The Measure of a Man: Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol in the face of Victory and Defeat.

Photo by Mark Blinch of Getty Images

What is the Measure of a Man?

Marc Gasol’s listed height is 7 ft 1 in (2.16 m).
Joel Embiid’s listed height, 7 ft 0 in (2.13 m).
Kawhi Leonard’s listed height is 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m).

As Men, we are measured not just by our physical height, but by the heights of our achievements: what we can demonstrate, own or have produced. Some of us measure one another as men by the shots we took in The Game of Life. This means making the shots we took regarding our careers, relationships or sexual ‘conquests’, towards a goal, or our dreams.

For these men, a man is solely defined by this idea of ‘success’. A man’s entire self-worth or value becomes tied to ideas of wins. Manhood then descends into an ill-fated quest measured exclusively by what we dominated or who we conquered. Regardless of your definition of success in life, a number of men grew up as boys practicing their one shot at immortality, that imaginary dream shot in a clutch sports situation. A life defined by one shot.

That Shot.

Whether it is a drama-filled penalty kick, the intensity of the “bottom of the 9th, bases loaded, a full count…”, or the iconic fade away shot while chanting under their breath “…at the buzzer for the winnnnnnn…” The ritual of visualizing your one shot. The shot with it all on the line in The Game of Life. It’s the kind of once in a lifetime shot Kawhi Leonard is said to work on everyday. 

On a Sunday in the Spring of 2019, he took the ball, and he hit that shot.

That Shot.

Before that moment, he wasn’t having a great game, and missed a free throw that could have cost them the game. He knew he had to step up. And so he did. Leonard hit the shot in a moment that mattered most, with an overwhelming amount of pressure riding on it for the Toronto Raptors franchise, and their long-suffering sports fan base.

Did you read that? It said “Leonard is the 2nd player in NBA postseason history to hit a game-winning buzzer-beater in a winner-take-all playoff game. He joins Michael Jordan, who did it in…1989… (known as “The Shot”).”

Michael. Jordan. 

They talkin’ about Michael. The Measure of success for an athlete. The mythic player who every other NBA player is measured against. A man who has accomplished what players dream of, and strive for. What if you knew before you took a shot that it might be your last shot, your only shot, at your dream? 

You are defined by, not just what you did when it mattered, but what you did after.

There are over 6000 words in the English language to describe emotion. How many of those do we allow one another as men to express? In the Game of Life, too many of us as men measure manhood by the power we hold over not just others, but over ourselves as well. Their definition of manhood is to have ‘control over your emotions’, in a way that ultimately blocks your own shot as a person.

Emotional illiteracy is the stunting of your emotional intelligence. Philosopher Alain de Botton says that “Emotional intelligence is the quality that enables us to confront with patience, insight, and imagination the many problems that we face in our affective relationship with ourselves and with other people.”

As a man of few words and laser-focus in a league of flash and sizzle, some describe Kawhi Leonard as a ‘killer’ or ‘assassin’ on the court. He tends to speak more with his cold-as-steel actions on the court, leading to people calling him a machine.

Okay. Well, I mean…

All jokes aside, this state is not achieved by being void of emotion. Kawhi Leonard is a storm of emotion, much like many stoic boys, young men and men. The key is how he chooses to channel emotion.

Emotion channeled into That Shot.

Some like to think Men need to be void of emotion to get the job done. Emotion isn’t about weakness, it is about strength, Success as a Man is learning to ride and function with all your emotions, versus trying to fool yourself into thinking emotion is something you can lock away in the trunk.

Brené Brown tells us courage is not possible without vulnerability. “We can measure how brave you are by how vulnerable you are willing to be.” You have to be ready to lose in order to win. Again, the problem within a flawed approach to The Game of Life, is that the measure of a man is in his wins. You are a Superhero or a Zero. No in-between.

There is no room for defeat within this definition. That means a fictitious, imaginary severing of a man from his emotion in order to achieve and ‘succeed’. Immortality = Unbreakable.

Assertiveness does not require shutting down what makes you human. This idea of devaluing emotions just plays out as self-aggression that just blocks your own shot when it comes to everyday relationships and tasks. You just get in your own way.

Kawhi plays with pure emotion, a passion translates into a focused sharp steel when he plays. The cold steel of the sword is shaped in the fire. He might seem disconnected, but he is deeply connected.

Kawhi Leonard sounds to me like a man of conviction, passion and pure emotion, channeled into the fuel for his fire to succeed. He knows what matters, and what his value and measure is.

I watched and re-watched that shot, just like many of us in Toronto and across the basketball world, again and again and…

There is another moment from that game that I re-watched a few times as well, which also happened after the buzzer.

It was Toronto’s Marc Gasol showing care and compassion in a moment of celebration to his rival, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.

Life is a series of bounces. Some will go your way. Some will not.

What makes you a man is what you do after the bounces go your way.

What makes you a man is what you do when the bounces don’t go your way. 

Developing and mastering our Emotional Intelligence, allowing and embracing the full spectrum of emotion, lets you create a open playing field with room for other’s emotions as well as your own. This is where you can truly reach your heights as a human. You allow yourself to better handle what happens when you sink that shot, or miss that shot.

In watching NBA basketball, we witness larger-than-life super-sized speci-men execute in a way we wish we did in our lives when it mattered. We see moments of life-changing-elation, moments we vicariously feel and dream of achieving. We also witness moments of reserved, stunned defeat, moments we can all relate to.

What we don’t get to see is the moment when the locker room door closes, the cameras are off, and these super-sized bionic men crumble into a mortal puddle of tears. The load of that pressure, the pressure of lifting an entire city, and the weight of letting a city down. Letting everyone down, letting yourself down. It is a pressure we can relate to as men and young men in our own lives: in the responsibilities we either face, or don’t face.

When your idea and value of a man is defined by domination, a loss becomes like a death. 

Watch that video of Gasol comforting Embiid again. Mark creates a brief space for Joel to drop his armour and a sadness momentarily crashes through him. This mountain of a man breaks down for a millisecond.  This isn’t a moment of weakness, it is one of growth, and Gasol’s nurturing and fatherly encouragement allows for it. Gasol chose to Be The Lesson in Action. What happens moving forward is up to Embiid.

What was said is between those two men. What I took away was Gasol’s embracing both the ups and downs of the Game of Life at once, in stride: a true measure of a man. 

Men: Let’s show up in people’s lives like Gasol did for Embiid. We can be defined by what we do when everyone’s looking, in more ways than one.

Rather than measure a man by what he demonstrates, owns or proves, we can measure a man by how he serves, how he lives and how he gives. To be a true giant among men, is to live a life like this. We can support one another as men by spotting each other in the ’emotional gym’: doing that hard work together, and building our empathy muscles.

It’s not about being better than everyone else, it’s about being better than your yesterday’s. That comes from taking hundreds, and thousands, of shots in preparation for that one shot. Preparing for who you will be when it matters most, and for who you will be after success or defeat.

There will be many opportunities to do better than our yesterdays, and that means preparing for today and the tomorrow that follows.  Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol gave us two moving examples of how a man can show up in a moment that matters.

Manhood is not a measurement, it is a testament.

About jeff perera
Jeff Perera has spoken to tens of thousands of people of all genders across North America about our ideas of Manhood, and how we as men can Be the Lesson in Action.

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