One of the many things I deeply admire is when all eyes are upon a person, they are still able to maintain a wise perspective.
Too many times when the cameras, mics, etc. are rolling, what a person says/how a person behaves changes, seemingly due to an awareness of the cameras and mics. Perhaps it’s why a person’s proverbial “15 minutes of fame” is only 15 minutes; we don’t always handle the moment well.
Last weekend we witnessed a little more than 15 minutes in the midst of the madness of March…
The scene was the wildly popular, single-elimination, men’s NCAA basketball championship. The scenario was Purdue vs. Virginia — two large, D1 universities, each with an excellent academic reputation and athletic tradition. They faced one another in the round of the “Elite 8,” with a “Final 4” placement at stake.
To be clear, the Final 4 is a prestigious position. It’s a status teams covet — to be recognized as one of the best in the land, knowing it takes toughness, perseverance, and more than a few lucky bounces to get there. It is not easy to get there; prognosticators typically plot odds at little more than 15% for the top seeds, 3% for second and third seeds, and less than 1% for everyone else. Making the Final 4 is rare.
So then comes the battle between the Boilermakers and Cavaliers. It was fierce. It was tight. It was back and forth. It was actually (admitting my beloved Boiler bias) an absolutely fantastic game. So much so, forty minutes was not long enough to dictate the outcome. Virginia’s Mamadi Diakite hit an improbable shot at the buzzer to send the game to overtime.
This was tense. This, though, was the time.
Leaving their respective huddles after regulation, the teams took the floor, prepared for the ensuing five minutes more. They had been coached and encouraged, prepped and poured into, with each bench no doubt sharing the best means for their team to eke out a win. They each wanted their team to win.
The young men lined up once more, ready to tip off, when Diakite and Purdue superstar Carsen Edwards made direct eye contact with one another. They did a double take… Edwards shaking his head… Diakite tapping Edwards on the chest… each breaking into a bold, wide, spontaneous smile.
Even though only one team could win… even though something so rare each desperately wanted was finally within their reach — those incredibly low odds… even though they recognized that each stood in the way of the other… that did not change their ability to discern what was happening in the moment…
They knew it was a great game… they knew they were blessed to be a part of it… and they knew, regardless of outcome, a wise perspective meant still respecting all those around them.
That night — and for most of the season — Carsen Edwards had a few select, motivational reminders written on the tape around his wrist:
“Help Mama Out.”
“The Man in the Arena.”
“The Man in the Arena” is attributed to a Theodore Roosevelt quote which speaks to the beauty of competition. Greater context of the quote reveals the following:
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”
What I love about this game was that the formidableness of the opponent did not provide cause for disrespect.
What I love about this game was that the disappointment of the outcome did not provide cause for a total absence of joy.
And what I love about this game was that the strength of the competition did not provide cause for a loss of wise perspective.