Revisiting Michael Jordan, Love, and Talent

In yesterday's bullets, I quoted TrueHoop reader Daniel:

I have a topic for you: TALENT. When I was kid and Star Wars ruled the nation, unlike the other kids, I didn't want the action figures; I wanted the soundtrack. I have always loved music. At 15, I got a guitar. Didn't know how to play or even tune it. I just plicked around and sold it on the first offer. In college, a roommate showed me a few chords, riffs from Pink Floyd and Hendrix, and bam. Still rockin' today. People tell me I have talent. But I don't think so. I think it's love. If you play every day, and feel bad if you can't, and you do so for years and years, it's love and work that make you great. Yes, there are a few prodigies out there, so talent does exist. But I'm saying it's way overrated. Have you ever tried to think of a way to measure the minutes Jordan played? Total minutes, from childhood playgrounds and lonely mornings in the driveway to high school practices to pick-ups to summer league and international play to NBA games. If my theory holds any water, then Jordan, before his decline, played more than anyone. Maybe I'd put Iverson and Stockton and Nash up there, but maybe not Wilt or Shaq (maybe size is part of talent). LOVE TRUMPS TALENT.

It seemed to touch some people, and got some interesting comments and emails going.

I don't think I buy that it's a simple equation -- more hours will make you into Michael Jordan. But I totally buy that love is an underappreciated and essential ingredient, and a driver of the work ethic necessary to maximize potential in any field.

TrueHoop reader Sam Bloomberg-Rissman, who is a professional photographer, sent the following thoughtful response:

I just read the little blurb about love trumping talent and I have to say that there is some truth to the statement.

However, I think it overlooks a key point: Positive feedback loops. Michael Jordan spent that much time playing basketball because he was good at it. He excelled at it so he spent more and more time working on it. If he had started playing basketball and had had no talent whatsoever he probably would not have continued to play the game. The fact that he was good, and practice made him better, gave him enough positive feedback to continue pursuing the endeavor.

I am a professional photographer. I started taking pictures because I loved it. Why did I love it? I think I loved it because I was good at it. At first it came easy to me. It made sense. I think that that is the inherent talent level. After that the hard work I have put in the last 10 years has taken me to a level that is better than I was. I wouldn't have spent 10 years living and breathing photography if I hadn't seen results. If I hadn't been drawn to it in the first place, which I feel began with a certain level of talent.

Now, I agree that talent only gets one so far. Hard work and dedication are what separate the best of the best from everyone else. There are millions of kids who were initially as talented as Michael Jordan but most of them didn't have his competitive streak, nor his physical abilities. These factors are what helped him achieve greatness.

I just don't want people thinking you can become Michael Jordan only through hard work. I do think you can become Jason Kapono through hard work, though.