When greatness gets old

by Barnabas Piper

Posted on Friday, April 18, 2014, at 12:50 pm

Gregg Popovich has won more than 900 games as the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs. He has the longest tenure of any NBA head coach, 18 years, establishing himself as one of the best coaches in the league. Under Popovich, the Spurs have won four NBA titles and made one other trip to the Finals. The team hasn’t missed the playoffs since 1997, and has perpetually adapted its style to counteract and overcome virtually every trend in the league. There is not a coach who so exemplifies ongoing excellence in pro basketball today as Gregg Popovich.

LeBron James is completing another MVP-level season, averaging more than 26 points, six rebounds, and six assists per game while leading the Miami Heat to the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Coming off back-to-back-to-back NBA Finals appearances, with two-straight championships, the Heat are poised to make a run at the three-peat this year. James is the best player in the NBA. It’s King James’s league—everyone else aspires to the throne.

Every year a panel of NBA sportswriters vote on the Coach of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards. And every year Gregg Popovich and LeBron James deserve to win their respective awards. But Popovich has only won two COY awards, and although James has won four MVP awards, he could have double that. Their lack of further recognition may be because some years another coach led a team to unexpected success or a player rose to unique heights for a single season (like Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant this year). But another factor is in play, too: voter fatigue. Writers don’t want to vote for the same guys over and over again. It happened to the best player in NBA history, too: Michael Jordan won five MVP awards but deserved at least seven or eight. Voters tired of his greatness. They wanted someone new.

When greatness persists over time, our expectations rise to meet it. Instead of “exceptional,” it is merely “meets expectations,” that dreaded term of mediocrity and latent dissatisfaction. As we become accustomed to greatness, we become apathetic. And this doesn’t just pertain to basketball or other sports. It happens to just about every good thing in life. We appreciate it, get used to it, and get bored by it whether it is a spouse or a job or a church.

It takes intentionality to avoid this. Appreciation is a discipline, as is enjoyment. Our normal way of encountering life is passive—the good things just happen and then we move on past them or them past us. When we actively engage our minds to appreciate what is great and our hearts to absorb it, it doesn’t get old or boring. When we constantly seek to recognize what is significant and attractive and remarkable, we avoid apathy toward the greatness God has created and put in front of us.

Whether it is Gregg Popovich, LeBron James, or your spouse—work to pay attention to the greatness God put there. You will be happier for it. 

Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.

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