“The Ceiling Is The Roof!”

“The ceiling is the roof!”

-Michael Jordan

During the 2002 NBA All-Star game, an aging Michael Jordan was fed the ball with nothing but open court ahead of him.   Unguarded, Jordan dribbled twice and glided into the air for a signature dunk. At age 39, Jordan was about to turn back the clock and dazzle everyone with one more glimpse of basketball genius.

Instead, this happened:

I find that so satisfying more than 15 years after the fact.

And Marv Albert’s astounded reaction is golden:

“Jordan…at the head of the field!  Jordan takes-OH!!! He blew it!!! Whoa!”

It was beautiful.

Through the whole fiasco, Jordan managed to smile and appeared to take things in stride.  Sure he had to feel humiliated but he didn’t need to do any explaining, his highlights and his stats could do the talking for him.  He knew he had six rings, endorsements and five MVP’s.   Everyone knew that, epically Jordan.

Missed dunks -like this gem the very next year:

could never wipe away his legacy of greatness and dominance.

Now offhand, Michael Jordan is kind of a bad example for greatness when you take into account that we now know he’s a complete sports psychopath, a huge bully and a degenerative gambler.   While a grotesque blunder in front of millions of people probably led to some dark moments for Jordan behind closed doors (I can’t even imagine the feeling of knowing the true depths of this tortured man’s dark, dark heart should he cast his wrath upon you), I give MJ credit for being all smiles. Back then, we all wanted to be like Mike; a nice, Gatorade drinking, Wheaties chomping basketball savant.  Jordan knew the value of his public persona.  The smile was brilliant; he let his sports greatness speak for itself and he held his head high.

Jordan was half right and I can acknowledge that because there are people who never, ever miss a chance to tell you who they are.  My friend was once excoriated by a coworker, furious over an imagined slight.  The offended colleague insisted to be shown respect because the Torah wanted people to respect their elders.  He was all of twenty-seven my friend was twenty-eight and the whole exchange was kinda ridiculous.  It’s easy to be small.

You don’t really need to list your credentials; the best teacher is a good example.  If you want people to do great things being a great person helps.

An old boss of mine regularly made absurd, obtuse demands of our staff.  This person clearly went to the “Mr. Cosmo Spacely school of Management” and lacked virtually leadership tool, other than power and age.  Hoping to sound emphatic, she once stipulated in an email that a certain upcoming event was “MANDATORY” for all employees.  MANDATORY. What did that mean?

Before this, I thought mandatory was mandatory but now the presentation of something being mandatory in all capital letters made me wonder if things would be less mandatory if they were not MANDATORY.  What if the next time it would be “MANDATORY” or just “mandatory”?  It creased my brain to think about how one desperate, tone-deaf email, could ruin the word “mandatory” and tick off the entire staff ( I snuck out the back halfway through the event and a third of the staff did not show by the way).


There is a fine line between leadership and posturing, inspiring and threatening, having greatness and being a great person. The best boss I ever had took the mentality that he worked for his employees and mentored what he would like to see from his staff.   It is harder to do than order people around, but he created a culture where people wanted to take on more.  His mentoring is successful because he’s a genuinely a wonderful person.   What if he told us something was “MANDATORY”? That was a trick question. He never would and he likely would not have to.   We followed a person, not a title.

Greatness tends to spill over into multiple areas not just what you do from 9 to 5.  The greatest people command respect and a following because who they are not only what they’ve done, because of character, not status. Everyone wants to be great but mistakes what greatness is for titles, accomplishments, awards or other things. I think we are much more complicated than that.  I think we are better than that.

The people in charge are not always leaders.  It’s OK to be skeptical of catchphrases, slogans and brands.  If you are not ready to carve out you’re own path you are risking disappointment.

What do you have to say about that MJ?


“Our normal sensation of self is a hoax, or, at best, a temporary role that we are playing, or have been conned into playing — with our own tacit consent, just as every hypnotized person is basically willing to be hypnotized. The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.”

– Alan Watts


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