MVP – Most Valuable Person

I first became a fan of the NBA during Michael Jordan’s career. I was mesmerized by his talent, his confidence. When he retired, I drifted away from professional basketball, going back to the college game. When Kobe Bryant came on the scene, Michael was retired and though he unretired for two seasons with Washington, he was but a journeyman compared to his career stats. Kobe made it clear he believed he was the next MJ. He brandished an arrogance and confidence that was required to get the eyes of the fans on him and his Lakers. It didn’t work for me. I remained on the NBA sidelines.

When Kobe became news again was during the controversy of a sexual contact he had with a woman. In a time prior to the Me-Too movement, he set the standard for how to take responsibility for his actions. He didn’t blame the accuser; didn’t say she knew what she was getting into. No…he took responsibility, like a man. He apologized to the victim. He took the time to empathize, to see the event through her eyes, explained how he misunderstood the moment. Then apologized to his wife, to his family and to his fans and his team. Yes…he stood up like a man and begged forgiveness for his actions. There was nothing he could do on the basketball court that could ever compare to the actions he took after the accusations came to light.

Kobe Bryant played 20 seasons with the Lakers, playing on five championship teams, retiring in 2016. He played in 18 all-star games. He fell just short of MJ’s numbers but where he truly made his mark was off the court, when his career was over. It is estimated that his net worth was over 600 million dollars, but the true mark he left behind was the influence over the world in general.

He promoted service, giving back to the world, leading others to a better way to live. There was a story about how he was driving through the streets of LA and came across a traffic accident. He didn’t drive away, didn’t keep going and call 911. He pulled his Range Rover to the curb and got out and offered aide to the victim. He didn’t view his fame or his wealth as placing him above others. He wanted to make a difference.

And make a difference he did. He and his wife, Vanessa formed a foundation to reach out to kids in need, aiding in developing physical and social skills. He gave away millions of dollars to charities and worked to help the homeless. He dedicated his time to helping others in all walks of life. He spoke out often about social injustice. He was dedicated to his wife and his children and set an example for the fortunate athletes of the world to give back their blessings to those in need. At the time of his passing, he was writing book aimed at inspiring underprivileged children. As with others, he urged them, never give up.

Kobe Bryant was lost to the world on a helicopter that crashed into a hillside on a foggy Southern California morning. He was on his way to coach a youth basketball team whose roster included his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, who also died in the crash. The mission I am on, the books I have written and the message they carry are about taking our eyes off of ourselves and focusing them instead on the world around you. I am currently but a small player in that arena. But that arena doesn’t require you to be 6’5” or be able to stuff a basketball or be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Kobe’s message in that arena was we all can make a difference. We can. You may not be able to reach out to millions of people, but if you can touch just one, if you can improve the life of one single person for one single day, then you have contributed just as much as Kobe did. In that arena, you too can be an MVP (Most Valuable Person). So, step up…make a difference. Carry on the torch that Kobe Bryant held high, like others before him. Let that torch show the way towards making this world a better place.

T’was the Season

I have to admit, I get as hyped up about the holidays as the next person, maybe even more so. This Christmas was a special one in my household with thirteen people around the dinner table and half a cow in my oven. I haven’t seen such a crowd in my house since one of my kids last New Year’s Eve party, so maybe eight years ago. It was a joyous time. My house is always decorated to the limit but this year it was appreciated by so many more. The tree was up by Thanksgiving and the rest of the lights and frills not far behind. When it all came down ten days ago, it left my house feeling empty, almost spartan.  Oh well, only forty-five weeks until we start all over again.

I suppose I can wait ten months to start pulling out the ornaments. What I don’t want to wait for is the recycling of the Christmas spirit. Why is it saved for only a few weeks every year? Yes, the season can be exhausting. Planning, shopping and coordinating all the parties and celebrations. At the same time, there truly is a peace to the world. Adversaries in an adversarial world stop to smile and wish others a happy holiday and a joyous New Year. Hatchets are buried or at least forgotten for a while. Political foes become old friends. Distant relatives become temporarily closer and strangers become new friends. I personally watched a young man chasing carts in a Wegman’s parking lot stop and wish every customer a “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and a Happy Kwanzaa. Not just to a few, to everyone.

What event occurred in this country that has made us so angry, so tribal all the time. Governing was, at its best, the art of compromise. I might not agree with your politics but I can still like you as a person. Stance was an entrance into debate, finding a common ground among varying positions, seeking in the end what’s best for my constituents, what’s best for the country. Now, each opinion, each proposal becomes a personal Berlin Wall where everyone on my side is my comrade and everyone over there is my enemy. Statements like all democrats/liberals are… or all republicans/conservatives are… has no place in political discourse. Not in the country I love.

Christmas is all about love., C’mon Gary, don’t get sappy on us. Really? Think about it. When you wish someone a Merry Christmas, don’t you really mean it? There are plenty of other things you could say, like hello, goodbye or excuse me, that don’t carry with them a wish for joy, a wish for happiness. That is what the “merry” part infers. We don’t ask people their political opinion first, whether or not they voted for this guy or that girl. It doesn’t matter. We wish them happiness just the same. What is it about the season that melts our crusty hearts, opens us up to receiving and giving good cheer?

It is the middle of January. Maybe some embers still burn in our Christmas spirit. What better time to carry the spirit forward? There are so many parts to the human existence. Maybe they are great parents, maybe charitable givers, outstanding in their field, great athletes, thoughtful wives and husbands, exceptional leaders. They want what they view as best for those they love. Why must we judge people simply by which lever they pull in a voting booth?

Think about it. If you were lying flat on your back with chest pains and shortness of breath and pain radiating down your arm and someone from the crowd drops to your side to perform CPR, are you going to stop them and ask, “Say, who did you vote for? I don’t want some damn liberal saving my life.” I didn’t think so.

© Copyright 2017 Gary Friedman Books

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