What makes a person great?
That’s the central question of this podcast: What is greatness, and how can we achieve it in our lives?
There’s no doubt that there are many ways to be great, but decoding greatness has been a personal passion of mine for a long time now. I want to get to the bottom of greatness and understand how to be greater in my own life and help you do it too. And fortunately, I’m not alone!
My guest today is a virtual expert on greatness. When I heard he was working on a project called Greatness Code for Apple TV+, I knew I had to have him on the show. His name is Gotham Chopra, and over his career as a filmmaker, he’s gotten to know some of the best athletes of all time.
LeBron James. Tom Brady. Kobe Bryant. Katie Ledecky. Alex Morgan. Usain Bolt. Shawn White. My friend Gotham worked with them at the top of their game to tell their stories and understand what makes them great.
“… The mechanics of greatness [were] really fascinating to me. It’s the moment for sure, but it’s the backstory and it’s the context in which greatness happens — just from a storytelling perspective [I] was really into that.” – Gotham Chopra
And he doesn’t just work with athletes! When Gotham was only 15, he met Michael Jackson, at 17 toured through Europe with him, and as an adult has continued to reflect on his experiences and what made Michael Jackson the genius he was.
And as if that weren’t enough, Gotham also just happens to be the son of legendary spiritual guru and healer, Deepak Chopra. Gotham has seen the man behind the public persona, and he’s had a unique opportunity to peek behind the curtain of greatness.
And today, he’s here to share his wisdom with you!
I’m so glad to have a fellow greatness-enthusiast in the house today! Let’s dive in!
Gotham Chopra is a legend all by himself. He’s a world-renowned filmmaker, and he’s worked on several documentary projects with athletes from across the range of sports to uncover what makes them tick.
Back in 2015, Gotham produced and directed Kobe Bryant’s Muse, a feature-length documentary that explores what exactly made Kobe great. As a Boston-native and lifelong Celtics fan, Gotham wanted to hate Kobe, but after getting to know him, he realized that Kobe had something special. In the documentary, he looks at the mentors, trainers, allies, and rivalries that shaped Kobe and pulls back the curtain on the athletic genius we all know and love.
A few years after that, Gotham worked with LeBron James on a series called Shut Up and Dribble. It’s an awesome look into the NBA and how its athletes grow as a brand and use their fame and platform to advocate for social change.
More recently, Gotham produced the TV documentary series Tom vs. Time, which is an in-depth look at the legendary Tom Brady both on and off the field. Gotham’s truly interested in what makes great athletes great in their sports and in their personal lives, and Tom vs. Time is a fantastic exploration of that. I highly recommend the series, and you can check it out on Facebook Watch here.
And finally, Gotham’s most recent project, Greatness Code, is exactly what it sounds like. It’s an exploration of greatness through the lens of some of the world’s top athletes. In this short documentary mini-series, Gotham interviews several elite athletes — including LeBron James, Tom Brady, and Alex Morgan — to decode the most pivotal moments in their careers.
Gotham teamed up with Tom Brady once again to co-found Religion of Sports together with Michael Strahan. Religion of Sports is a collection of great filmmakers, writers, podcasters, and creative geniuses who work together to tell great human stories from the court, field, pitch, or any other sports arena. They seek to show how sports give us meaning and how we can find profound truth in the stories we find in sports. In addition to being a co-founder, Gotham is the Chief Creative Officer, and he’s putting some really great work into the world.
I am so excited to have Gotham Chopra on the podcast today. He’s an insanely talented guy, and his insights into the minds and lives of great athletes, superstars, and geniuses have taught me a lot. We talk about some incredible stuff in this episode, so let’s get into it!
Oftentimes when we think about our favorite athletes, we think about their greatest moments, like Kobe scoring 81 points in a single game or Katie Ledecky breaking the world record for the 1,500-meter freestyle at just 15 years old. We remember these huge moments of triumph and victory.
When we talk about those moments, we’re in awe of how well these athletes perform. They seem to be on a whole different level, right? Their mental toughness and physical strength work together perfectly, and they perform at the absolute highest level.
And this is common to a lot of athletes. According to Gotham, that kind of mental clarity is consistent across the board.
“You’re very familiar with the expressions ‘in the zone,’ ‘flow state,’ ‘peak performance,’ all of that. … You start to hear consistency across when these athletes describe it — this level of surrender. … I hear all this stuff, ‘but in that moment I let it all go,’ you know, ‘in the present’ and all that stuff.” – Gotham Chopra
For athletes, greatness happens when they surrender. In those awesome moments we all remember, they reach a spiritual level of clarity. They don’t think — they just move. They tune out all other thoughts and distractions and just get “in the zone.”
But no one gets to that level without preparation. The greatest athletes are obsessed with improving their game and becoming the best they can be.
“… When we started Tom vs. Time, it was literally three or four weeks … after the incredible 28-3 comeback. And I was on a practice field with him in Boston. … So I was like, ‘Dude, are you series? Like, you just won a Superbowl a month ago.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, a month ago. … Training in March and April pays off in January and February.’ … It’s the sort of mad scientists in the laboratory tweaking so that in the moment you can just be instinctive. … You’re not thinking about, you know, your hip or your arm movement or whatever. It’s like at that moment you’re just reacting.” – Gotham Chopra
Great players like Tom Brady don’t put in the hard work training so that they can think about their skills out on the field. They train hard so they don’t have to think. They put in long hours practicing so that they can surrender to that spiritual level of clarity and just move naturally in those insane career-defining moments.
There’s a dark side to greatness, though. And since Gotham’s been exploring greatness for so long, he’s definitely seen it. Nowhere has it been more obvious than in Michael Jackson.
“My experience with him was: he’s a genius. He was one of the most gifted artists in the history of human civilizations. And actually now when we all read about, you know, Vincent van Gogh or Picasso or Mozart, like they were crazy geniuses. They were disturbed in many ways. And I think Michael was that …” – Gotham Chopra
To be greater than everyone else, you have to be able to stand alone. But that loneliness can have a major cost. Whether these great artists and performers are living with past trauma or not, it can be insanely difficult to live a life in the spotlight and elevated above everybody else.
For Michael Jackson, that struggle often resulted in him spending his downtime alone in hotel rooms. But more than that, Michael Jackson stayed trapped in a young mindset for too long. He never truly grew up because he felt so much pain, and that led to a lot of struggle.
“I mean, so there was like this childlike quality to him. … He was like a 15-year-old boy that was trapped, you know, like, he had never really matured from that time, you know? And I knew Michael across a long period of time.” – Gotham Chopra
It’s so important to stay grounded and keep your relationships healthy. You can’t be a healthy individual without people around you supporting you.
That’s why sometimes athletes have an advantage over artists or other performers. When you play on a team, you’re part of a unit that’s greater than yourself. You have to take care of your relationships with your teammates and work together to succeed.
“I think sports are unique because a lot of them are team sports, right? So no matter what kind of trauma or isolation you have in your past … part of being successful, at least in a team, is like connecting with other people. And that’s — in its own way — restorative and healing. So, you know, LeBron James comes from a difficult background … But like gradually over time — and really starting in high school — the guy was already having success. And to this day he’s surrounded by those same guys — Maverick Carter and … some of the guys in his inner circle — and so I think there’s something healing about that.” – Gotham Chopra
Whether you’re an athlete or not, focus on your relationships with the people around you. After all, your team is made up of those people. They could be your family, friends, co-workers, or literal teammates. Whoever those people are in your life, make sure you invest in those relationships. When you do, you make the whole team greater.
Growing up as the son of Deepak Chopra, Gotham had a special opportunity. He got to watch his dad grow into the world-renowned spiritual leader he is today. Those years of observing and learning gave him a unique perspective on greatness that you can’t get without peeking behind the curtain.
For many years, Deepak Chopra was not the spiritual guru so many people look to for guidance today. In fact, for a long time, he led the total opposite lifestyle. He struggled, and he depended on alcohol and drugs to get through the days.
But eventually, that changed. Deepak transformed his life, and Gotham captured the shift on film.
“… He kind of has a deep dissatisfaction in his life, and I lived through that. I watched it. I remember as a kid … he would work all weekend. He would work to the bone. He would come back, have two whiskeys… probably more than two whiskeys, and pass out. … So I remember I did a documentary a couple of years ago called Decoding Deepak [that] was basically, ‘Okay, here’s who he is to the world. … Here’s who he is to me. And here’s the story that sort of underlies this.’” – Gotham Chopra
In some ways, Deepak Chopra has two sides to him. He has the public side, which now teaches people to meditate and shows people how to connect with their spiritual sides. But he also has the private side, which is just like you and me.
At the end of the day, Deepak Chopra — along with all the other great people we’ve talked about today — is just a person. He’s a human who struggles with things. He achieves greatness when he continues to struggle and prevail over his personal challenges.
“… Actually, everything that he is — you know, this idea of spirituality or perfection or whatever — to me is a lot more admirable when, you know, … there’s a real human being that’s … struggled with things. And again, same thing with athletes. It’s … like this person who you’ve seen as this moment of greatness — it’s actually like they’re [a] human being [who] is struggling with all these things. … that makes it that much more admirable.” – Gotham Chopra
That’s so powerful. Gotham doesn’t see his dad as a great man because he’s a world-renowned spiritual leader. He sees Deepak Chopra as great because he’s a real human being who struggles and prevails.
Greatness isn’t about being the best. It’s not about scoring the most points, making the most money, or having the most followers on Instagram.
Gotham’s definition of greatness is pretty simple: “sometimes it’s just about being in the moment.”
That is so true. Greatness is all about what you do in each individual moment. It’s about surrendering to the moment and making the most of your time.
If you prepare as hard as you can and invest in your relationships, you’ll be ready when your moment of greatness comes. And it will come. We all have the potential for greatness because we’re all human. We all struggle, and we all experience defeat and success.
This episode was powerful, guys. I’m so glad I got to have my friend Gotham Chopra in the studio to help me decode greatness today.
You guys, this is a fantastic episode you do not want to miss! If you’re ready to learn the secrets to greatness from someone who’s worked with some of the greatest athletes, artists, and thinkers of all time, look no further than Episode 980 with Gotham Chopra.
I’ll catch you guys next time!