3 min read

Winning Time and the Curse of Competition

Winning Time and the Curse of Competition
Photo by Marcel Schreiber / Unsplash

The last episode of Winning Time reveals the soul of the show: winning will never be enough. The show is about a lot of things. How the Los Angeles Lakers went from a dying franchise to a championship factory in the 80s. Winning Time is a peek into the flailing and failing NBA on life support until Magic Johnson, Kareem, and the showtime Lakers came knocking. Some argue Magic and the Lakers created modern basketball.

Yes, Winning Time is a lot of things. A glimpse into 80s pop culture, the rise of the NBA as premier entertainment, out of control drug culture, the complex personalities of Magic and Kareem, and the fanaticism of Dr. Jerry Buss wanting to own the Lakers.

Despite all the varying storylines and glimpses into the world of complex athletes, coaches, and late 70s and early 80s NBA, something else continually takes center stage. Competition has a shelf life. And if you’re not careful, you could lose everything, including yourself.

Winning at all costs requires a sacrifice. A sacrifice of relationships, money, and perhaps your soul. Didn’t Jesus say what good is it to gain the entire world and forfeit your soul? Winning Time is a parable of what can happen when you give everything to win.

You can see it in the eyes of Dr. Jerry Buss when he accepts the championship trophy. Not an image of a man making it to the mountaintop of NBA glory. More like a confused child being told he’ll not make it to the next grade. Winning it all appears to have taken more than it gave.

You’ll glimpse the curse of winning when Magic Johnson and Jerry Buss share a moment in the locker room. Buss says something about Magic being used to all the winning. He’d won high school and college championships. Magic affirms Buss, but you also see it in his eyes. A look that says winning isn’t everything. When Buss asks, “What’s next?” Magic says in a lifeless tone, “I guess we have to do it all over again.” Is winning all it’s cracked up to be?

When I think about the cultural waters in America and the systems and institutions and lives we’re trying to build amid the backdrop of the American Story, much is driven by competition. They founded the country on a promise to be a privileged place on the earth. A New Jerusalem. Our slaughtering of native people and the enslavement of others rooted in the disease of competition. Only the fittest will survive. The weak an afterthought.

And yet, building a country, institution, or life on the soils of competition will always produce an inferior crop. Why? Because once you win you have to do it again and again. Once you’re the best, someone will come along to dethrone you. Someone will come along with a better product, or a better jump shot. And then when you’re threatened by being on the losing end, you’ll do anything to keep it. Sadly, and many times played over in our country and in human history, violence is the only answer.

Think about politics and our current moment. Our current version of politics is no longer about the good of the people and the communities in which we live. It’s about winning and being right. Politics is about being on the winning team. It doesn’t matter if our policies are good and lead to flourishing. It doesn’t matter if our politicians are people of character and integrity. Winning and power are all that matter.

Politics is one arena of drinking deeply of the competition liquor. But what about the church? We often build our churches on market share. Instead of a concern for the souls of the community looking to be properly formed in the things of God and love. We constantly wonder how to get more people in the building to pad our budgets and baptism stats. Leaders strategizing to build the church more efficiently and move it faster as a force in the community.

Winning Time is a parable of the tradeoffs in the waters of competition. What will it cost our loved ones, our health, and even our souls? The show plays loose and fast with details of the 80s Showtime Lakers and gets many of the details wrong. But the one thread running through the story as a warning alarm in the distant: be careful of competition.

It doesn’t always deliver on its promises. Even when you’re hanging a banner in the Forum.