If you know me at all, I am a geek for longform articles and blog posts. I love reading them and I love writing them. Some people think they are ineffective because people in our culture have patience for only 250-500 words, and those people are probably correct. I still like them and it’s why I read ESPN’s blog Grantland so frequently. I read a piece today on NBA player Mike Miller and it was so good that it warranted me reflecting on some of the content.
The piece was entitled Everybody Loves Mike Miller and in many ways Mike Miller’s approach to basketball should be a metaphor for the church for how we interact with culture. Here are some salient quotes:
“He’s a chameleon — meaning he can fit in any different room,” said LeBron James’s longtime friend and business manager Maverick Carter, whose relationship with Miller began shortly after Miller and McGrady attended one of James’s high school games. “I’ve seen him with high-level businesspeople and owners, kids, people from all different backgrounds. A guy from South Dakota, he’s not from one of the coasts, he’s right in the middle of the country and I think he really can adapt to any room.
“Plus he’s a cool guy.” …
“What I do is, I understand people,” Miller explained. “I understand what they’re going through. For some reason, I’m always in a good mood. It’s a blessing for me. I understand it’s a team sport and if there’s going to be individuals inside it, how do I relate to every one of those players differently? The way I do stuff with LeBron during a game is completely different than what I’m going to do with Kyrie [Irving]. Some people need to talk. Some people need to laugh. I’m always in that good mood because at the end of the day, I’m [playing basketball] for a living.”
“What I really am is a friend first,” Miller said. “I like to be cool with people. Like Kyrie — that’s my guy. He’s a great kid, unbelievable point guard. I think I can help him be better. Not a better basketball player. Just understanding things. Dion Waiters, great kid. Sometimes he gets a bad rep. If he fits into his role here, he’s going to be really, really good. I think I can help with that. Kevin Love’s a monster. And LeBron, I’m always going to be on him with positive stuff.”
You should read the article yourself, but because I know you won’t I will have to summarize it here for you. Mike Miller was a slashing small forward in his youth who had to reinvent his game in order to have NBA longevity, so he made a career out of doing two things – 1. 3-point shooting 2. Providing leadership in the locker room.
A couple of principles stuck out to me from Mike’s story that we would be wise to take note of:
Flexibility and Teachability – Mike learned early on that he needed the wisdom of NBA veterans (Ewing, Outlaw, Grant, Armstrong… ) if he was going to have long term success.
Specified Excellence – Mike had the humility and willingness to put in the hard work to hone his craft behind the arc.
Listening Skills – Mike learned to be humble and to listen to other people. One might argue that Mike’s ability to listen is what makes him such a close friend to so many disparate groups of people (“high-level businesspeople and owners, kids, people from all different backgrounds“). Mike’s listening skills earned for him the friendship, trust, and influence over the most revered players in the game.
Leadership – Mike learned that the value that he had in the game of basketball was far more than just what happened on the court. He learned that his value as locker room counselor was just as valuable as his role behind the arc.
Make others succeed – Mike made others around him succeed and took his joy from watching them succeed, even when it was to his own detriment.
Reading the article I couldn’t help but think about Paul’s defense of his apostleship in I Corinthians 9, specifically verses 19-27:
19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God butunder the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Mike, a white kid from North Dakota, was able to navigate through the social complexities of his NBA career because he learned to be humble, he learned to listen, he learned to provide timely counsel, he learned to make others successful, and he learned to be flexible. God taught the Apostle Paul this same skill set through his 14 years of discipleship at the church in Syrian Antioch and through the crucible of church planting the Mediterranean rim. Paul was a rough and violent man who needed to be humbled, bridled, and reformed.
How amazing would it be if the people around us felt heard?
How amazing would it be if the people around us felt that we made sacrifices to make them flourish?
How amazing would it be if the people around us felt safe because of our humility and teachability?
The church could use a few more leaders like Mike Miller.
Post-script – I actually met Mike Miller once while he was eating breakfast at Gator Dining with UF teammate and future NBA role player, Matt Bonner. It was a pedestrian encounter but Mike was engaging and kind and Matt Bonner was his typical shy, understated, and socially awkward self.