Bill Russell played 13 seasons for the Boston Celtics. Many of the season he had to match up against a Goliath of the NBA – Wilt Chamberlain.
Chamberlain was 7’1″ 275 pounds. Russell was 6’9″ 215 pounds. Russell’s greatest adversary, entered the NBA and joined the Philadelphia Warriors for the 1959-60 season, setting up a decade-long rivalry. The debate over who was the greater player lasts to this day. Chamberlain put up incredible numbers during the period in which the two went head to head, but Russell helped the Celtics hang nine NBA championship flags in the Garden in his first 10 seasons.
Chamberlain dominated the records book when he finally left. Most games with 50+ points, 118; Most consecutive games with 40+ points, 14; Most consecutive games with 30+ points: 65; Most consecutive games with 20+ points: 126; Highest rookie scoring average: 37.6 ppg; Highest field goal percentage in a season: .727.
There’s no question that competition like that makes you try harder, makes you push yourself a little further than you thought you could go. Just as important is a team that can make you want to compete at that high level.
Bill Russell later wrote: “To me, one of the most beautiful things to see is a group of men coordinating their efforts toward a common goal, alternately subordinating and asserting themselves to achieve real teamwork in action. I tried to do that, we all tried to do that, on the Celtics. I think we succeeded.”
In everyday life, sometimes it’s easy to look at competition as a bad thing. You may ask yourself, “Why is Joe gunning for my job?” or even more common, you find yourself thinking why a co-worker is working so hard, because it means you have to pick up the pace.
I’m fairly sure that Motorola didn’t see the introduction of Apple’s iPhone as a good thing. I can’t imagine that IBM was planning parties when Microsoft released Windows. Greg Norman couldn’t have looked forward to the arrival of Tiger Woods. I know for a fact that the newspaper industry wishes the Internet never came along.
Human nature is a funny thing. When we look back it’s usually clear that the science teacher that drove us crazy in 7th grade helped us the most because he expected more from us. There’s no question that Wilt Chamberlain made Bill Russell greater than he would have been without that level of competition. Motorola’s phones are better today because of the competition from Apple.
What would happen if you started viewing competition as an opportunity to excel? What if you viewed you team the same way Bill Russell viewed his? What if you decided to try to one-up your competitors everyday, even if it was just in very small ways?
You may not redefine the way team defense is played in the NBA, or set scoring records, but you can start changing the way you play the game.
What’s the thing that you can do that would make the biggest difference for you?