The Glory of Humility

By Bob Hiller

If the NBA is good for nothing else, it sure does supply some great offseason drama. If you haven’t been keeping up with the ESPN gossip channels, then you might not know that Kyrie Irving, the second-best player for the Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers, wants out. Despite the fact that his team has been to the NBA Finals three years running, it seems that Irving is tired of playing in the shadow of LeBron James. If the rumors are true, Irving wants to be a franchise player, the focal point of whatever team for which he plays. He wants center stage and a team built around him. He believes he has the talent to be the number one guy on an NBA team, and he wants to prove it, but it won’t ever happen in Cleveland so long as LeBron stands in his way. So, he wants out.

Of course, every sports show has an opinion on Irving’s desire to leave. So, I thought I would throw in my own two cents for my four faithful readers. Read this article by Stephen A. Smith, and you will see why Irving wants out. What player with Irving’s level of talent wants to play second fiddle to a guy who takes all the credit for winning and blames losing on not having enough talent around him? LeBron is a dominating figure, and he knows it and has no problem playing it up, even if it is at the expense of his teammates. Irving is tired of hearing it. So, I get it.

The problem for Irving, however, is that if he leaves Cleveland, he won’t win. Unless he ends up in Golden State (which can’t happen for any number of reasons), he won’t be on a team that has a real shot at the championship. Golden State is set up to dominate the Western Conference for the next five years, so he won’t win there. And in the East, the only team that is going to the Finals is the one with LeBron on it, and Irving is leaving that team. So, he won’t win. I wonder if that matters to him, though. Which is more important: winning or being the franchise player? Do you want championships or MVPs? The reality is that with LeBron in the league, Kyrie won’t ever see either after leaving Cleveland.

It may be miserable for Irving to be in Cleveland. And even though LeBron’s star power is a significant part of the problem, Cleveland is also miserable for Irving because of his own ego. Playing with LeBron may be hard, but it means winning. It gives Irving a better shot at a championship than a franchise tag does. It may be hard for someone as great as Kyrie to never get the credit he deserves nor see his name in the well-earned limelight, all while LeBron belittles the team. So what? If Kyrie’s goal is to win, why is he so concerned about his name and reputation being the center of attention? I know Jordan was not a great teammate, but you never heard of Scottie Pippen or Horace Grant (highly underrated, by the way) complaining about their roles on the team. What happened to them? Lots of championships, that’s what. Look at Klay Thompson for Golden State. On any other franchise, Thompson is king. On Golden State, he’s the third or fourth best player. Yet, he sets his pride to the side, stays on the team, plays hard in his role, and wins.

Pride is blinding to reality. I’m afraid that Irving is about to become a sad example of what happens when we forget the glory of humility. There is nothing wrong with not being the center of the universe. There is nothing wrong with playing hard in a secondary role, even when the lead guy is a proud, glory hog. But this sort of humility is lost on us, and not just in the world of professional sports (though, there perhaps the loss is most noticeable). I grew up being taught to renounce such humility. I could change the world. I was extraordinary in my own way, and everyone else just needed to see me shine. Railing against the “you are a unique snowflake” metaphor has become tiring, but it was what many of us were taught. I am the best me there is! We were taught to boast in our uniqueness and be proud of our potential. If this is what we were taught (and quite happy to learn, as it reinforces what we already know about ourselves), I should not be surprised to find people like Irving acting as though personal accolades matter more than winning. What matters to us is us!

The stories we tell our kids are all rags to riches stories of people who lived in “nowhere” towns with “meaningless” jobs but overcame their poor circumstances to make a name for themselves. To a certain extent, this is a good thing. However, the problem arises when we miss the glory of the rags, the joy of realizing that “meaningless” jobs matter for our neighbors, and that there is no such thing as “nowhere.” There is glory in those positions that this pride-addicted world deems too humble. After all, Jesus was born in a manger. There is beauty in working hard in an ordinary vocation that brings no worldly accolades. You may not impress your neighbors, but you will love them! St. Paul tells us to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We are to pray for kings and those in high positions, not aspire to be them. The goal is a quiet, humble life lived for the sake of those who need us to serve them. That is a godly and dignified life according to God the Holy Spirit. It is that Spirit that frees us to live in the glory of humility.