Despite having played sports at various times in my life, I’m not a huge sports fan. (At least not like many people I know.) I can’t tell you who plays for which team with the exception of the superstars. Much of this lack of sports awareness is because I’ve been busy writing, studying and entrepreneurship-ing for the past several years and can rarely find the time to sit down for a game. But I’ll tell you, I was GLUED to the NBA Finals last night.
There was a ton of press going into this season about the Miami Heat. With Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh publicly declaring that we were witnessing the inception of a dynasty, the press about their new collaboration was difficult to ignore. But last night that would-be dynasty seemed to crumble a bit as Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks out-hustled, out-strategized and just flat out-played the dynamic trio. The hero of this whole affair? Mild-mannered Dirk Nowitzki, the 13 year veteran and notoriously media-averse star of the Dallas Mavericks.
I won’t delve into backstory and drama that led up to last night’s game. There’s already been a ton of that today. In the midst of the write-ups bashing James, decrying the Heat and celebrating the Mavs, one tiny article on the USA Today website first caught my eye, then had me jumping up and down a la Tom Cruise on Oprah. (Yeah…sorry for the dated reference but until someone tops it…)
The headline: Dirk Nowitzki Has Lots of Game, But No Agent.
The article goes on to describe how Nowitzki has had exactly one endorsement deal – with Nike – in his career, and how he negotiates all of his business arrangements himself. The most amazing quote of the article – the one that had me bouncing on the couch – was this:
Nowitzki explained his decision not to pursue endorsements to Bloomberg by saying, “I always wanted to be a basketball player. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Wow. In a world of “get what you can while you can” and “diversifying” and “personal branding”, Nowitzki has chosen instead to focus on what he does really well – play basketball. Sure, he’s making millions to do it, but just think of how much more he could be making if he was willing to cash in?
While the future is yet to be written, and Nowitzki has every right to change his mind, I think his stance holds a few lessons about the importance of focus and understanding vocation.
1. Diversifying sometimes means doing more things less well. If you choose to try to do too many things at once, you may kill the goose that laid the golden eggs.
2. Understanding your vocation is essential to brilliance. There are a lot of ways to make a living, but truly brilliant work tends to result from a deep understanding of the vocation, or calling, that’s being lived out. Nowitzki knows he wants to play basketball. It’s not a means to some other end, it IS the end.
3. Don’t talk about what you’re going to do, just do it. The reason there were so many Heat haters is that they had declared their dominance before it was manifest. The reason Nowitzki has so many supporters is because he largely kept his mouth shut and just did his job. Your work should speak for itself.
I’m disturbed that Nowitski’s attitude is so noteworthy to me. This means that I’m growing more cynical about the marketplace and that stances like this are so rare that they stand out. But if more of us would adopt this attitude, I think it would open new doors for expression, focus and true brilliance. That’s my goal. I’m going to spend some time thinking about how I can better focus on my vocation, and I hope you’ll join me.
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