Real Knows Real

So sayeth Shaq. The quote came from an ESPN article on… Well, I guess it’s on a bunch of things. Heart. Toughness. Champions. I guess that is what it is about most – champions. The specific article covers, roughly, the 2008 NBA Finals, but it’s actually about a lot more. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, who I will admit to thinking of as an arrogant and self-important ass (pardon my language), wrote the article. And I have to admit that if it had been someone else writing it, I probably would have thought more highly of it. But I’m digressing a little bit. After reading and thinking about what he wrote, I decided that I should put my feelings about the author aside, since as much as a hack journalist shouldn’t get to sit in judgement of great athletes, the substance of the article has merit.

Shaq’s quote, in it’s entirety is, “Real knows real. You don’t teach that extra something someone has inside their chest. Leaders come in a variety of ways, but you always can see it when it’s really there. At the end of the day, it’s not just all about you. It’s about your ability to pull the max out of someone else, to inspire them to be all they can be because they are around you. Any true champion at some point has done it.”

I like that quote. I especially like the first part, for it’s simplicity. Ironically, I think that Shaq answers the very question Stephen A. Smith poses at the end of his article, a question which he says he does not in fact have an answer for, “Is it fair to try to measure what’s inside someone’s chest or between his ears when so many other factors can potentially dictate an outcome?”

“Real knows real.” You don’t have to measure. You see it or you don’t. As the big man says, “you always can see it when it’s really there.” Smith makes references to Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, and Tiger Woods. All guys who have “that.” Or “it.” Or whatever you want to call the “realness” that Shaq refers to. And as much as Shaq is talking about team sport athletes, I think that it includes individual athletes as well, because as I wrote a few days ago, a team is defined by preparation. Tiger has the team that gets him to that tee. And so did Ali. They got the most out of themselves, but it also involved getting the most out of others. Nike has a great ad which features the words of Tiger’s father Earl. If ever there was a team, those two were it. And probably still are, since even though Earl has passed away, he still clearly guides Tiger a great deal.

These athletes – these champions – stand in contrast with those that “always seem to shrink when the moment demands they come up big.” And I thought that was an interesting choice of words. Smith didn’t say fail, and I think he has the command of language to say what he means. It’s about rising to the occassion. Sometimes you fail. Tiger has come up short on occassion. He has had those moments where hasn’t raised that trophy. But he has never shrunk. And I think that is how you take the measure of what’s inside.

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