When I first started playing basketball, naturally I was terrible. Not a threat to beat or even compete with anyone. I tried out for the 12-and-under recreational league team and got cut, while 10-year-olds made it.
Even worse than that, kids whose moms were friends with my mom made it and I had to listen to her talk to them about it.
Much, much worse when my mom came to the playground and demanded an explanation from the coach as to why her son didn’t make it while some other women’s sons did make it. That’s when I really knew how bad of a player I was.
Eventually, after I realized that I could practice a lot and improve on my own that way, I started getting some respect on the playground, making teams. And for a year or two, I was neck and neck with the other players in the area. We’d go at it day after day in the summers.
By age 16-17, though, my practicing discipline was starting to really push me past some players. I was clearly better than some of the guys I used to lose roster spots to now, and their attitudes towards me started changing. Now I would hear negativity: Naysayers who said I would never make varsity in high school, that I wouldn’t play in college, that even though I was better than them, I wasn’t one of the best in the neighborhood.
By age 19 and beyond, the separation gap was wide and definitive. I didn’t hear much from them anymore.
This is how it happens when you’re on the rise and people see what you’re up to.
At first, they’ll ignore and laugh at you — you’re weak and no threat because you’re not even close to good yet.
When you start to get better and people see you improving, they see you threatening their position, they react in the most instinctive way they know how: throw all the negativity at you they can muster and hope something sticks (and to many people, it does). This stage — when you’re closing the gap on people who used to be way above you — is when you’ll face the most adversity.
Once you get past this stage — if you make it — the negativity dies down. People get quiet and accept your position. Being at this highest level is the easiest place to be, actually. It’s not exactly lonely at the top, it’s just quieter.
At the top, you’re not threatening anyone anymore. You’re above and beyond them.