Cavs & Warriors: Beyond the Talent

  • While the NBA attempts to maximize revenue by waiting over a week for the Finals to begin, we have heard quite a bit about the “talent” that will be on display.  Is LeBron better than Jordan?  Are the Warriors better because of Durant?  All we hear about is the talent. Make no mistake, there will once again be plenty of talent on display in the rematch we are about to witness, but talent is only part of the equation when it comes to winning a championship.  Let’s consider three elements beyond the talent that often determine champions and consider how those same elements are the keys for each of us to maximize our own God-given talents and more importantly,  our God-given faith.

BASKETBALL – The Big Three

Last year, the physical talents of LeBron James were enough to help the Cavs surpass the collective talents of the Warriors.  As arguably the most physically dominant player of all-time, James is worthy of his own discussion, especially if he can lead the Cavs to a title defense against the Warriors.  But since I tend to watch more of the Warriors’ games, I’d like to focus on them and their big three – Effort, Chemistry, and Passion – as they look to take the title back:

EFFORT  It remains a simple truth that one cannot determine talent, but effort is always a choice. Effort frequently outplays talent – we see it all the time, but get the most talented players or the most talented teams to play with the highest effort and they become unstoppable.  In an article for Sports illustrated, The Warriors Deadly Combo of Hustle and Flow, Lee Jenkins wrote:

“The four-star juggernaut that won 67 games this season, that led the NBA in field goal percentage and field goal percentage defense, that posted a higher net rating and point differential even better than last year, outworked everybody too. The Dubs created the most deflections (18.7) and corralled the most loose balls (7.7), while racking up the second-most contested shots (68.4) and screen assists (12.7). After their opening-round sweep of the Blazers, they led three of the five major hustle categories in the playoffs.”

A lot of teams have talent, but it seems that the Warriors have more.   But then again, maybe they just play harder than everyone else!

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

CHEMISTRY  In a sport, a league, and a culture that often elevates the individual over the team, winning teams typically are the ones that blend their talents together. In high school chemistry we learn about the bonds formed between electron particles.  Some bonds are stronger than others and some require one particle to give up more than another. Chemistry on a team loaded with talent happens only when players are unselfish and are willing to sacrifice for their teammates.  The media circus looks for drama in Draymond Green’s antics or marvels at the wild drives and shots of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, but this team has worked hard at being unselfish and playing for each other as outlined by Alex Torres in The Warriors’ Chemistry: Its Superhero Connection & Why It Matters.  It also extends off the court – see The Warriors’ Secret Sauce? Team Dinners on the Road  by Jordan Brenner of

PASSION  And finally, nobody appears to have more fun with their craft than the Warriors.  You may be tired of hearing about it or you may be a bit envious, but one of the most remarkable things about Steph Curry, and through him, the rest of the Warriors, is how much fun they appear to have and how obvious it is that they enjoy what they are doing.  I get it.  They’re making millions to play a game, but think of how many other players and coaches seem stressed and worn out by the pressure and the competition.  The Warriors play with a joy and a passion that you see in their faces, every game.

And when the most talented play with passion and joy, look out!  This is true of both teams.  The Cavs are talented and play hard, play for each other, and play with passion just as the Dub’s do.  While they have the talent, look for one of these factors to be the difference in the series.  Let the games begin!

LIFE – The Big Three at Work

Although it’s not a certainty and can often take years of trial and error, many of us identify our talents and find our ways to careers to use that talent.  I realize that many factors go into that.  Not all of us get to work in the careers that best utilize our talents – timing, obligations, and circumstances often lead us into work we never intended, but effort, chemistry, and passion will lead to long-term job success in any job.  It’s true for all of us, but especially for young people starting out.  Look for jobs where you can give your best effort – you control that, jobs where you can serve others and blend your talents with others – you control that, too, and jobs where you find joy and can be passionate about either what you do, who you do it with, and who you do it for.  The big three will go a long way in your finding success and fulfillment in whatever career path you take, but if one or more of them is missing, it’s probably time to consider other options.

FAITH – Beyond Faith

Faith in Christ is like talent – it’s a gift!  When you believe and are baptized God gives you faith and that faith can grow and help draw us closer and closer to God.  How we go about that and how we use it, is up to us.  Sitting on your faith and doing nothing to grow spiritually is like an athlete wasting his talent. (Proverbs 13:4)  Living an isolated life, rather than living unselfishly to serve others, is like a ball-stopping NBA player who only thinks of himself (Galatians 5:13).  And which of us can truly grow closer to God if we don’t enjoy being a Christ-follower?  Our joy should be evidence of our faith (Romans 15:13).  Is it enough to have talent?  Is it enough to have faith?  Absolutely, because with God anything is possible – but if you truly want to grow as God intends and to make the most of your faith, look beyond your faith and sprinkle a little effort, chemistry, and passion!


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


Does the Butler Way Lead to Celtic Pride?

I’ve been distracted by baseball, but I had to chime in about Brad Stevens agreeing to coach the Boston Celtics.  At first I felt a little betrayed, but now I’m anxiously watching to see the Butler Way taken to the NBA, as well as watching another student of the system, Brandon Miller, take over the Bulldogs.  You see, it’s time to put values-based coaching to the test.  A few years back, Tony Dungy showed it could be done in the NFL by leading Indianapolis to a Super Bowl win without compromising his own integrity and values.  Now Stevens will have the chance to revive Celtic Pride as he takes the leadership approach he and his Butler predecessors refined after adapting principles from coaching great Dick Bennett.  Much like the truth of scripture, Bennett’s principles, as outlined in A Season With Coach Dick Bennett, and the Butler Way provide credibility in difficult situations and prove to be consistent, never-changing principles that apply to all aspects of basketball, but also in handling the challenges of everyday life!

BASKETBALL – Celtic Pride needs to rediscover passion!

Lead Like ButlerLead Like Butler outlines six principles that set Butler apart as a model program.  Stevens was the latest caretaker, but now Brandon Miller can show what the system has taught him.  The six principles are all based on Biblical ideas, but can also stand alone in our present day.  Stevens will undoubtedly use Humility, Passion, Unity, Servanthood, Thankfulness, and Accountability to shape a new vision for the Celtics.  Even though the proud franchise has had a reputation for consistent success, the Celtics can use a spark.  I would point to Passion as one of the more important aspects that Stevens should address.

Doc Rivers remains one of the top coaches in the league and will have a great opportunity to lift the Clippers to new heights, but this past season we heard a lot about aging veterans losing the spark, difficulties with channeling the talents of Rajon Rondo, and missed opportunities.  Stevens will need to rekindle some passion in Boston.  Passion is simply defined as “boundless enthusiasm” and shows itself best when things are not going well and disappointment or boredom sets in.  That has to be a priority for the new coach.

As the summer continues, it’s easy to see who has passion.  I watch my daughter’s high school summer league games and see only a handful of players who display passion for the game.  Many are not putting in the time to develop their skills.  Few are willing to do the little things in summer league games that will make an impact during the regular season.  Talking on the court, hustling after loose balls, and showing early help on defense are a rarity.  If you can’t play with passion, why play?  ESPN Magazine outlined a similar perspective in their July 8 edition about youth sports as outlined in the article Miracle On Ice.  Hockey has been a sport built on passion for the game, but as young players lose the passion for playing, many youth directors are searching for ways to keep the fire alive.  Those of us in basketball would be wise to consider the importance of having passion for the game.  If you don’t have that enthusiasm to keep working and improving, basketball becomes a difficult game!

LIFE – What are you passionate about?

There’s an old saying that if you take a look at how you spend your time, you’ll find what your passions are.  Do a little self-inventory.  What are you passionate about?  Be honest.  Don’t think about what you want to be passionate about.  Don’t think about what you should be passionate about.  Think about how you spend your time.  What gets you charged up?  What things in life do you drop other things for?  Playing Call of Duty or NBA Live on X-Box?  Facebook or Twitter?  Pursuing things that make you feel good?  Do your own check.  What’s important to you?  I’m finally feeling in my life that how I spend my time is close to matching my passions, but it took a while!

FAITH – God gives us passion.

PassionThe authors of Lead Like Butler explain that the word enthusiasm (passion) has its roots in the Greek words for “God in us.” When we discover the passion that God has uniquely created for each of us, it motivates us to devote our time and energy. It compels us to sacrifice, to discipline ourselves, and to make wise choices that help us pursue our passion, as Paul states:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  (1 Corinthians 9:24)

If God gave you the passion to play basketball, you’ll make choices that help you develop your skills and compete to win.  It’s not immediate and certainly doesn’t mean that identifying your passions will make you an instant success or even the best player on your team – but, it will help you fight through the struggles to become the best player YOU can become.  When you sense God is in you and you identify the passions He’s given you, you’ll display “boundless enthusiasm.”

And finally, God gives each of us a passion to know Him.  We may ignore it or hide it. We may rationalize it or trivialize it, but God created us in His image with a deep need to know His purpose for our lives.  The passion to know Him more deeply has to be more than a Sunday-only thing.  It should be a priority.  It should be something we pursue with enthusiasm, discipline, and commitment. That’s God’s Way!