When Kobe Bryant recently won his fourth NBA championships, commentators and journalists alike claimed it as vindication that he could win a title without his one-time teammate and now media-nemesis Shaquille O’Neil. According to these same pundits, Kobe needed this title to claim his play in basketball history. It was his opportunity to prove that he could be a champion even without Shaq’s power and dominance.
Prior to the title win, however, many of these same pundits were comparing the Magic and the Lakers’ experience in championship play. The Magic had been to the Finals one other time – and had been swept in the series. The Lakers are chasing the record help by the Celtics for most all-time champion reigns. When comparing the two team’s history, the Lakers seemed to have the clear advantage.
However, the Lakers’ past experience and the severance of his relationship with Shaq aren’t what won them this championship. Experience counts, but what you do with that experience counts too. If Kobe had believed the hype, that without Shaq he would always fall short, he wouldn’t be celebrating on the streets of Los Angeles this week. Conversely, if the Lakers had taken their heart-breaking lost to the Celtics last year as a sign of their weakness instead of motivation for future wins, they too would be at home mourning another failed playoff attempt. Kobe’s experience included both success and failure, but it isn’t what determined the final outcome. His response to it, his hard work, plus, yes his phenomenal gifts, are what ultimately enabled him to fulfill his quest.
The point is this, oftentimes in life we place a large weight on the experience of someone else. We want people to “walk in our shoes” before the give us advice. We want teachers who have already trodden where we need to walk. We want experience, because we think experience validates wisdom. But experience doesn’t. Experience gives us a lens through which we view our world, but its the lessons that we take that produces wisdom. It’s rightly understanding our experience in relation to the God of the Universe that allows us to tread our journey with ultimate security. Experience counts, but only so much as we make it. There are plenty with experience who have failed to overcome, failed to move on, and failed to achieve victory. When we desire experience, we are asking for that which is only an indication of proficiency. Really what we should be looking for is experience quality – experience that has lead to a quality outcome, that has produced that which honors God and indicates preparedness for future success.
Kobe Bryant had years of experience playing with Shaq, but that didn’t determine his ability to win a championship with a different sort of team. The Celtics had years of experience winning the championship, but that didn’t determine their appearance in the Finals. We have to put experience it is proper place if we are going to understand its outcome. In doing so, we allow the unexpected to happen. And we are open to that, when we haven’t predetermined the conditions of success, God does amazing things.