The Power of the Unfamous: A Lesson From the ’96 Bulls and ’16 Warriors

I remember the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. They went 72-10 that year. It was led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen as team captains with Phil Jackson as coach. They set the record for the most regular seasons wins in NBA history and went on to win their 4th championship in 6 years. It was the greatest NBA team ever assembled. Until now.

Tonight the Golden State Warriors have the opportunity to surpass that mark of most regular season wins. They are sitting at 72 wins with 1 game left, and most agree they’ll win. The Warriors won the NBA Championship last season, and if they can break this record and then go on to win a second consecutive title, they will be the new kings of the basketball world. Like the Bulls of 20 years ago, this team has a set of superstars in Steph Curry, the most electrifying offensive player in the world (and likely MVP), and Draymond Green, the defensive player of the year.

But there’s one other thing the ’96 Bulls and the ’16 Warriors have in common:

Steve Kerr.

As you can imagine, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin cast a pretty long shadow, and Kerr was one of the players in that shadow during the heyday of the Bulls. He was a second round draft pick and bounced around a couple of places before coming to the Bulls. During the 1995-1996, he contributed about 8 points per game. He was a contributor, but he was not the guy in the spotlight. That spotlight is only so big, and with someone like Michael Jordan in front, there’s not much left for many others.

Now Steve Kerr is the coach of the Golden State Warriors. And he’s a contributor again. Steph Curry and Draymond Green are in the spotlight, and there’s Kerr – in the background, an essential component of the team, but still not the guy up front.

Such is life. In any career, family, or even church, the spotlight is only so big. And most of us will find ourselves as contributors, but not the center of that limited amount of spotlight. But perhaps that’s not such a bad thing, for living in the background might not be the best pathway to fame and glory, but it does provide a glimpse into the importance of what happens in the background.

I love that when you look through the pages of Scripture, you find a bunch of big names. People like Paul, David, Esther, and others. But on occasion, you also find a “supporting cast” – those in the background who were content to stay there. These were people who, for the sake of something bigger, were entirely content for the spotlight to shine more brightly on another while they played their role in the shadows.

For Paul, there was Barnabas who vouched for the newly converted murderer before an untrusting fellowship of Christians.

For David, there was Jonathan who was willing to give up his own claim to the throne to see God’s plan for David come to pass.

For Esther, there was Mordecai who whispered words of courage and inspiration from the shadows so she would take the initiative to save her people.

And these are only the ones we know by name. Surely there are scores more of those who lifted others up on their shoulders. And if we scan back through our own stories, we would see the same thing. We would find people who did regular jobs in the most regular way and yet chose to invest in us to see us become who God wants us to be. And what do we do now in response?

We do the same. We prop others up. We share credit. We encourage without feeling threatened. Instead of greedily grabbing for the spotlight and notoriety, we boost up another.

As parents, we accept the fact that our greatest contribution to the world might be through our children.

As group leaders and Sunday school teachers, we treat everyone with grace and compassion not knowing what will become of who the Lord has entrusted to our care.

As co-workers, we live a gospel-centered life, constantly salting our conversations and interactions in order that another might come and reap the harvest.

We willingly give up our own names because we know that our names will most likely be lost to history and yet never lost to God.

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