Be Ready to Climb the Mountain

As LeBron and the Heat overcame San Antonio to repeat as Champions, I had a chance to witness the other end of the spectrum with a visit to a summer free agent camp.  Even though a champion has been crowned, the building process never really ends.  I was reminded how quickly opportunities, in basketball and in life, come and go.  Life is short and we need to stand ready at a moment’s notice to climb the mountain.

BASKETBALL – To climb the mountain, you have to “be that guy!”

This summer, I have a unique opportunity as a basketball coach to work with a college wood bat baseball league called the Northwoods League.  This summer baseball league is composed of teams of  top college players from across the nation. All players in the league must have NCAA eligibility remaining to participate. Players are not paid (this preserves their NCAA eligibility). Each team is operated similar to a professional minor league team, providing players an opportunity to play under the same conditions using wooden bats and minor league specification baseballs, to experience overnight road trips, and to play nightly before fans in a stadium.  Many of these players have been or will be drafted by major league teams and will get their opportunity to pursue the dream of playing professionally.

On the same day as Game 7, we took our team to visit with one of the co-owners of the franchise, John Hammond, who also serves as the general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks.  Hammond’s career has spanned the spectrum of coaching as well as front office work with the Detroit Pistons when they won the NBA Championship in 2004.  He invited the team to watch their workout of free agents as he scans for possible additions to the Bucks’ roster and then visited with our players to give them some advice about advancing in their playing careers.  He made three points to the players that impressed me:

Opportunities come and go quickly.  You have to be ready.  Basketball teams, especially in the pros, are dynamic.  Change is going to happen.  You can be out in a heart-beat, but you can also earn a contract just as quickly.

Past failures and struggles can be overcome.  We watched three first-round picks from recent drafts who are trying to hang on after being dropped by the teams who drafted them.  One had injuries and one never met his team’s expectations, but they’ve been given a chance by the Bucks and by other teams to prove they can move beyond their past experiences.

Be THAT guy.  Even at the NBA-level with million dollar contracts, GM’s and coaches are evaluating the intangibles.  Hammond is looking for the guy who acknowledges the coach, who listens, and who gets along with teammates.  Those guys are really important and every team is looking for them.

Now Miami and San Antonio will start a new climb up the mountain as they tweak and re-work their rosters.  Players from a variety of backgrounds will be working hard to make an impression.  For many, it’s a new mountain or it’s another attempt at the same mountain.

LIFE – What mountains do you need to climb?

Hammond’s advice relates to other areas of life as well.  Think about job situations, financial issues, or relationships.  While we can’t obsess about the mountains or be frightened to climb them, we have to be ready to face them.  You never know when a life-changing opportunity will come, so being ready to make the climb is important.  Recognizing opportunities is important, but just as the NBA free agents need to put past failures behind them, so do we.  Lose a job?  Adjust your work habits and “be the guy.”  Struggling with debt issues?  Evaluate your spending habits and make responsible changes, today.  Find yourself experiencing difficulties with a loved one or friend?  Look for opportunities to reach out and make a difference.  Mountains are opportunities to make changes and grow.  Stepping up and facing them is rarely easy and may take some time, even years of time, but living life to its fullest means we’re going to have to take them on.

FAITH – Are you ready for this mountain?

While basketball and life present us with new mountains on a regular basis, there’s really only one mountain for us to climb.  It’s that mountain that leads to being with our Creator and Savior in heaven.  Thankfully, there’s no way that we can climb it on our own.  In fact, Jesus has already climbed it for us and invites us to join him. The mountains of this life come and go and we should be prepared to climb them as they come, but the mountain presented to us when life ends can come at any time. James reminds us that life and its challenging mountains can come at any time:

 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:14)

And Paul encouraged Christ-followers (Eph. 5:15-17) to be ready for the mountains of opportunity that will keep us close to God:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

The Miami Heat reached a mountaintop, but new mountains are ready to be climbed. I pray that each of us learns to handle the mountains of this life, but more importantly, to allow Jesus to bring us to the top of the only mountain that truly matters!


Building A Legacy

With Miami and San Antonio locked in what projects to be a tight series, both teams are striving to move beyond simply winning the 2013 NBA Title.  All teams are trying to win, but only one is crowned the champion and only an elite few transcend beyond a championship to establishing a legacy.  The Spurs certainly have done that by winning multiple championships with a roster that has been turned over throughout the decade, while the Heat are still trying to make good on the public declaration of the Big Three to win multiple rings.  As we prepare for Game 4, let’s take a quick look at what it means to be a legacy team and how that relates to each of us in our families, businesses, and churches.

BASKETBALL – What makes a legacy team?

Brendan Suhr form has a terrific series of podcast interviews with many of the speakers who participate in the annual CoachingULive clinics.  Recently Tom Flick, a former college and professional quarterback and now a highly sought after leadership speaker, spoke with Coach Suhr about four types of teams :  Teams in Name Only, Good Teams, Great Teams, and Legacy Teams.  The determining factor in moving up the scale is the number of committed players to the organization.  Teams that are legacy teams also display eight unique traits:

1.  Forming of life-long friendships.

2.  A shared joy of the inner circle.  (It’s exclusive to the team only.)

3.  An unwritten expectation of accountability.

4.  A prevailing desire to never let teammates down.

5.  Good pride.  (See Flick’s explanation – bad pride destroys teams!)

6.  A display of quiet confidence.

7.  The team is built around the committed.

8.  All roles are honored equally.

Read Flick’s  Leading Legacy Teams for a more detailed explanation.

Let’s face it, most teams are at the first level.  Their players are united by the jerseys they wear and that’s about it.  With the changeover in rosters at almost every level, it becomes very difficult to move beyond this first stage, but when players and coaches work within a system and share a common belief in core principles, teams have a better chance to move to good and toward a legacy.  As the Finals finish out, which team do you think has the most of these traits?  Watch the players’ demeanors and actions and listen to their post-game comments and reflections between games.  It certainly seems that one of these teams, maybe even both, is rising to the level of legacy!

LIFE – Can you be a part of a legacy?

Any time you change jobs you most likely experience a culture change.  Most organizations and business can be grouped in the same way that Tom Flick groups teams.  The truly great organizations are those where the same eight traits exist. Sadly, I’ve been a part of more teams, faculties, and businesses where very few of those traits existed than in those that were  good, great, or legacy.  I realize now that I should have done more to make a difference.

Aren’t families the same?  My family growing up did not have many of those traits, but it sure motivates me to encourage my family to move toward a legacy.  I want my kids to share a unique joy within our family.  I want all of us to be accountable to each other and I want each in my family to have a quiet confidence to face fears and tackle problems outside our home.

Legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson writes in his new book Eleven Rings about a similar view of teams identified as Tribal Leadership.  I’m not comfortable with all of Jackson’s spiritual perceptions, but the basic premise he references has merit.  As teams or groups strengthen and improve they basically move from a joint view of “life stinks” to “life is great.”  I can think of moments in several jobs and in my childhood when the perception was the first one.  I don’t want that for my family, my teams, or for my place of work.  I want to be part of a legacy.

FAITH –  The legacy of being a Christian.

Christian churches are no different.  The legacy churches would display several of Tom Flick’s principles, but again, many do not.  I’ve been involved with several churches in my life, but only one came close to being a legacy.  Isn’t that sad?  At a time in our society when Christians need to pull together, we have churches where accountability is rare, bad pride lurks, and social and economic cliques abound.  But once again, it starts with me.  Christ can strengthen the Church by strengthening me. That’s how the legacy will be built.  Paul simplified it very well when he signed off in his second letter to the church at Corinth.  To be a part of the legacy of being a follower of Christ follow his advice:

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.  (2 Corinthians 13:11)

Now that’s a legacy!


Sex and the Pick and Roll – REMIX!

Sorry, I can’t get away from the subject – the pick and roll, that is; but we’re also going to re-visit the concept of sex.  There’s a method to this madness, so please hang with me better than the Heat defenders will attempt to hang with Tony Parker.  The pick and roll was a major factor in Miami’s series with Indiana.  While Indiana improved their attack against Miami’s blitzing of ball screens, I still think it led to too many turnovers and the wrong players shooting and handling the ball in the wrong spots.  Indiana needed to stay away from the temptation of the ball screen!  As the Heat move on, though, San Antonio’s use of the pick and roll presents a new set of problems.  They’ll be facing players like Parker, Ginobli, and Duncan who have built long-term, trusting relationships with each other and with their coach.  In this case, the pick and roll should play a major role in how they attack the Heat; and in a similar way, God’s ideas and plans for sex should be addressed in healthy, responsible, and committed relationships.  So, let’s hit the Remix button!

BASKETBALL – The Pick and Roll in the Finals.

Hopefully, we’ll have a dramatic and entertaining seven game series and hopefully, we’ll have a flurry of coaching adjustments to talk about.  For now, Zach Lowe does another terrific job of previewing the series in his Grantland article, NBA Finals Preview.  I agree with a lot of what he has to say, but at the time of writing this, I was only able to catch the highlights of the Spurs win in Game 1.  I’m with my family at the Creation Museum doing some research, and yes, it applies to 3 Point Wisdom, which I’ll address later. The question raised by Lowe that I’m focusing on is “How much will LeBron James defend Tony Parker and will it affect the Spurs execution of the pick and roll?”  Parker was unleashed in the 4th quarter last night, so we’ll have to see how Miami adjusts.

LIFE – Sex was given as a gift, so use it responsibly!

Many people who read my last two posts, Sex and the Pick and Roll and Should Christian Players Come Out of the Closet?, may be a little offended or put off.  You may think I’m out of touch or I don’t understand, which is accurate because there’s a lot I don’t understand.  What I do know is that everyone has seen, been involved with, or in some way been affected by sexual sin.  Take faith and God’s commands out of it (which I don’t think you can really do!) and you will still find how much our physical desires drive us.  Most of you missed this video from the early post, so I embedded it here for you to reconsider:

And that just addresses the issue of infidelity in marriage!  ANY sex outside of marriage has consequences.  Any uncontrolled thoughts and actions outside of marriage have consequences.  Many of us have a hard time relating to that.  Many of us fail to see how things we do in one moment can alter our lives down the road, but most of us have been affected in one way or the other by sexual sins, our own and the indiscretions of others.  In fact, I deal each day with my personal identity that has been shaped by the sins within my family.  The way I relate to my wife, to my kids, and to those with whom I work is continually shaped by the defense mechanisms that grew from the weaknesses of those around me.  Take just a moment to consider how your own thoughts and actions, whether you can justify and deem them as permissible or not, can potentially affect and shape relationships throughout your life.  The idea of “If it feels good, do it,” may not hold as much truth as you think.

FAITH – The Spurs, Creation Museum, and Sex.

Here’s how this all comes together for me.  The Spurs, with their long-term, committed relationship between an experienced coach in Greg Popovich, an aging champion in Tim Duncan, and a uniquely gifted ball-handler in Tony Parker are ready to handle the intricacies of the pick and roll.  It’s not something to just throw up against the defensive-minded Heat.  Without control and responsibility, it can be overused and lose its efficiency.

God tells us the same thing about sex.  He gave it as a gift to be an important element within a God-designed marriage, but it requires self-control and responsibility.  Now, that doesn’t mean anything to you if you don’t believe in the validity of the Bible, the very source of God’s commands, but also His loving guidelines for living a happy, productive life in this world as mentioned in this version of 1 Corinthians 6:16:

Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.”   (The Message)

I know all of this is true because I have complete trust in the Bible, every single word of it.  As my family goes through the Creation Museum we’re going to learn even more about the evidence and truth of the Bible that has been challenged by our society.  As we see the evidence of the truth of the Genesis account of Creation, we’ll be encouraged even more to trust everything that God has to share with us!