by John Ellis
For some reason, and something I’ve never understood, most people are surprised to discover how much I love sports. And I, like, really love sports, especially basketball. If the contemporary maxims of self-actualization that can be distilled into “whatever you dream, you can accomplish” had any basis in reality there would be a statue of John Ellis in the NBA Hall of Fame.
Above all else, I would choose to be a pro basketball player. Above winning an Academy Award. Above being a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Above being a world-renowned philosopher. Possibly the only careers that would tempt me away would be quarterback in the NFL or starting pitcher in the MLB. Again, I love sports.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t also love other, non-sports things. For example, I love history. For some reason (possibly because I recently watched Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure with my kids), those two loves – basketball and history – collided in my brain this morning. While reading something completely unrelated, I found myself wondering which world leaders would be on an all-star basketball team comprised of only world leaders. You will find my answers below. No doubt, I have overlooked world leaders and it is possible that another team could be assembled that would not just compete with my team but prevail. I would love to hear your all-star basketball team of world leaders.
On a serious-ish note, while this article can be filed away as mainly a fun diversion, there is a pedagogical element to it as well. Thinking back to my arts integration work, exercises like this are a fun way to help get students engaged in what they (incorrectly) perceive as a boring subject.
Point Guard: Napoleon
Much is made of Napoleon’s height, or lack thereof. Too much, in fact. The man was 5’7”, a respectable height for the late 18th and early 19th centuries. However, even if the French emperor is tasked with playing opposite a much taller point guard, is there any doubt that Napoleon’s specific skill sets that helped produce his greatness and ensure his place in history would translate to success as the floor leader of this all-star basketball team? Of course, there’s zero doubt. His intuitive understanding of spacing and the importance of speed would keep all opposing teams on their heels and create open looks for the shooters. Napoleon’s ego, though, his hamartia, if mismanaged/coached poorly could cause this team to implode and find themselves exiled out of the playoffs.
Shooting Guard: Alexander the Great
Arguably the Michael Jordan of world leaders, Alexander the Great’s career on the world’s court was cut short. And like how MJ’s first retirement prompts debates of “what if,” it’s fair to ask if Great would have to be capitalized in Alexander the GREAT if he had continued to “play.” Athleticism combined with fearlessness and an unquenchable drive makes Alexander the Great the perfect focal point for this all-star team’s offense. And like MJ, any perceived weakness in himself would propel Alexander to work to achieve greatness in those areas, too. Skill and motivation wouldn’t be a problem. Deferring to others would be, though. A coach with a soft yet firm hand who also commands respect is required.
Small Forward: King David
I debated between David and his son Solomon for this spot on the team. Ultimately, Solomon’s lack of consistent focus and his foolishness later in his reign outweighed his superior skill sets. King David, on the other hand, while not perfect was overall steady and dependent. And his skill sets would make him the Swiss army knife of this all-star team. His selflessness and desire to see everyone succeed (think how he made sure everyone shared in the spoils of victory in 1Samuel 30:21-25) would be his greatest contribution to this team, but, when called upon, his skills are second to none. Since not letting anyone down can also be a weakness, he would need a calm, steady hand guiding him through the infrequent moments of despair and self-doubt brought about by his own unforced errors.
Power Forward: Genghis Khan
Think a combination of Dennis Rodman, Draymond Green, and Charles Oakley. Seriously. Do you know anyone who would be willing to take a charge from Genghis Khan or get in the way of his elbows when fighting for rebounds? His defense would be unrelenting and whatever offensive skills he brought to the game would undoubtedly overwhelm his counterpart on the opposing team. Corralling his intense energy and drive is not a task for a fainthearted coach, though.
Center: Peter the Great
At 6’7”, Peter the Great seems like the obvious choice. While I haven’t bothered to look this up, I’m pretty sure the Russian czar stands as the tallest world leader in history. Abraham Lincoln was 6’4”, I know that. Not only is that three inches shorter than Peter the Great, I have a hard time visualizing Lincoln on a basketball court. Peter the Great, though, loved physical activities. So much so, that even after he freed himself from the shackles of his half-sister Sophia’s regency, he spent the next few years basically playing with his group of rowdy friends self-named the Jolly Company. Considering his height and love of physical play, Peter the Great is the perfect choice to play center on this all-star team of world leaders. Although, his near constant state of inebriation would have to be dealt with, which is one of the reasons why the coach of this team is so important.
Coach: George Washington
Above all else, the two things that lifted George Washington from a nominally successful general to being revered as the father of the nation are his understanding that the parts are important to the success of the whole and his ability to lead, inspire, and galvanize any sized unit into committing to a shared objective. Washington’s strengths as a leader weren’t a brilliant tactical mind nor insightful wisdom. This all-star team has those strengths in spades on the court. What it needs is a coach who would inspire the over-sized egos to serve the team (ahem, Napoleon), corral and direct manic energies (ahem, Genghis Khan), fatherly guide any immaturities (ahem, Peter the Great), match true greatness with greatness in ways that illicit respect (ahem, Alexander the Great), and serve as a proxy confidence to help players fight through those down moments (ahem, King David).