances, that people began to take note of in his game.

  1. No one out works Mike. Many have shared stories of others who went to the gym early, players who got serious when it was time to work out, and others who got the team motivated when it was go time. But Jordan set a tone that was hard to match, both in practice and in games, and he made sure others knew it.
  2. No one distracts Mike. MJ took his work ethic to a different level by putting everyone against him on notice…at all times. If someone tried to take him off his game he became even that much more focused in getting the win. But not just the game win, or the championship, but every little challenge that came at him on the way to the end.
  3. No one hated losing like Mike. I was watching the documentary series on the Bulls’ last championship run with a non-sports enthusiast, and was intrigued by their comment on MJ’s side challenges and battles with other players. “Petty” was the valuation. I suppose it could be seen that way but in the realm of Michael Jordan, the final goal was winning, and losing was not an option.
  4. No one changed the sports culture like Mike. You could talk about the deal with Nike, or the many other commercials and celebrity moments, movies, etc. But people wanted to ‘be like Mike’. He emulated winning and working hard, he played to win, and got others to elevate their game. That last point is a big one. When he was drafted to the Chicago Bulls Mike changed the team culture as a rookie, within his first season. They were known as a joke and a losing team, and MJ did not like it at all. Many take years to have influence on their team, but he changed it immediately.

People followed Michael Jordan in all these things. It did not matter how much time was left on the clock.

How does this apply to real life? That quote, and each point above, applies to every area of life, faith, and work. Our attitude changes every level of the game and has deep impact in how we view what we do. I consider particularly our attitudes during the tough times like the pandemic we are currently in, how we look for ways around problems, how we ask others to lower the standard for us, and how we lose our focus on the goal. When we approach life with purpose we have an opportunity to play to the buzzer, even if we wish we had more time. But we did not stop working with purpose.

Don’t lose. Run out of time with purpose.

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