“When facing adversity, we should not ask, ‘Why me?’ but instead, ‘What am I supposed to learn from this?’” – Chip Conley
What is Adversity?
Merriam-Webster defines adversity as “a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune.” Athletes are one group of people who experience this more often than the general population and every athlete must learn to overcome adversity at some point in their lives.
Bill Wennington is one such example.
The Canadian-born basketball player had a rich career in the NBA. He won three championships with the Chicago Bulls and represented his country in the 1983 World University Games (Canada won gold that year) and the 1984 Olympics. He played professional basketball for a total of 15 years — three times longer than the average NBA player.
It should come as no surprise that Bill had to handle his fair share of adversity during his career, but there was one particular moment that I will never forget.
Bill Wennington and Adversity
At the end of a game against the New Jersey Nets on March 29, 1997, Bill felt such a sudden and severe pain in his left foot that he was unable to bear weight on that leg. Bill was known as a guy with a high pain tolerance, so it didn’t look good.
It appeared to me that he had had an acute rupture of the plantar fascia — the tissue on the bottom of his foot — and an MRI the next day confirmed my diagnosis.
The timing could not have been worse: the playoffs were on the horizon. For a professional athlete who had been preparing for this moment his entire life to hear that he must go on injured reserve and not participate in the playoffs had to be gut-wrenching. As his treating physician, it fell to me to deliver the news.*
Of course, Bill was extremely disappointed. His team was preparing for the playoffs and he wouldn’t be able to suit up. But Bill’s response could not have been more inspiring.
He told me, “I have been lucky in my career. NBA players average five years in the league, and I have already played for ten years. I have had a good run.”
Bill’s story didn’t end there. The Bulls went on to win it all in 1997 and again the year after. The 7-foot center was a part of that team and played his final season with the Sacramento Kings.
As I have told my own children and my students through the years, the true test of a person’s character is not how they act when things are going well, but how they act when facing adversity.
*Excerpt from my book, The Ball’s in Your Court: A Doctor Shares Life Lessons from Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, Abraham Maslow and other Inspiring Teachers.
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