by Brad Everett
When Kobe Bryant came into the National Basketball Association out of high school, he had scored an 1100 on his SAT’s, he spoke two languages fluently (after a chunk of his childhood was spent in Europe due to his father’s professional basketball career), he had taken famous singer Brandy to his prom. By the time he was 19 he was playing in the NBA All Star game where he was matched up with arguably the best player in history, Michael Jordan. This can go to your head…and it did. When Phil Jackson, who had coached Michael Jordan and was now coaching Kobe, wanted to help Kobe mature his basketball skills in a healthy, way he decided to have him meet Jordan. Bryant had been in the NBA for 3 years and Jordan was retiring after a long and illustrious (some would say legendary) career. Jackson thought sitting Kobe down with Jordan would be a great idea. Here is how the meeting started:
“…Jackson said that he asked Michael Jordan to talk to Kobe Bryant shortly after Jordan’s second retirement in 1999. One might expect a young player to be a bit star-struck when meeting a legend like Jordan, but this is Kobe Bryant we’re talking about here. Jackson said the first thing that Kobe said to MJ upon meeting him was ‘’I could kick your ass one-on-one.’’ “ [ESPN]
Kobe’s comment was most certainly said in jest, but the fact that he thought it okay to approach Jordan in this way says something about his view of reality. Even though this was one of the first times he was meeting the living basketball legend in this way, he thought his status was worthy of being able to joke with Jordan. We, who grew up in the “Jordan-era,” know that Kobe should have had a more humble posture.
This is not a personal attack on Kobe. There is no scandal that came of this story, but this story has everything to do with how we view honor. After doing an exercise with my InterVarsity staff team on defining honor, we came up with the following list.
When we did a deep introspection of our hearts we realized that our generation that is largely enthusiastic about independence and proving ourselves (this may be more related to our age), honor can be fleeting. But honor is a chief character trait that we need in order to fully engage the calling of God on our lives. Why? Because there are those who lead us who are God’s prophet’s in our lives, those who have seen more of God’s grace and power simply because they have been around longer. Also because their lives show they are leaders who God has gifted us with and who are worthy of being admired. We realized that our want to be honored can sometimes cause us to kill the leaders in our lives. Not physically but, even worse, in our hearts. And what is in the heart can always be noticed on the surface even with the best cover job.
Where does honor come from? Is it earned? Are we called to honor everyone? I like Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:21–6:9. He tells wives to submit to their husbands, children to honor their parents, slaves to honor their masters (“obey with respect”). Likewise, husbands are told to love their wives like Christ loved the Church, parents are told to not irritate their children, and masters are told to treat their slaves with respect and fear (some inductive study is needed to see this). There is honor throughout this passage, and I believe Paul is very intentional in making sure these aren’t “if then” statements. Honor is not earned neither is it conditional upon receiving it. In the kingdom, it comes from Jesus. Paul says to submit (honor) to each other out of reverence for Christ and even ends these verses by saying to masters that “you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven…”
Honor ultimately comes from an honoring of God. Even though we could respect those who have come before us by their accomplishments alone (many of those I honor most have lived lives that merit more respect than I can give), we choose to see deeper than that. We choose to recognize that God has placed a special authority in them that should be honored. We choose to recognize our own shortcomings and we realize that we can never measure up to the standards our hearts put on those we view as leaders in our lives. We recognize that we need prophets who have seen more of God, knowing that this does not equate to our relationship with God being worth less. We choose to get out of our heads and out of God’s way and honor those who challenge us, push us, teach us. We honor those who, with love, help us grow out of shame into humility, out of hurt into toughness, and out of immaturity into unshakeable passion.