This is the fourth commentary in a series of articles analyzing ESPN's 10-part documentary, The Last Dance, a detailed look at the career of one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Michael Jordan, and the Chicago Bulls.
There was a clothing line in the 1990s that touted the line No Fear. Many wore their shirts that featured such thought provoking slogans as "Second Place is the First Loser or There are many things to be learned from competition, fear is not one of them." Then each would be branded with the No Fear tagline.
Living without fear … It’s one way to embellish the strengths we as humans believe we possess.
Living without fear is quite the life code for hardcore athletes, right? You play without fear – not even a hint. To show fear, is to show weakness. In the pantheon of athletics, qualities such as fear and weakness are to be abhorred; or at the very least buried in those dark places within us where only we know they exist.
That is, unless you were a teammate of Michael Jordan’s.
"People were afraid of him. We were his teammates and we were afraid of him. It was just fear. The fear factor of MJ was so, so thick,” Bulls teammate Jud Buechler said.
Jordan’s competitive traits are legendary. But striking fear in opponents and teammates alike might stand out most.
“My mentality was to go out and win – at any cost ... I’m going to ridicule you until you get on the same level as me. And if you don’t get on the same level, then it’s going to be hell for you,” Jordan said.
All of this begs the question: Can you compete without fear?
Fear and worry have been thriving entities from the very beginning of mankind – long before Jordan was around. Jesus talked about an enemy who comes to steal, kill and destroy, and fear is a key ingredient in this recipe.
We fear embarrassment. We fear the known as well as the unknown. We fear failure AND we fear success. Many fear the uncontrollable. We fear if we’ll measure up and come through – and when we do – we’re often tempted to fear if we can do it again.
It’s no coincidence that one of the most repeated commands in the Bible is: Do not be afraid (Fear not).
Isaiah 41:10 says to fear not … do not be dismayed.
Paul tells Timothy, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” 2 Timothy 1:7(ESV).
There are times when fear is an appropriate response. Rational fear – such as your reaction if you encountered a swarm of murder hornets or clowns (purely hypothetical) – is pretty appropriate.
Fearing the Lord, according to Proverbs 1:7 is the beginning of knowledge. Proverbs 9:10 also says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” This kind of fear means having a reverence and utmost respect for the Lord and what He commands.
You also might have nerves before a game or practice. But there is the type of fear that paralyzes and binds us. That type of fear can rob you of your freedom to fully experience competition the way God intended even if you view you’re an athlete who views sport as a way to worship and honor Him.
While Michael Jordan might have instilled fear in his teammates, it was quite the opposite with Moses. It’s hard to imagine – at least initially – Moses telling the Israelites that, “I’m going to ridicule you until you get on the same level as me.” He was afraid before the journey even began.
He was also the guy God tasked with leading His people out of Egypt and into the promised land. To do that they had to cross the Red Sea. But by the time they reached it, Pharaoh’s army had caught up to them and they were trapped.
When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly… They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” … “For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today.”… “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” – Exodus 14:10-14
Can you imagine Buechler calling out Jordan like the Israelites did to Moses?
In that moment, Moses was faced with some performance anxiety. His people were angry because it seemed they had two choices: drown in the Red Sea or be slaughtered by the Egyptian army.
But his command to fear not, stand firm and watch the Lord fight for them was draped in confidence that God was with them and He was going to do something.
Can you compete without fear?
We have real fears. But we also have a real God who promises to never leave us. And like He continually fought for the Israelites, He will fight for us too. But we need to acknowledge our need for God as well as our desire that He take part in our lives with us each day.