This is the first in a series of “Ronnies” that will be keyed off of several outstanding articles published in the Rotarian, the magazine put out by Rotary Club International. As is the case with any service organization that is meeting the needs of its members, the Rotarian has many articles written on leadership and personal development. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the famed 7’2” superstar who played basketball for decades, first for the Milwaukee Bucks, then for the Los Angeles Lakers, wrote an article entitled, Eureka! The Four Elements Behind Every Great Invention. The article is a good one, and it generated lively discussion between the two of us.
First, we dated ourselves. I first asked, “Remember when he was Lew Alcindor?” “I sure do,” replied the Mayor. Lew was a full two feet taller than I ever was, let alone when, as a seasoned citizen, I began to shrink significantly. The idea of being over 7 feet tall is something I will never be able to get my head around. At some point Lew decided to change his name to Kareem, went on to have a long, amazing career, and retired as an undisputed NBA giant in every regard.
Kareem mentioned in his article something that he learned from his mentor, UCLA Coach John Wooden. He has applied Wooden’s statement to his own life ever since he left the collegiate basketball court. “Things turn out the best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” While no one disputes the importance of positive thinking as a foundation for anything that is successfully creative, what spoke to Mayor Ronnie was the fact that Kareem had distilled out four other elements that went far beyond the “glass that is half full.” They are behind every great invention that has blessed our lives, and become a part of how we function daily. Of inventors and their inventions, Kareem says, “…real accomplishment was the result of observation, imagination, commitment, and discipline.”
Observation means more than just being situationally aware; it means taking a detailed look at what can happen. From the standpoint of basketball, it means not just knowing where your opponents are, it’s anticipating where they’ll be “three seconds from now.” Imagination, as Mayor Ronnie said, “is what gets the inventors somewhere.” Commitment is what gave Thomas Edison the stuff to press through over 15,000 “failed” experiments before the light bulb effectively went on. Kareem spoke of African American inventors whose inventions saved lives, but they were never given credit for it. It was clear that public adulation, (or the lack of it,) was not what motivated them, and in spite of tremendous odds, they went on to be successful. Discipline is something Kareem spent a good deal of the article discussing, because, by his own admission, he never saw himself as having all that much raw talent. He described himself as a young man as a “greyhound running across a freshly waxed floor.” However, it took literally years of daily practice under Wooden’s tutelage to become the player who had one of the longest careers in NBA history. “Being tall put me on the court, but being disciplined kept me winning on the court,” he said.
All of these are highly important points to consider, whether for an inventor, a city, or a Mayor, and they can be applied to any problem. “From basketball, to life, to church, to Rotary,” said the Mayor, “this is what makes for a truly ‘seamless city.’” We talked about what the wonderful things Rotary is doing, both here in Athens, and all over the world, then we prayed. Then he had to “roll,” this time to Birmingham.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner