Thanks to the magic of DVR, I was able to watch two of the greatest athletes ever perform at the peak of their powers yesterday.
First, I saw Barcelona overturn a 2-nil deficit to defeat AC Milan in the Champions League by an aggregate score of 4-2. At the heart of the victory stood Lionel Messi, who scored two great, game-changing goals. If you have even the slightest interest in sport, you owe it to yourself to find a way to watch Messi play. He's truly a once-in-a-lifetime kind of talent. There is nothing obviously world-class about Messi when you look at him. He's not big -- in fact, he's often the smallest guy on the pitch. He doesn't appear strong -- although he is clearly tough given how many knocks he takes and how few games he misses. He is fast, but not blindingly so. But there is something magical about Messi's feet and his brain. My friend David Shenk and others have written about how genius is largely a product of hard work rather than some god-given attribute. I find that argument mostly compelling until I watch someone like Messi play. And then I find it hard not to believe that he has been endowed with a special gift that no amount of practice could possibly summon.
After watching Barcelona's comeback victory, I then fast-forwarded my way through the Miami Heat's win over the Atlanta Hawks. In some ways, this was an unexceptional, mid-season NBA game, except for the fact that it was the Heat's 19th win in a row. They are playing the game at an unbelievably high level at the moment. While the ESPN highlights tend to focus on the Heat's propensity for alley-oop dunks, what has impressed me the most during this win streak is how many open jump shots they get. They penetrate and rotate the ball as well as any team I can remember.
At the heart of the Heat's success is, of course, Lebron James. He actually had a bad shooting night against the Hawks -- an exceedingly rare occurrence these days. But it is a measure of his greatness that he is still able to dominate a game without shooting well thanks to his passing, rebounding, energy, and defensive presence. To watch him do all of these things night after night -- much to my wife's chagrin, I have NBA League Pass -- has been a regular source of joy throughout the long winter.
At the risk of being corny, I find the greatness of Lebron James and Lionel Messi inspiring. Whenever I talk to young people just starting their careers, I always advise them to worry less about what they will be working on and more about who they will be working for and with. I encourage them to seek out great bosses and great colleagues. That was what made the difference for me. When I met John Feinblatt and started working with people like Michele Sviridoff and Eric Lee and Al Siegel (and so many others)...that was when my career kicked into another gear. Working with folks like these is a little bit like being a teammate of Messi or James -- they put you in a position where you can shine and you end up developing better work habits along the way.