2017 NBA Playoffs: The Attitude of Monks

usatoday.com

I listened to a recent Hardwood Hustle podcast on analytics during which Steve Shea from Shot Tracker discussed his study on whether teams with balanced scorers were more successful than teams with one or two dominant scorers.  I thought I knew the obvious answer, mostly because it lines up more with my “ball view” of unselfish team basketball, but did a double take as Shea mentioned that the teams with superstar scorers often win more than teams with total balance.  I’m going to ponder that for a while – after all a coach can always keep learning new ideas – but as I watched the Spurs dispatch the James Harden-led Rockets, I remain skeptical and once again, I have to give Pop (San Antonio Head Coach Gregg Popovich) his props.  The man can coach and he certainly knows how to build a culture of team unselfishness.  It’s an attitude similar to Christian monks and has relevance for each of us.

BASKETBALL – Team Culture

usatoday.com

San Antonio lost veteran leader Tony Parker in Game 2 and then lost MVP candidate and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard near the end of a tight Game 5, but found a way to collectively persevere against the Rockets to win in overtime and then completely ran away with Game 6 to win the series. Houston had “do-everything” Harden who did nothing, while San Antonio had reserves, aging veterans, and a unified team approach that methodically dismantled the full throttle offense of the Rockets.  The Spurs overcame losing Parker and Leonard with unheralded Dejounte Murray and Jonathon Simmons posting off-the-chart plus-minus stats, a slow-footed Paul Gasol protecting the rim against Houston’s relentless drives, and the aging Manu Ginobli taking over in crunch time of Game 5 – all made possible by Pop’s team culture (Fox Business outlined four aspects of Pop’s culture).  While he takes heat for resting players in February, his bench players solidify their roles.  While he’s considered crotchety with the media, his players learn from his example of caring for them and showing interest in their lives.  And while the Spurs strictly adhere to the discipline of his system or face his wrath, Pop listens to and invites their observations and input. (Read more in The Business Insider and take a look at Pop speaking at a clinic on The Spurs Philosophy).

For most of us, the image of a monk conjures up images of a solitary, lonesome figure living a highly sacrificial and penitential life.  But the Spurs players are like monks in that not only are they disciplined, but they know their roles because Pop has simplified it.  The monk’s life is simple – depend on God.  For the Spurs, their simplified rules are to work hard to care for and support each other, placing the focus on their teammates rather than on themselves.  While they hold each other accountable, they don’t expect teammates to carry their load or do things they cannot do.  The Spurs keep it simple and because they care about each other and know that their coach cares about them, they do all they can to help and support each other.  They know it’s not about “me.”  It’s about the team.

LIFE – Marriage Expectations

I actually read the idea of having a monk’s attitude in a devotion from Gary Thomas about marriage.  How much better would my marriage be if I didn’t place unrealistic expectations on my wife to meet all of my needs? Wait a minute, isn’t that what marriage is all about – meeting each other’s needs and expectations?  In strong marriages spouses know exactly what each other needs even without them saying anything, right?  Uh, no, it’s not.  While the goal of the Spurs is admirable, it’s not completely possible.  No one can meet expectations – none of us.  In basketball, in marriage, and in this life each of us fails.  The only one who can truly meet all of my needs and truly love me is God.  And, that’s not a knock on my wife.  It’s simply a reminder that I shouldn’t place unrealistic expectations and my burdens on her.   But what I can do is accept God’s perfect love for me and allow it to help me serve her and support her as best as I humanly can.  Rather than resent her when she doesn’t respond as I would want, I can be overwhelmed by every act of love she expresses.  A monk’s attitude in marriage expects nothing, depends on God for everything, and is sincerely grateful for whatever a spouse chooses to share. And as a result, one is free to focus on the other person rather than one’s self.  Just imagine how that can improve a marriage!

FAITH – A Monk’s Attitude

I continue to see God working in my life through what I learn through basketball.  If my life, as a coach, teammate, husband, and father needs to be validated by others, I will be continually disappointed.  Some may say that is pessimistic, but why would I expect others to do things we as mere humans are incapable of doing?  We cannot rely on and expect that other people will validate our purpose and existence,  Last year I shared a bit about Robert McGee’s classic book, The Search for Significance, as we considered Damian Lillard and the Search for Respect.  A major takeaway that has stuck with me is the concept that we should never put complete faith and expectations in other people because they will only let us down.  And when we do, we give all the power to other people – spouses, teammates, and colleagues – to direct our outlook in life.  Why would we do that?  Only God can meet those expectations:

Don’t put your confidence in powerful people;
    there is no help for you there.  (Psalm 146:3 NLT)

I don’t want to run off to a monastery and I don’t want to teach players to live solitary lives, but I do think we could all use a little more monk in our attitudes – depend on God to meet your needs and lighten up our expectations for others by getting the focus off ourselves and putting the focus into showing appreciation for God’s love for us by how we treat each others.  It’s starts with me, but it can’t be about me.

2016 NBA Playoffs: We Just Gotta’ Trust Brad

1449967872133

www.ooyuz.com

After college basketball wraps up and the NBA Playoffs heat up, most basketball fans focus on the superstars and their teams, but my attention is drawn to the coaches. While the NBA Playoffs showcase the amazing talents of the world’s greatest athletes, the constant media attention often gives us a much closer look at the strategies, motivational techniques, and off-the-court sparring of the head men on the bench. While Gregg Popovich remains the most-respected and experienced (See Michael Pina’s article Foxsports.com), and Steve Kerr garnered Coach of the Year honors during what he calls “the hardest year of my life” (See ESPN.com), the respect that the youthful Brad Stevens is receiving in Boston, despite a 18352626-mmmainfirst round, injury-plagued loss to Atlanta this past week, is something for all of us to consider.  When players like Isaiah Thomas suggest “We just gotta trust Brad” I am reminded that the most important function of a coach is what he does to position his players to win – on the court, but also in life.  And as I consider Stevens, I also consider the ultimate mentor we have in Jesus.

BASKETBALL – Trust Your Coach

Prior to the playoffs, ESPN Senior Writer Jackie MacMullan wrote a wonderful piece, including a terrific video, about the growing respect for Brad Stevens titled The NBA’s Next Superstar CoachShe shares numerous examples of how the young phenom has seamlessly transitioned to the pro game, a feat that many terrific college coaches have found difficult to master.  If you’ve been with me on this journey, you may recall that Stevens is one of the coaches I follow most closely (see Does the Butler Way Lead to Celtic Pride?) and with what MacMullen reports, he has certainly impacted the Celtics and the entire league as evidenced in comments from LeBron James and others. Listen to Stevens’ take on his transition:

And for a look at the impact he has made through his X & O’s consider this terrific look from BBall Breakdown:

And finally, if you follow the league closely, you’ll also know that besides his leadership style, his effective communication skills, and his willingness to make non-traditional changes to his defense, Stevens has built his reputation as the master of end of game situations.  This collection is a must-watch for coaches:

Stevens has gained the trust of his players – not just in his handling of those late game situations and the adjustments he makes, but in how he relates to his players.

LIFE – Who Can You Trust?

Mark Duncan/Associated Press.

Mark Duncan/Associated Press.

I’m happy for the Celtics who feel they can trust Stevens, but I’ll confess that too often I’ve lost trust and faith in people. We live in a world that teaches us to look out for ourselves and most people do just that. We tend to make our decisions with only regard for how it affects us.  I realize that’s a pessimistic view, but it’s also reality.  The human condition is limited. Even a coach like Stevens, or Kerr, or Pop will let down a player or two. It’s inevitable and unfortunate, but finding people to trust is essential for navigating though this world. I found my wife.  And I’ve found various people at various points in my life whom I could trust.  It doesn’t always last.  Good people whom we trust may let us down and hopefully we can forgive, grow from the experience, and restore the relationships. The healthier and more productive way to look at trust, however, is from the other side.  Rather than asking ‘Who can I trust?” ask “Can others trust me?”  While we can’t always trust politicians, bosses, or friends who say they have our best interest in mind, when you place more focus on being trustworthy yourself, you” find it much easier to roll with the shortcomings of others.

FAITH – The Only One You Can Trust

When I consider the many times I’ve trusted others who’ve let me down or, on the other hand, people who’ve trusted me only to have me let them down, I quickly realize the only one I can truly and confidently trust is the one who made me, the one who knows me, the one who saves me.  All of the problems we experience in life are derived from a lack of trust in God – just consider our country and the trust we place in politicians!  Or it may even be within the world of the church.  Well-meaning spiritual leaders may ignite a movement or belief system that filters through the community of believers only to be misinterpreted or confused.  Satan has influence and he works really hard to have influence over all of us, and as human beings in a falling world, he often does.  That’s why David said in Psalms 18:

It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in humans. (v. 8)

nba.com

nba.com

There certainly are those around us, like coaches, or spouses, or pastors whom we can trust, but we can’t take refuge in them.  We can’t be completely safe from the danger, disappointment, and evil in our world. There is a limit to the trust we can put in others, but I don’t see that as a negative.  I take comfort in knowing that God is my only refuge. People will let us down, but through prayer and regular study of His word, we find true comfort and guidance from the only one who can redeem a fallen world. You just gotta trust God.

 

The Big Crossover: Becky Hammon & the San Antonio Spurs

Drew Anthony Smith for The New York Times

Drew Anthony Smith for The New York Times

Guys don’t always want to hear this, but there are plenty of women in basketball that can match them in fundamentals, mechanics, court-sense, conditioning, and work ethic.  Just ask former NBA shooting star, Reggie Miller – not because his basketball exploits have been matched shot for shot by his sister Cheryl, but because former NBA coach Richie Adubato bet money against Miller in his informal shooting competitions with WNBA veteran, Becky Hammon, who this month begins her stint as a full-time assistant coach with the NBA Champion, San Antonio Spurs. Continue reading