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!