I'm reading a fascinating book about the world of Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball and other apparatuses for sniffing out the next LeBron James. The book mainly follows uber-prospect Demetrius Walker, who was ranked #1 in his age as an early teen and who led his team of mercenary teen studs to a national championship in his age bracket.
At this point you may be asking, "Demetrius who?" He who was so highly touted at 13 and 14 did not even have a stellar college career, let alone a long and lucrative lifetime in the NBA. The book alludes multiple times to the fact that his early maturation and skill enabled him to dominate kids his age and size, but he struggled against older and bigger kids because he never had to do more than rely on his precocious physical talent. As he ascended into more and more competitive strata, talent alone could not carry him.
It is an instructive lesson for hoops prodigies, and gives me a newfound appreciation for LeBron James, who was in Demetrius Walker's shoes barely a decade ago. Then dubbed "The Chosen One" by none other than Sports Illustrated as a 17-year-old junior in high school, LeBron has obviously lived up to the unprecedented hype and then some, establishing himself as one of the game's all-time greats.
That success has come not only from his innate abilities (which include not only raw physical ability but a vastly underrated genius mind) but his drive to improve and his willingness to put in the time to make those improvements. His Instagram feed contains the usual images you'd expect of a superstar and icon (parties, product placement, selfies with other celebs), but also photos of him putting in the physical and mental work to prepare himself for success. Thanks to social media, we see him splashing in a buzzer-beater in the playoffs, but we are also invited in to the countless hours in the weight room and the film room that made that shot possible.
It is very, very difficult to improve when you are already really good at something. How many things have we tried in life, and we get good at them as we do them more, and then we kind of hit a plateau after a while. Imagine pushing through that plateau to a new level, and imagine pushing through that plateau every day, year in and year out.
And, it may be even more difficult to want to improve when you are already really good at something. Pushing through that plateau is hard work, and it is easy to think it not worth the extra effort to see so little gain in exchange for so much sacrifice. Especially if you can dominate most everyone around you just on what you can already do.
But these are lessons I want my children to absorb. One, that it is OK to be really, really good at something, and to put in the time to get even better at something even if you are already really good at it. Two, that success has less to do with a pre-set amount of natural talent, and more to do with the drive to use that talent and the determination to put in the time to get better. This is true of basketball, and it is also true of math and writing and compassion and leadership. Or, as I often tell Aaron and Jada when they are stuck on a homework problem and are ready to give up: "Smart isn't about knowing the answer or not knowing the answer, it's about are you willing to push yourself until you can figure out the answer."
Time will tell if they have what it takes - in terms of God-given talent, drive, and determination - to be exceptionally good at something. But I am hoping that they will at least carry into adulthood that success has less to do with talent and more to do with drive and determination.