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What is Greatness?

Marshall Hastings


conor mcgregor
Photo courtesy of Conor McGregor’s Facebook Page.

In 13 seconds, Conor McGregor stole the Saturday night spotlight. A spotlight that, in all honesty, was pretty dim to begin with. But nonetheless, McGregor stole it in all of its lifelessly glory with a simple left hook, the same left hook that graced McGregor’s Instagram just two days before the fight with the caption, ‘The most feared shot in combat sport today.’ In 13 seconds, it sure was.Just as quickly as McGregor downed Jose Aldo, the moment was gone. A moment that in any other time period would have lasted long into the night, through the next week, and potentially even through generations, was gone. Sunday came, bringing with it the NFL and all of its glory, and fans seemingly forgot the greatness of Saturday night.

But how great was Saturday night? A 13-second KO, a Heisman Trophy champion that seemingly everyone saw coming? Are we surprised it came and went so quickly, overshadowed by a New England Patriots revival, an Oakland Raiders season defining victory over the Denver Broncos, and a 51-point eruption by the Jacksonville Jaguars (THE JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS).

It’s the world we live in today. Life-changing moments are only life-changing for, well, 13 seconds. Their light rages ferociously through the night, the point of nearly every sports conversation, and then suddenly they’re gone. In a world of constant availability, every story becomes a front-page headline. Every event’s shelf life is merely just the time until the next event.

We won’t hear ‘Down goes Frazier’, we won’t see Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston after a first round knockout, and we won’t hear ‘The band is on the field’ in today’s sports.

It’s because we are never satisfied with what is. All it seems we want is to know what’s next. The moment after the confetti has been piled into trash bags at the Super Bowl, we’re wondering who will be here 365 days later. Iconic images are taken on iPhone’s, not Canon’s. They’re taken from the stands, through raised arms and outstretched fingers, not from the end zone.

Our idea of monumental is nowhere near what it used to be. In a world where 140 characters come and go faster than a Conor McGregor fight, we get lost in new images and now videos.

But it’s not that great moments come and go. No. It’s gotten to the point that we saturate greatness. Every single good moment or good performance is great. We’ve begun to consider every single player to have the potential to be an all-time great. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker hadn’t even stepped on an NBA court and we already had them pegged for All Star games, MVP candidacy, and potential for the Hall of Fame. Heck, neither of them had played in college when they both graced separate covers of Sports Illustrated with daunting tag lines (“The Freshman. From Wilt. To Manning. To Wiggins.” And “The best basketball player since Lebron James is… Jabari Parker…”)

By the time so many college athletes hit the professional levels, they’ve been surrounded with enough hype to power New York City. When Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III entered the NFL Draft, it was a 1a and 1b decision, whether you picked first or second, your franchise was set for the next 15 years. Washington didn’t get that memo.

So why is it that we do this? In a media age where every single person seems to be an expert, nobody becomes one. With so many talking heads spewing their opinions, what gets lost in translation is the fact that we don’t even wait for the event to take place. We’ve become so entranced with being the first person to call the upset, the first person to predict the outcome, the first person to see greatness, that greatness is merely just average.

Jeremy Lin for two weeks dominated headlines. Linsanity had risen from a futon and straight onto consecutive Sports Illustrated covers, the first person to do that since Michael Jordan. The Houston Rockets rewarded Linsanity with a three year deal worth $25 million, only to watch him post a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 14.9 and 14.3 (the league average is 15). Lin has been productive, but no where near the billing that Sports Illustrated plastered on their covers.

In all honesty, there’s no real fix to our ‘great’ obsession. We’ve become so accustomed to trying to pick the next great player that we’ve fallen into an endless cycle. There still exists the potential for great, but in order to see it we have to weave through the fake greats that we have created. Eventually the light will shine through, but until then, we’ll just have to get used to seeing ‘greatness’ everywhere we look.

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