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As A Wise Man Once Said, “Aristotle Didn’t Say That”

Adam Lefkoe of TNT interviews LeBron James
Image: TNT

Tuesday night, near the end of the third quarter of the Lakers' loss to the Thunder, 38-year-old LeBron James sunk a fade-away midrange jumper to break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record and become the all-time leading scorer in NBA history. Sometimes, when an athlete achieves an amazing feat like this, it can be hard to find the words to express just how amazing it is. It's not easy to try and process history as it's made, to capture the energy and magnitude of a moment and translate it for a TV audience. Even broadcasters can require an assist, like TNT's Adam Lefkoe did last night.

In the postgame broadcast, Lefkoe worked in not one but two quotes from historical figures during his interviews with James and Abdul-Jabbar. It's difficult to trace the origins of the first quote, but the second one doesn't appear to have been said by Aristotle.

"I have a quote for you, my friend: 'Throw me to the wolves and I will return leading the pack.' You are now leading the pack," Lefkoe said to James, before asking, "How is the view?" James laughed, said it was surreal, and got on with his answer about being grateful for his teammates and coaches.

A few minutes later, the studio crew interviewed Abdul-Jabbar. Lefkoe had another quote in the chamber.

"You are a man—you are very well read, and I want to do a quote from Aristotle, which is: 'We are what we repeatedly do, therefore excellence is an act, not a habit,'" Lefkoe said. Abdul-Jabbar chuckled as Lefkoe corrected himself to say that excellence is "not an act, but a habit."

The studio crew joked about Lefkoe's quotes later in the show. "Listen, if I'm going to quote some Seneca and some Aristotle, let me be," Lefkoe said. What's especially funny is that Aristotle didn't say it.

The quote Lefkoe attributed to Aristotle originates from the 1926 book The Story of Philosophy, written by Will Durant. He wrote the line as follows: "... we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." Durant was summarizing something else said by Aristotle, but over time, the credit wrongly shifted to the more recognizable Greek philosopher. TNT did not respond to a question about whether Lefkoe acknowledged his misattribution later in the broadcast; we will update if they do.

At the TNT desk, analyst Shaquille O'Neal ribbed Lefkoe for not delivering the line right: "If you quote Aristotle, you gotta quote it correctly." O'Neal was cheekily referencing one of his many self-assigned nicknames during his playing days: The Big Aristotle. By the way, how'd he come up with that? From this AP report published in 2000:

"From this day on, I want to be known as 'The Big Aristotle,' because Aristotle once said excellence is not a singular act, it's a habit," O'Neal said with a smile Tuesday upon receiving his first NBA Most Valuable Player award. "You are what you repeatedly do."

Perfect. All this time, Shaq should've been known as the Big Will Durant.

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