DRAFT DAY: The Beginning or the End?

When everything you do is about the money, if that’s the end result you crave, what happens when it ends? Because it’s going to end, whether you want to admit it or not. Someone else is going to make more, do more, and be more because you did nothing but sit back and say, “Look at me, I’m rich.” Anyone can start something. Few can finish. You don’t  have to love the work. You just have to crave the end result.

An excerpt from RELENTLESS: From Good to Great to Unstoppable


Finally, the big day. Perfect knot in your $200 tie, Mom has a new dress, the whole family is by your side. Someone suddenly whispers in your ear— this is it. The commissioner is at the podium. “With the eleventh pick . . .” You don’t hear anything else. The first person to hug you is your agent. Congratulations, today is the beginning of the end of your career.

Did you exhale? Did you think, “I’m finally here, set for life”? Or did you think, “I have a lot of work to do”? Most guys, on the day they’re drafted, go out to celebrate. Kobe went to the gym to practice.

Making it to the top is not the same as making it at the top. True for any business; getting the job doesn’t mean you’re keeping the job; winning the client doesn’t mean he’s staying forever. Most people seem to understand that. They get a big opportunity and usually realize they now have to go out and earn that salary, working even harder to prove they deserve it.

But if you’re an athlete who just got rich quick, the day you sign that contract can easily be the beginning of the end. You’re already on the pedestal. Your shoe deal is in place. Now you’re not just known by the team you play for, you’re  a brand. Instead of spending the summer working on your game, you’re traveling the world pitching your sportswear. Your group of “friends” just grew ten times larger than it was a week ago. And you’re no longer dreaming about what you can do for the game, but what the game can do for you. You took what was handed to you, and that was the end.

I’m using athletes as an example here, but you know it applies to anyone else as well: What have you been handed and what are you willing to earn? At some point, you got a gift: maybe you were blessed with talent, or you inherited the family business, or someone took a chance on you and let you in the door. Then what? Doors swing two ways. Did you shut it on the competition or on yourself?

Dwyane Wade is the perfect example of receiving nothing but talent, and taking it to the top. From a small high school in Chicago not known for its great basketball program, he was barely recruited by any colleges and ended up at Marquette. He didn’t even play his freshman year because of academic reasons. But he knew what it was going to take if he had any chance of making it to the pros, and he fought his way back. In 2003 he was drafted by the Miami Heat, the fifth pick after LeBron James, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh. That’s right, of the Big Three, Dwyane Wade was the last one drafted. He arrived in Miami without billboards, mega-million dollar shoe deals, or a crown. He just showed up and played. Three years later, he had his first championship ring. It would be years before anyone drafted ahead of him would do the same.

You cannot understand what it means to be relentless until you have struggled to possess something that’s just out of your reach. Over and over, as soon as you touch it, it moves farther away. But something inside you— that killer instinct— makes you keep going, reaching, until you finally grab it and fight with all your might to keep holding on. Anyone can take what’s sitting right in front of him. Only when you’re truly relentless can you understand the determination to keep pursuing a target that never stops moving.

No question, those who are gifted get to the top faster than anyone else. So what? Is that your excuse for not reaching as high? The challenge is staying there, and most people don’t have the balls to put in the work. If you want to be elite, you have to earn it. Every day, everything you do. Earn it. Prove it. Sacrifice. No shortcuts. You can’t fight the elephants until you’ve wrestled the pigs, messed around in the mud, handled the scrappy, dirty issues that clutter everyday life, so you can be ready for the heavy stuff later. There’s no way you can be prepared to compete and survive at anything if you start with the elephants; no matter how good your instincts are, you’ll always lack the basic knowledge needed to build your arsenal of attack weapons. And when you’re surrounded by those elephants, they’ll know they’re looking at a desperate newcomer.

One summer I had about fifty guys in the gym, a combination of veterans and pre-draft players, including one young man who had never spent a single day wrestling a pig. He had gone to good schools with the top coaches and came from a great family that made sure he had whatever he needed. He worked hard, but everything had been too easy, from scholarships to trophies, and he became a big star without paying a whole lot of dues. He expected to be drafted high and had no idea how things worked in the real world, unprotected by the college environment and supportive followers. He was a marked man from the minute he touched the ball. Every single player in the gym that day had one mission: mess this kid up. Not nice, but competition rarely is. And because he had never been exposed to that level of heat and anger, he completely crumbled. He couldn’t do a thing— out of those fifty guys in the gym that day, he ranked fifty- first— and he learned the hard way that there’s not a magazine cover or a parade that can help you when you’re not prepared.

People who start at the top never understand what they missed at the bottom. The guy who started by sorting the mail, or cleaning the restaurant late at night, or fixing the equipment at the gym, that’s the guy who knows how things get done. After he’s eventually worked his way up through the ranks, he knows how everything works, why it works, what to do when it stops working. That’s the guy who will have longevity and value and impact, because he knows what it took to get to the top. You can’t claim you ran a marathon if you started at the seventeenth mile.

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