Breaking Bad Habits Day 3: No One Likes an Ego Trip
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud. (Proverbs 16:18-19, ESV)
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:6-7, ESV)
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12:2-3, ESV)
In 1996, the Los Angeles Lakers signed Shaquille O’Neal and drafted Kobe Bryant, which would kick off one of the greatest stretches of basketball in the storied franchise’s history. Bryant and O’Neal would end up being two of the ten greatest players in NBA history, but their relationship was anything but great. When the Lakers reported to camp in 1996, O’Neal said, “I’m not gonna be babysitting” then-18-year-old Bryant. Bryant was all business and O’Neal liked to have fun. O’Neal thought Bryant was selfish and Bryant thought O’Neal was lazy.
Although it took a few seasons, the Lakers established one of the greatest dynasty runs in the history of the NBA, winning NBA championships in 2000, 2001, 2002, and getting to another NBA Finals in 2004. Winning did not cure all the issues between the two men, but it at least masked them for a few years. Both of them thought they were the man in Los Angeles, and refused to take a back seat to the other. Bryant wanted O’Neal to get in better shape, accusing him of being selfish for not doing everything he could to stay at an elite level. O’Neal thought Bryant was a ball hog who needed to give him the ball more. There were fights in practice, public disputes, comments made to the press, declined invitations to weddings, legal issues, milked injuries, and just about anything else you could come up with.
Instead of continuing their run as a dynasty out west, O’Neal was dealt to the Miami Heat because the two superstar players simply could not get along. Keeping a close eye on each other’s successes and failures, their feud continued, silently, through the rest of their careers as O’Neal won a championship with Miami in 2006 and Bryant with Los Angeles in 2009 and 2010. After passing O’Neal’s four NBA championships in 2010, Bryant said “Just one more than Shaq… I can take that to the bank.” Kobe Bryant passed away tragically in a helicopter accident in early 2020, and since then Shaquille O’Neal has spoken about how he handled the relationship with Bryant, listing it as one of his biggest regrets in life.
On the basketball court, egos can be helpful to drive a player or team to greatness, but too much of an ego tore apart the Los Angeles Lakers’ dynasty. On the other hand, egos should have no place in the life of a believer. Philippians 2 shows Christ as the ultimate example of humility. Even though He is God, He did not use that to His own advantage. Instead, He took on the form of a man, obeyed the will of the Father, and died on the cross. He had every right to call down legions of angels to destroy that awful scene at Calvary, but instead was willing to suffer, bleed, and die on our behalf.
If the Lord Jesus can put aside who He is to follow—the will of the Father, why should I hold myself above others? I am not saying a believer should have no self-respect or self-esteem, but our goal should be to uplift the name of the Lord Jesus. John the Baptist said, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). The word “must” indicates that there was only one choice in the life of John the Baptist. We have the same choice in our lives: promote self or promote Christ? One comes with, at best, fleeting, temporary rewards and the other comes with everlasting rewards. It would be my prayer that each of us would work to put aside our ego, seek His will, and live lives that point to Christ.