2017 NBA Playoffs: The Attitude of Monks

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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

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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.

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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!

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