Duke forward Zion Williamson has sparked plenty of debates. The freshman suffered a mild knee sprain in a game against North Carolina on February 20. The ridiculous strength that Zion possesses caused his left shoe to disintegrate.
Many people, including more than a handful of former NBA players, said that Zion should no longer play college basketball. It was too risky. He stood to make millions of dollars in the NBA, and it made no sense to risk any portion of his future earnings by continuing to play at Duke.
Zion didn’t listen to those people. After missing six games due to his knee injury, Zion averaged 27 points and 10 rebounds in the ACC tournament. He made 33 of 43 shots in a dominating three-game performance helping Duke win the ACC championship. Zion also took home MVP honors. Not too shabby. He added this gem during the trophy presentation, “For the people who said I shouldn’t return, I couldn’t abandon my brothers and coaches like that.” All that was missing was a Gronk spike mic drop.
Have you ever watched a movie and desired to be like the main character? It’s common for humans to want to be smooth, successful, and powerful like actors in films.
Athletes can be admired the same way. When LeBron James surpassed Michael Jordan on the all-time NBA scoring list, he revealed how much he desired to be like Jordan. “Wanted to be like MJ,” James said. “Shoot fadeaways like MJ. Wanted to stick my tongue out on a dunk like MJ. Wear my sneakers like MJ. I wanted kids to look up to me at some point like MJ.”
Well, Zion is the latest great athlete to possess many desirable qualities.
Listed at 6’7”, 285 pounds, the big man from Spartanburg, South Carolina is known for his power. The finesse part of his game exists, but it doesn’t stand out the most. It would be like Mike Tyson being known for his jab more than his fierce uppercut or Nolan Ryan being admired for his curveball instead of his lethal fastball. Power typically stands out the most. While Zion’s power is most evident, he has another characteristic that would benefit others to emulate.
Zion didn’t forget why he plays basketball. It’s simply because he loves the game.
My first job in sports radio was back in 2004. I landed a role as an on-air morning co-host and producer at ESPN Radio 1580 in my hometown of South Bend, Indiana. For a minute I thought that I might be rich. I remember thinking, “Man, this is ESPN. This is the big time. I might’ve just landed a huge payday.” My first check showed that I made $5.15 an hour. Like Bob Uecker said in Major League, “Juuust a bit outside,” I was juuust a bit short of being rich. I stuck it out though because it’s what I loved to do.
I hired a guy named Chris Haynes as a producer when I ran FOX Sports Radio 1340 in Fresno, California. It was obvious to me that Chris was very hungry and talented. He also ended up debating my co-host constantly in commercial breaks, which I loved, so I gave him the nickname “Straw” because he loved to stir things up.
I’m not going to put his W-2 information out there for the world to see, but let’s just say he’s making a whole lot more now as a big shot at Yahoo! Sports. Chris stuck out the early years because he loves sports. I’m very happy to see him achieve so much as a result of grinding it out.
Cleveland Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey shared a powerful thought while addressing his team on HBO’s Hard Knocks last year. “I want everybody to take out a piece of paper and write what’s your why — why you play football,” Kirksey said. “You can tape it on your ceiling in the hotel room. You can put it on your nightstand. Every morning you wake up, that’s going to be the first thing you see. Before you go to sleep, that’s the last thing you’ll see is your why. When it’s tough, you’re always going to remember there’s a reason why you do this [bleep].”
Why do you do what you do? It’s easy, especially for people in the sports radio business, to lose sight of their why. It’s common to focus on what — what can be gained. Trying to make a lot of money or gain attention aren’t necessarily bad things at all, but that’s what the industry can provide, not why hosts initially get in the business. If the people in sports radio were only about money and fame, they’d never stick out the lean years when they weren’t making anything and no one knew who they were.
I can remember playing pick-up games of football with friends as a kid. We always pretended to be NFL players. There would be disagreements at times because someone “already called Jerry Rice.” We didn’t know what being rich even meant back then. We just thought Rice was awesome and wanted to be like him.
It was the same thing for LeBron. “My high school best friends, we remember walking up and down those Akron streets with a basketball, just singing, ‘I wanna be, I wanna be, I wanna be like Mike.’”
Zion is the person I want to be like now. Not for his skill and power, but for his mindset. He made a decision to come back and suit up for Duke because of why he plays the game, not for what he can get out of it.
Appearing in a March Madness video before the ACC tournament, Zion said, “For the people that think I should stop playing in college and just focus on the NBA: thanks, but no thanks. I love playing basketball. I want to go out there and do my best and try to work the hardest.”
That mentality should be valued and applauded. Far too many people have their priorities out of whack and focus only on money instead of Zion simply wanting to be there for his teammates while playing the game he loves. That’s conviction. That’s purpose. That’s inspiring. It’s funny that many people who are solely focused on Zion getting rich are missing a valuable lesson that can enrich their own lives — don’t forget your why.
Why do you work so hard? Why do you grind each day? The answers to those questions are the reasons that truly matter.
If you remember the main reason you battle each day at work, it makes the random day-to-day headaches dwindle. It lessens hard times and adds more joy to the good experiences. Why does Zion work so hard and continue to play college basketball? “I’m just trying to be Zion and just play the game I love.”
What’s your why?