A few days ago there was a mind-boggling story in the sports section of the New York Times. The story was more about a player’s core values than about a franchise’s value core. David West, a 35 year old basketball player walked away from a 12.5 million dollar player option with the Indiana Pacers and signed another contract (as a free agent) with the San Antonio Spurs for about 11 million dollars less. If that were not enough, he also turned himself into a bench player after years as a power-forward starter on his team. In an age when you always read about players holding out for more money and star-power, here is a star player opting to receive the veteran’s minimum deal. He is quoted as saying: “I know my family is secure and I can do what makes me happy. I felt it was time to move in a different direction.” He went on to explain, “For me, in terms of basketball, I needed every night to mean something, in order to keep going.” West is also known for the charity work he does with impoverished youths in his native North Carolina.
West’s story reminds me that even though there surely are people who hunger for fame, comfort, wealth and power, there are others whose souls crave meaning and figuring out what it takes to live a life that matters and that will make a difference for others.
In his book When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough: The Search for a Life that Matters, Rabbi Harold Kushner identifies three things that a person must have in order to feel that he or she has lived a life and not wasted it: 1) Belonging to people, 2) Accepting pain as part of your life, and 3) Knowing that you have made a difference.
According to the Talmud there are three things one should do in the course of one’s life: have (or influence) a child, plant a tree and write a book. All three represent ways of investing our creative, generative energy in things which will endure after we are gone.
If there is a lesson for the NBA’s younger players, fans and all of us to glean from David West’s life story, it is certainly not about what he sacrificed to play for San Antonio. Rather, it is about how he has chosen to live his life by making a difference and making every day count.
May we always remember that people may count the days of their lives, but a person of wisdom makes every day count.