Last night, Morgan William slayed the giant. The 5-foot-5-inch junior point guard from Mississippi State hit the game-winning jumper in overtime to defeat the UConn Huskies and broke one of the greatest streaks in sports history.
Going into the game, the UConn Women’s Basketball dynasty had won 111 consecutive games and 4 consecutive national championships by an average margin of victory of 38 points. That’s legendary. By far one of the most dominating teams sports has ever known. And although Morgan William knew that she and her teammates were up against insurmountable odds, she also knew that all streaks must come to an end. Even giants fall.
Moments like these remind me of why I love sports. Yes, even women’s basketball. It’s not just about entertainment, it’s about so much more. The storylines and the back stories bring perspective and meaning to our own lives. We love sports because we connect to the stories within the sport—life is story and stories matter.
As humans beings, we relate to the emotion of stories because they cause us to slow down and go beneath the surface of that which is routine and mundane. In every great story, we find hope because it gives us a picture of our own story—the story our life is writing. We become the underdog, the hero, the villain, or the victim.
Last night’s game between Mississippi State and UConn was chalk full of stories. For example, we could talk about Morgan William’s deceased father and how she dedicated her Final Four performance to him. Or, we could talk about the fact that she’s the smallest person on the court and how great things come in small packages. We could also talk about how, although William’s shot won the game, it took a team effort to pull off the upset.
But the story I want to focus on is the streak.
All Streaks Must End
As a kid, I was a huge fan of Cal Ripken, Jr. Although he was an All-Star and a phenomenal baseball player, the Baltimore Oriole shortstop/third baseman is most well-known for breaking Lou Gherig’s streak of 2,130 consecutive games played. But on September 19, 1998 Ripken’s streak came to an end at 2,632.
I remember feeling a sense of defeat when the streak ended. As if the 2,632 previous games didn’t mean anything at all. And I’m sure that same feeling was felt by everyone on UConn’s side of last-night’s loss.
But I think we’re doing ourselves a terrible disservice by living this way—by living life as if it’s some sort of streak. If you think about it, we apply this line of thinking to so many disciplines within our lives: our eating habits, our career, working out, or even going to church. Everything is a streak.
The problem is, we begin to see the value of the streak instead of the thing itself. We forget why we’re actually doing it. That’s why we give up Coke and get hooked on Diet Coke, or go to the gym and don’t get in a good workout, or go to church and don’t pay attention. It gives us a sense of accomplishment without having really done anything. Streaks cause us to focus on “What” instead of “Why”—what we do instead of who we are.
But the truth is, all streaks end—all of them. All giants fall. All dynasties collapse. That’s why we cannot become the streaks we create for ourselves.
From Streak-Living to Living Whole
Streaks demand perfection and the pressure of perfection is a weight that we weren’t intended to bear. To cope with the pain, we started giving out participation trophies because we didn’t want to see ourselves as failures. Pretty soon, we’ll stop caring altogether because apathy is a lot easier than passion.
The inherent problem with streaks is that they cause us to polarize our lives into perfection and failure. In turn, we exhaust ourselves chasing perfection or just become comfortable with failure. This is precisely why habits and diets and don’t work. At some point, those habits and diets end. You can live underneath that regret, or you can forgive yourself and move on. The sooner you forgive yourself for not being perfect, the sooner you’ll be able to become who you were meant to be.
This is what I call living a whole life—a life that is fueled by your “Why”. Beneath every streak is a “Why” that really matters. And that’s what we have to focus on. We have to understand who we are becoming instead of what we’re doing. Then, we can start living beyond our circumstances. Losses and streaks are simply a byproduct of the life we’re living instead of the things that define it.