Well, it’s now official: The UCONN Huskies women’s basketball team has done what no other Division I program ever accomplished; they have won 89 consecutive basketball games. It really is an unbelievable feat to achieve and as they have done so often throughout the streak, their win tonight was in convincing fashion.
Over the last couple of days there has been a lot of discussion about how this accomplishment compares to that of the UCLA men’s basketball team who won 88 consecutive games. Analysts and experts have been debating which feat is more significant. Frankly, reading the opinions of some of the so-called ‘experts,’ journalists, and other sports personalities about their negativity towards a women’s team breaking a men’s teams record has been pretty disconcerting. I don’t blame UCONN’s coach Gene Auriemma for lashing out at the media this past Sunday and highlighting the unfortunate gender bias issue involved with their winning streak. “I just know that there wouldn’t be this many people in the room if we were chasing a women’s record,” Auriemma said Sunday. “The reason there’s everybody in this room, the reason everybody’s having a heart attack the last four or five days is a bunch of women are threatening to break a men’s record. And everybody is all up in arms about it. All the women are happy as hell and they can’t wait to come in here and ask questions. All the guys that love women’s basketball are all excited. And all the miserable bastards that follow men’s basketball and don’t want us to break the record are all here because they’re pissed.”
The reality is that men’s and women’s basketball are different. That’s because men and women are different. Aside from the physiological distinctions and the fact that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, their strengths and abilities are equally unique . You really can’t compare the two achievements against each other. They both stand on their own merits.
However, there is one aspect that is comparable and equally as impressive for both the men’s and women’s teams. And that is the ability to sustain their respective winning streaks with a consistent focus and determination day in and day out for the last three years. It’s hard enough for the average player or team to maintain focus for a single game; and they have done it 88 & 89 times in a row! To succeed over so many consecutive games and seasons requires each team to commit to being tenacious, dogged, and unwavering in their dedication to the team and the game of basketball. It’s this type of consistency which is often taken for granted and tends to be under-appreciated.
We can learn this value of consistency from a very interesting Midrash. Rabbi Shimon Ben Pazi declared that the most significant verse in the Torah is the one which commands us to bring the daily lamb offering every morning and every night. Ben Zoma argued that the most significant verse in the Torah is the “Shema Yisrael” verse which commits us to accept the yoke of heaven and the yoke of God’s commandments. Ben Nanas cited the commandment to love your neighbor as one loves oneself as the most important verse. A fourth Rabbi stood up and declared that Shimon ben Pazi’s choice was the correct one.
But what is Shimon ben Pazi’s reasoning? What is so central and significant about the daily sacrificial offering that caused him to select the verse discussing the perpetual offering, as the most important verse in the Torah?
The answer is that the Korban tamid, the perpetual offering, was a daily ritual that was performed twice each day, without fail and without variation. It was the very symbol of consistency and persistence, attributes that are vital to each and every one of us as we face the challenges of daily life. That is why this seemingly uninspiring verse was selected as the most important one in the Torah.
In Judaism and in life, winning isn’t everything- trying your best and putting your best foot forward is. What brings God His greatest pleasure is watching us grow to become consistent in our worship and devotion to Him, so that even if we fail, He knows that we did as best as we possibly could. As the legendary coach John Wooden, the architect of UCLA’s 88 wins, said: “Perform at your best when your best is required. Your best is required each day.” In other words, be great consistently and you will be consistently rewarded.