It happens sometimes in sports. A prime example occurred last year in basketball, the sport President Barack Obama played in high school and dreamed about playing professionally.

It happens sometimes in sports. A prime example occurred last year in basketball, the sport President Barack Obama played in high school and dreamed about playing professionally.


Three aging superstars who had never won the elusive big one changed their game a bit, one choosing to pass the ball more often instead of always taking the last shot. Sure, his stats were down during the 2007-08 season, but when the Boston Celtics won their 17th NBA title, I didn't hear Paul Pierce complaining.


A situation more people could probably relate to is in the family. A mom who was educated at a top-notch university sets aside her career aspirations to stay at home with her children, or a single mom in the inner-city works three jobs just to make sure her son can attend a private school.


Sure, the family could use the extra cash in the first case, and mom would enjoy the rest in the second. But money isn't everything. These parents understand the importance of raising children in a safe, nurturing environment.


It happens in private and public organizations, like a struggling entrepreneur forgoing a salary, or a company setting aside a portion of its profit even in bad times to support a local charity.


Just the other day, for example, I edited a story where non-union municipal staff in a small Massachusetts community agreed to forgo raises and freeze salaries to lessen the number of layoffs required to balance its $18.1 million budget.


It's called sacrifice, surrendering something of value for the sake of something else. In most of the above examples, it all worked out for the better. Steps were taken back, but in the end, steps were taken forward. What was lost was either regained, or the people were put in new situations that were more to their liking.


On Tuesday, President Obama mentioned several examples in our nation's history where Americans have sacrificed, toiling in sweatshops, enduring the lash of the whip and fighting overseas to defend our way of life.


Over the next few months and years, I'm sure we're going to hear that word again and again. The question, though, is whether we'll take it seriously and do our part, or sit back and complain that the other guy got his and so I must get mine as well.


When the proposals are put forward to curtail the cost of Medicare, to require means testing for Social Security, or to pay a little extra for that energy-efficient car, will we agree to the changes or put up a big fight?


In reality, sacrificing is counter-intuitive to the 21st century American way of thinking, where it's all about looking out for No. 1, collecting the most toys for me and mine.


That's why we have thousands of failing businesses in which CEOs pull down millions in base pay while laying off the very men and women who produce the goods. That's why the Big Three auto executives, clueless of the difficulties the average American faces, flew private $36 million jets to Washington, D.C., last month to ask for taxpayer bailout money.


Yes, we need to sacrifice - everyone, including the government. We must stop asking our government to do everything. We must stop consuming 24 percent of the world's energy. We must stop living a life of excess just because we can afford it, or worse, going into debt to keep up with the Joneses.


Sharing is key. Not forced by the government to share the pain, but each individual deciding what he or she should do. Working as a team is required for America to regain its greatness.


As the president said: "What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility, a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and our world."


Jeff Adair is a Daily News writer and editor. He can be reached at jadair@cnc.com