Damian Lillard and the Search for Respect

Craig Mitchelldyer / USA Today

Craig Mitchelldyer / USA Today

I try to stay up on all things basketball, but this year, the NBA All-Star Game blew right by me as I was focused on our own season.  I heard about the outrageous score and was disappointed I missed seeing Klay Thompson beat out Steph Curry in the 3 Point Shootout, but for the most part I didn’t keep up.  I didn’t even know who played in the game, other than Kobe Bryant making his final appearance.  So when I was discussing with one of our players about the game Portland’s Damian Lillard had against Golden State last Friday, I was shocked to hear that once again, he hadn’t been selected as an All-Star.  I knew something had to be behind the 51-point bomb he dropped on the Warriors and his subsequent run of 30-point games this week.  As it turns out, Lillard felt disrespected, again.  Last year he had this to say, despite being a late-addition for the game:

“I am not one of those guys that says ‘I should be in over this guy or that guy’ because I’m not a hater.  I got respect for each guy that made the roster and I think they deserve to.  But at the same time I feel really disrespected.  That’s honestly how I feel.  I’m definitely going to take it personal.  I said I’d be pissed off about it, and I am.”

hqdefaultIn my opinion, his assessment is totally accurate and by all accounts, Lillard is a stand-up guy who the NBA should be proud to have in its line-up. This season, Lillard is one of only three players to be in the top ten of the league in both scoring and assists, but it’s hard to suggest who he should have replaced on the West team – Curry, Thompson, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, or James Harden?  So, Lillard is now taking it out on opponents and it’s a reminder to all of us how much our world is driven by “respect” and our unceasing quest to gain respect or what most of us are looking for, significance.

BASKETBALL – Respect for Lillard

It may not count with Lillard, but I respect his game.  In today’s NBA, the ball screen is king and I consider Lillard and Steph Curry to be the two best at creating off it.  BBall Breakdown did a terrific job of comparing the two scoring masters in their match-up last Friday:

As I coach, I’m not going to disrespect Lillard.  I love his game and I want the point guards on our team to learn from him, and from Curry – but I also realize that Damian is caught up chasing his significance at the highest levels of basketball and is no different from the rest of us who do the same things in our careers and our personal lives.  We live in a world where respect from other people is everything, but the quest for respect is also the greatest source of conflict in our world.

LIFE – Confession Time

51-FijsrD1LHow much of the conflict and negativity in your life comes from the need to be respected – to know that others value you and think that you’re important? It’s not just Damian Lillard who wants respect.  It’s all of us.  Our country wants to be respected as the only true super power, presidential candidates are using every trick they can to gain the respect of voters, and most of us spend our working lives craving the respect we deserve from bosses, colleagues, and competitors.  Our quest for respect is a fundamental drive, even in our relationships with family and friends.  As a dad, I fight the battle of not just showing my kids that I love them, but also knowing that they respect me. It’s self-centered and self-serving, but it dominates my thinking.  I’m not proud of that.  I want my kids to value me.  I want my players to value me and too often, I want other people to notice.  Fortunately, I’m reminded each day that no matter how much I chase respect and significance, it means nothing toward my eternity.  And at just the right time in my life, Robert McGee’s book, The Search for Significance, helped me see that.

Last night, our team was upset in our conference tournament to bring our season to an abrupt end. While dealing with a final loss is always difficult, I find it more difficult to know that I won’t get to work with our seven seniors who will be moving on and I won’t have a daily opportunity to remind them that their true significance does not come from the respect they gain or lose on the basketball court.  They will find so much more happiness and contentment in trusting that their basketball experience is just one part of who they are and who they were made to be – just like Damian Lillard and just like me.

FAITH – True Respect

True and lasting respect can never be found in our accomplishments – on the court, in the office, or with our families.  It doesn’t come from all-star selections or championships or records.  It doesn’t come from a logo on our shirt or the size of our house.  It doesn’t come from how entertaining we are when we’re out with friends.  It can’t be found in sex or any other pursuit of pleasure.  True respect and true significance comes from knowing that God walks with us, sets us apart, and then leads us in serving and loving other people.

When God used Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and into the land that He had promised to them, Moses worried that God’s people would be disrespected and asked:

 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

Moses is like most of us.  We forget that God goes with us.  Significance and true respect from others comes when God walks with us and gives meaning to our lives:

 And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” (Exodus 33:16-17)

Our God, the one who created us and loves us so deeply that he gave up his Son to pay for our sins, goes with us.  And that makes us significant!


Game Adjustments in Basketball With the O.O.D.A. Loop

fighterpilot-620x360I bristle when I hear comments comparing any game or sport to an act of war or fighting on a battlefield. We’re playing a sport, for fun and competition, but it’s not life and death and we shouldn’t cheapen the acts of valor of those fighting for our freedom and security. However, there are many lessons from the military that have direct correlations to competition on the basketball floor and can help players and coaches develop.  One specific lesson comes from an unsung military strategist, John Boyd, who in the early 60’s revolutionized the art of aerial combat and the training of fighter pilots to deal with the uncertainty of all that can happen in pressurized situations.  His explanation of how humans react, called the OODA. Loop, has been employed by military strategists throughout the world, but has also been adapted in athletics and the fast-paced world of business and finance.
Read Tracy Hightower’s article Boyd’s OODA Loop and How We Use It and Brett McKay’s article How to Master the OODA Loop to gain a deeper understanding, but in a quick summary, the OODA loop describes a process of thinking and decision-making that deals with uncertainty and provides a competitive edge.  We all react to situations, but we do so according to four steps:

  • Observe
  • Orient
  • Decide
  • Act

Our brains take us through these steps in micro-seconds, but how quickly and how efficiently we react often determines our success.  When we understand that process, coaches and players can develop through practice, ways to improve efficiency, especially in reacting to the unexpected.


Getty Images / Streeter Lecka

Getty Images / Streeter Lecka

Let’s consider the OODA loop from a coach’s perspective, but it can easily be applied to players as well. Regardless of how well you plan and prepare for a specific game, something unexpected will occur at some point in any game. Expect the unexpected.  An opponent may completely change from the tendencies you scouted.  A non-shooter suddenly becomes a “hot” shooter.  Officials may call the game completely different from what you’ve experienced in recent games.   All of these, however, make the game great. Coaches who quickly and efficiently move through the steps of the loop, often gain an upper hand.

Observe:  Have an open mind without judging or predetermining your response.  Too often, coaches go into games with judgement, rather than observation.  When coaches only look for what they expect to see, adjustments happen more slowly.   Coaches and players who simply judge outcomes are more likely to blame circumstances and will fail to find solutions and make quick adjustments.

Orient:   Adjustments to consider, come from coaches drawing on their experience and understanding of their team.  The more time you spend in expanding your knowledge prior to the need for adjustments, the more resources you can use.  And sometimes, it means doing something different.  In Duke’s championship run last year, traditional man to man proponent Mike Krzyzewski switched to a 2-3 zone to beat Louisville in January.  He observed his team allowing too many points in the paint and recognized that UL was a poor shooting team and through his experience as a coach, was able to orient and adjust well to changing circumstances.

Decide:  Once you make sense of what you observe and relate it to the present, a coach must decide to act, but that can often be risky and prevents many of us from making adjustments.  It’s “easier” to play through it and often times, change may not be what’s needed.  However, when called for, decision is better than indecision.  Roy Williams took heat the other night for not calling a timeout during the final possession of their nail-biter with Duke.  Williams “decided” to let his team play out the possession on their own, which is how he usually plays it.  The Tar Heels looked indecisive (see this story from ESPN.com) and could have benefited from regrouping, but when Williams went through the loop, his decision was to stick with what he’s done.  It may have cost them the game. Here’s an overblown discussion, with a few good points, on ESPN:

Act:  Even worse than indecision is a failure to act.  Frequently during the course of a game, players and coaches proceed through the OODA loop only to stand by and do nothing – think of players having trouble inbounding the ball.  They observe and orient as teammates and defenders move, make a corresponding decision, but fail to pass the ball. Even if you fail when you act, you gain an opportunity to grow and learn.

Decisions in the heat of competition are essential to the game.  Coaches and players who are trained through practice become more effective at making adjustments.  The more times you can teach and practice the process, the more effective you’ll be!

LIFE & FAITH – The Word

For the Christian life, the OODA loop is an effective process to practice implementing God’s Word in our lives in the ever-changing and pressure-filled world in which we live. It’s not enough to just read or hear God’s word; we need to proceed through the loop.  James encourages us:

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.   (James 1:22)

If applying God’s Word to your life is difficult or empty for you, you may have a OODA problem.  Far too many times, when we observe by reading or hearing, we start with what we want to hear, rather than by listening and observing what GOD wants us to hear.  And too many times we lack enough background and understanding to orient our lives to apply it to every day circumstances.  Furthermore, far too many of us avoid making any kind of decisions about what we hear and read – we leave it to others to explain to us or even worse, we mindlessly follow non-threatening traditions.  And lastly, rather than acting on God’s Word, we play it safe and simply continue doing what we always do.

I’m not saying that one needs to live life like a fighter-pilot in the heat of a dog fight or, for that matter, a college basketball coach in the final possessions of the game, however, each of us will have those moments where we either process God’s word and act on it, or we don’t.  Maybe applying the steps of the OODA loop is a good idea after all.


Don’t Worry About Free Throws – Just Change the Rules!

12586866-mmmainIt never changes.  The free throw line is fifteen feet from the basket.  Pro, college, high school, international, women’s basketball all have one common standard – the free throw line.  Sure, we move it up in kiddy ball, but even the kids know they’re going to have to make it from fifteen and begin heaving it up there at an early age.  Free throws in the NBA, however, have created a heated discussion this year as three players – Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard, and DeAndre Jordan have been intentionally fouled at a record rate because they routinely miss a shot, with no defensive distractions, they have practiced for their entire basketball life.  NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is now discussing how the league can change the free throw rules to discourage strategic coaches from intentionally fouling bad shooters (read the story on ESPN.com).  So for the sake of entertainment, the rules may be altered in some way.  Free throws won’t change, however, and it’s still in players’ best interest to do all they can to become effective shooters, even if it means parting ways with the traditionally accepted means of shooting a free throw – which, by the way, is also some wisdom for our lives.

BASKETBALL – Unique, but Effective

barry_070605Named one of the 50 Greatest Players in history by the NBA in 1996, Rick Barry is the only player to lead the NCAA, ABA and NBA in scoring for an individual season. He was known for his unorthodox but effective underhand free throw shooting technique, and at the time of his retirement in 1980, his .900 free throw percentage ranked first in NBA history. As the NBA deals with “hack-a-player” rules, Barry’s name inevitably comes up when discussing why some players can’t or won’t improve their shooting, even if it means doing something unorthodox.  Listen to Barry’s comments and see if you agree with his assessment:

I always enjoyed and appreciated Barry as a player when I was young, but I also remember him as a brash and opinionated color analyst who spoke his mind.  Many fans even tuned him out, just like the players of today tune out his message about free throw shooting – but, take a closer look at this piece about Barry and his son, Canyon, who is believed to be the only current Division I player to utilize the “granny” shot.  It’s a bold move to go against what’s typical and it may not work for everyone, but I’m inspired by Barry’s thought process and the results he’s achieved:

LIFE – The Box

I’m just going to throw it out there.  Are there things you do in your life that are not as productive as you want them to be?  Are you hesitant to try methods that may be unorthodox or different because they may not be accepted or they may even be ridiculed by other people?  If things aren’t working, are you willing to push aside the objections of others or are you content to be mediocre and poor in an attempt to save face?  Now, I’m not encouraging rebel behavior just to be different, but I am suggesting that many times each of us should consider our ways.  If you’re not being productive in your work life, with your finances, or in your relationships, it may be time to explore other options that might work better for you, rather than just following the crowd.  Think of all the advances and breakthroughs in every aspect of life that were created by somebody who, when necessary, thought outside the box and had the gumption to make a change.  That could be you!

FAITH – Need a change?

As I considered the NBA discussion and thought back to Rick Barry’s approach I saw an instant parallel to our relationship with Christ. As Hebrews 13:8 says, Jesus never changes – just like the free throw line; He never changes.  What changes, however, is how we relate to Him. Unfortunately, too many of us fall into thinking there’s a set formula or technique for relating to him.  We tend to blindly follow what others, often well-meaning and deeply faithful Christian leaders and traditions, instruct us to do, rather than listening to the ways that Christ challenges us to go deeper in our understanding and reliance on Him.  The Message, a contemporary version of scripture, gives us a meaningful look at something Jesus said:

“. . . Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.”  (Matthew 23:8-10)

Think of all the poor free throw shooters who just keep following the same advice without considering change – change that may help them improve.  That’s how it is with our faith life and relationship with Jesus.  There’s no one-size, fits-all formula that will work exactly the same for each of us.  No one can give you a power point or bullet points of how your relationship with God “should” look.  Take time to listen to God.  Let Him be the guide.  He may want you reading more, praying more, serving more, or searching your innermost thoughts more.  There’s always more with God.  Allow Him to shape and guide your relationship, even if it means adopting your own “underhanded” style!