and Sports by: Rey N. Villegas
A good leader challenges us all. he inspire, evoke sighs, amazement, envy and awe. And a great
leader’s moment of greatness stirs our mind to think about long after the moment has gone and struck us like thunderbolts
every time we daydream about it, wishing it was us who made that moment magical. Think about Lincoln reciting his Gettysburg
address, or Ninoy’s “the filipino is worth dying for” speech, and you will get a glimpse of what I meant
to illustrate. It’s state of the art. Almost like genius at work… Like a sportsman at the very top of his game.
Why sportsmen, you ask me? Because sportsmen,
especially the best of them all, are the mirror of a great leader. This lowly Gingoog-non may not be of a leader quality,
but I certainly knew when one exudes it. They make tight decisions, performs the greatest of tasks ang gambles with unbelievable
risk. They know how to discipline themselves and they push to their limits so hard that they don’t even stop even when
it hurts. The big leaguers. The big boys… The MEN.
Tiger Woods. Michael Schumacher. Ronaldinho.
Roger Federer. Michael Jordan. Got me now? These people challenges not just the men they are playing with, but us too, the
watchers and the writers. They ask with their play, how good they are, and every answer we give they make seem inadequate.
We have showered them with adjectives, we have called them 'great', 'genius', and ‘modern-day gods’, we have called
on poets and composers to draw parallels (Michelangelo on a golf course, with a club as a brush; Shakespeare on the Football
field; Einstein on a racetrack; Bill gates on the hardcourt), we have sat at our computers and attempted to sketch them in
lyrical prose, and we think we have captured them finally, when they go further, evoke more wonder, and our vocabulary struggles.
Their move demands attention, they shift from place to place with grace that can only be called poetry in motion. Looking
back above, I’ve compared these sportsmen to leaders themselves. So instead of talking about mumbo-jumbo leadership
myself, I will talk about the leaders. Accomplished athletes who mirrors these leadership qualities like crystals, and the
only subject that made men prefer the television over women… Sports.
Sport, its intricacies, its variety, its
difficulties, its pleasure ... is best revealed through contrasts. When Brazil plays West Germany in soccer, styles collide,
flair meets discipline, and it is wonderful. And so it is with tennis, when the serve and volleyer stands guardian at the
net against the baseliner, his body language clear to all: pass me or die. Our eyes enlarged considerable as Roger Federer
demolished every opponent with a style so universal never been witnessed before. A man who carved his name in every Grandslam
championship and stood tallest among his peers. Even Pete Sampras never won all four. Federer is so young a conqueror that
we can almost compare him to the great Alexander.
Look at Ronaldinho. He moves the ball with
his dancing feet as soft as a ballerina's footsteps, the next delivering it to the net with the precision and almost a calliper
measure's exactness to a game that swears such preciseness does not exist. And what a feeling does it elicit from us when
we witness that magic at work. Yes, its always the rawest adrenaline finding its most complete expression. Ronaldo can put
more goals on the net, and Van Nistelrooy can poach like no red devil can, but Ronaldinho… Man, he’s just in a
different league right now. He’s the reason why Barcelona and not Real Madrid are in the brink of the primera Liga this
season. And forgive me to think that he will even surpass the playmaker Zidane or the great Pele’ himself.
Tiger Woods. We have caught him on videotape
and that cable channel gingoognons not so fond of watching. On different continents, with the wind in his face and some days
the sun, on courses that flow and undulate, where a surprise lurks every dog-leg, a puzzle every green, and he has answered
every question, and we think yes, now we've got him, we've discovered the essential Tiger, identified his genius, till he
brings a new shot, a better game, and commentators stutter and cameramen stand awed and there's never enough film as this
broad-shouldered black man with a white smile attempts to chase the Bear’s record, Jack Niclaus’ 18 Majors. We
have walked with him down fairways from our living rooms, and we have marvelled at his ambition, and spoken authoritatively
about golf with a whisky glass in hand, and decided in our infallible wisdom what can be done and what cannot, till he redraws
the boundaries of sporting possibility and we reluctantly accept that what we cannot even dare to dream, he actually does.
Tiger Woods did not just hold off Phil Mickleson, David Duval and Di Marco at the Masters. He was embarrassing us as well.
Now, Michael Schumacher. The most recognizable
driver in the world. And damn, he makes red so fashionable that we sometimes think it’s a blessing having a long chin.
Seven F1 championships that beat the great Juan Manuel Fangio’s 5. There’s no sportsman as consistent as this
Ferrarri driver for the past 5 years. He is already called as the greatest in his field. Unfortunately, there is no science to measure greatness.
But if it's any consolation, tributes don't get better than this. For some, this is suffocating. As if Schumacher's
winning of all the past six world championships has turned tedious. For some, these moments of majesty smell of sameness,
carbon copy masterpieces. Triumph without thrill. Domination is in some ways the closest sport arrives at perfection, the
marriage of talent with consistency, excellence over time irrespective of obstacle, the exceptional athlete at the peak of
his/her powers. It is also, with teams like Waugh's Australia, or Arsene Wenger's unbeaten Arsenal last year, or Manchester
United, the creation of a system of selection, training, feedback, tactics, that is in superb working order. It is a vision
of excellence. This man is not just challenging himself, and his peers, but our notions of what is possible in sport. No one in the
recent past has dared conceive of a driver winning every Formula One race in a season. Schumacher may not do it always he
is forcing us to confront that possibility.
Then the culmination of them all. The magnum
opus. The man who was called the greatest ever who ever played the sports. All the praises have been summoned just to describe
this willowy athletic man whose reign has been dubbed as the “finest years” of the NBA. We call him legend, his
airness, the tongue, master showman, and other glorifying names that are even just absurd. Me, I just call him “Michael”.
Yeah, even the young ones who never even saw the legend play live marvels at the very name of this basketball divinity.(Thanks
to NBA TV, we can now watch replays of the dude’s greatest moments). But what really made Michael Jordan great is not
how he makes Russell look so stupid while breaking to hand over a championship shot, or doing a dunk from the free-throw line,
or curling the ball three times in the air that his leap last longer than a gasp of breath, or beating the clock to win a
game a gazillion of times. He is more than his 6 MVP finals trophy or his 5 scoring championships. No, if Michael Jordan is
just that, we will never love him the way we did. He’d be just another Dominique Wilkins, or another Vince carter or
Kobe Bryant. These guys are great and as talented beyond compare. But they’re not as great as Michael. Know why? Because
these guys are great players. But not great leaders. Michael is. He judges at the right time, at crunchtime! Even Phil Jackson
in his biography confessed that Michael is a great basketball player because he makes the players around him better. He inspires
all his peers and is respected by his opponents.
He has left us speechless, he has defeated
our imaginations (two treble championships? Impossible, unthinkable, absurd... Christ, he's done it), he has teased us into
constructing fiction (return of a ball god, second coming) he has made the sacrilegious (better than Chamberlaine!!!) commonplace.
And he did it all, with such finesse, such coolness of character as if he were filming a treble sequel. Heck, he even made
a shoe company become a billion-dollar empire by just lending them his name.
Of course, he did lose, coming back from
a second retirement and being in a bad team and ageing as that, but Michael was just being Michael. The leader, the preacher,
the all- around guy, the builder. He may not be there when the Washington Wizards reached the playoff this year but he’d
be having a smirk that the bud that he helped norture is now blossoming into a stronger tree.
But there is a wonderful irony to this
incredible man, and the lessons from what have unfolded as we watched him from being a young bull to sunset. It is that in
his very reminder that there is no limit to performance, no feat beyond conquer, no history beyond reach, he tells us one
day there will be somebody else, someone who will travel further.
By his very example he teaches us that
just like we never believed of Chamberlaine, he too is just a comma to greatness, not its full stop. There will be, you see,
a better player than Michael Jordan. For now though, it just does not seem possible.
Change will come, unpredictability
will never die, new champions will emerge. But till then, we should feel privileged to live in a time of such extraordinary
athletes and teams. We've seen things our grandfathers haven't and our grandchildren may never. And it's everything but routine.