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What Michael Jordan, Tom Brady and Ed Spaight Teach Us About Greatness

After winning their second Stanley Cup, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov, shirtless and chugging Bud Light, went on a drunken rant at the podium of a press conference. He had a lot on his mind, but the most iconic line from the speech was when he called the snubbing of his goaltender for the MVP, “number one bull…” you can fill it in.

I use the line to call out certain things to my students that they might have been either explicitly taught or implicitly assume about life. Such things that make the list are that life will always go in a forward direction and that working hard and financial success have a causal relationship rather than merely a loose correlation.

The one thing I try to impress upon them the most, though, the number one of all the number one BSes is this: great is great all the time. You’ll have to take a moment to reverse that in your head because my point is that great is not great all the time.

The easiest way to explain this is in sports. Michael Jordan went six-for-six in championships and is known as the greatest basketball player of all time. But it also took him seven seasons to win his first ring, he retired twice during his playing career before finally hanging it up and he also punched teammate Steve Kerr in the face.

To look at it another way, it took MJ the better part of a decade to be great, he hit bumps along the road causing him to walk away when he was in the prime of his greatness and he often was difficult even with those closest to him during his greatness.

Tom Brady is another example. He will be known as the greatest Super Bowl winning quarterback when (if) he retires for good, but even the ageless wonder went a full decade in between wins during his run to seven rings of the 10 Big Games he played in.

During the prime of his career from ages 27-36, he was held without a championship twice being denied by Eli Manning - a quarterback so mediocre that he literally retired with a perfectly even 118-118 starting record in his career.

That brings us to Ed Spaight, who will be sworn in as Citrus County’s new judge on Jan. 3, 2023. Spaight ran for circuit judge in 2018, then sought appointments on which he made the shortlist but could never get over the hump. During this four year journey to judgeship, Spaight’s legal prowess showed and he once even appeared on Dateline representing the Citrus County Public Defender’s Office, which he runs, incredibly well.

I managed Ed’s 2018 circuit judge campaign as well as his most recent successful effort. He is a humble man but someone who is keenly aware of both the goals he has and the work it took to get there. This work wasn’t just door knocking or asking for campaign contributions. It was the ability to be as persistent as he was patient.

I often tell people that I would not have started my Ph.D. program had I known what it was going to take to complete it, and I honestly don’t know if I’m joking or not. I have no doubt, though, that if Ed knew what it would take to finally make it to the bench, he would still have put himself out there each time knowing that failure was coming.

He understands great doesn’t have to be great all the time. It just needs to be ready to rise to the challenge when the opportunity arises.

Still, the day-to-day can be unbearable, especially for my students who feel a single bad grade can knock them off their path to whatever lofty goal their youthful optimism still holds. Recovering addicts use the phrase, “one day at a time” to confront the challenge of sobriety, and it is remarkably well suited for dealing with the pressure to perform each day. My trick is to pick three things to accomplish each day. These are measurable and attainable even if the daily plan hits a detour. Three things, every day, and watch it add up toward your goal.

Will I be great tomorrow? Probably not. But I know that I can persist through a little more of progress and that will lead to being ready for greatness. The ones who achieve their dreams know this best. Just ask Jordan, Brady or Spaight the Great.


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