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The Excellence of Jordan

Like many men my age, I was enthralled with Michael Jordan—basketball star and late twentieth century cultural icon. While playing for the Chicago Bulls, his soaring leaps and graceful athleticism were captivating.

My buddies had posters depicting Jordan dunking the ball from across the court—tongue hanging out. He was universally acclaimed as “the greatest basketball player of all time.”

It’s tough to imagine such a pacesetter having to undergo a period of personal development. But even the exceptional Michael Jordan had to go through this.

When Jordan started Emsley A. Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina, he didn’t make it on the varsity basketball squad. One of the world’s greatest athletes was thought to be too short and unskilled to play.

Michael Jordan cut? That’s the kind of claim that my high school buddies and I would have found implausible. But it actually happened. At that stage in his life, he wasn’t quite ready to play.

Pushed off the court, Jordan rigorously trained, engaging in the fundamentals. He shot a hundred free throws every day. He took a basketball to bed with him each night. He’d practice getting a perfect backspin before shutting his eyes. Over the months, Jordan improved substantially.

Naturally, everything was different at the start of the next basketball season. Jordan was much wiser and faster. He discovered new channels to unlock the innate talent within. Needless to say, Jordan made the team and began to dominate his opponents.

Jordan received a scholarship for the University of North Carolina and later became a breakout star for the Chicago Bulls, winning six championships.

I told a younger colleague, “LeBron James and every other player in the NBA are still trying to play catch-up with Michael Jordan.” He rolled his eyes at me and we both laughed.

Most people are drawn to excellence. It’s easy to forget that even the greatest talents don’t always shine out of the starting gate. It takes time for someone to develop into something extraordinary. Leadership, on the courts and in other avenues, rarely shows up overnight. It has to be developed.

Delays are not always bad. They can deepen one’s determination and position them to face other obstacles. Leaders often emerge in strength after a challenging wilderness experience. J.D. King J.D. King is a blogger, speaker, and an emerging thought leader. He is the author of Shift: Leading in Transition, Why You’ve Been Duped into Believing that the World is Getting Worse, and other nonfiction works. Link to new book project:

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