It’s not every year I get excited watching the NBA Championships but this year and last definitely got my attention
Even though basketball is not my sport and I cannot tell you a whole lot about the in’s and out’s of the game, I can accurately comment on what is inherent in ALL sports, all endeavors, all contests. I can quickly and readily see who has more guts, more desire, more “want to win.”
This year, unlike last season, there was no seven-game series. There were only five games; only four of them were “contests.” There was only ONE close game. And there was only ONE team who wanted to win so badly you could see sparks flying off them.
When I watched the Heat get blown out in Miami, not once, but two-straight times, my son and I commented on how defeated and dejected they looked. This was not the same team we saw a year earlier. And the San Antonio Spurs were not the same team either.
In all my years of watching basketball, it would be hard to find a better example of three important winning factors:
1. Hunger – to say the Spurs wanted to win more than the Heat would be an understatement. LeBron James said, “It’s just basketball,” on Saturday – and that pretty much summed up how the Heat played.
To the Spurs, it wasn’t just a game. It wasn’t just basketball. It was an opportunity that must be seized NOW. It was a salve that would remove or heal the wound they felt deep inside their guts after losing to the Heat a year ago.
In post game interveiws, Tim Duncan said that he never forgot the pain from last year”s loss – and used it as motivation to win it all this year.
I never thought I’d see the day when LeBron James lacked an abundance of desire – but it was evident in this series. In almost all contests, LeBron had sufficient desire. And normally what he brought to the table in this championship series would be more than adequate.
It’s just that the Spurs had an “off-the-charts” level of desire. They went to the quantum level of desire – and the Heat were woefully unprepared to match them. And how could they? It’s not very often we witness what we saw in this series. It was hunger, it was desire, nonpareil.
2. Teamwork – in most team sports, you have leaders, you have stars whom the others follow. The star is the one who wants the ball when it comes down to crunch time. He’s the one who loves being put in the “do-or-die” spotlight.
The Spurs have their stars – but the entire team played the game at such at high level of intensity, passing the ball like I’ve never seen – with speed and precision – until they found an great shot. And it didn’t matter WHO had the great shot. Any player on the court would do. As my friend, Nick Nurse, assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors, said, “They passed up good shots to take great shots.”
3. Humility – now this is where I must doff my hat, shoes and entire wardrobe to the Spurs. This is where every young athlete in the whirld could take note and gain something of immense value.
Look for a shred of humility with the Heat. I dare you. You’ll be looking a long, long time. It’s not that they have no humility. They do. But it’s hard to see it – EVER. Once the series was over, we saw it. Once they knew there was nothing they could do to stop the Spurs – we saw it.
But not before.
Contrast this with the likes of the Spurs. It starts with Tim Duncan and trickles down to every player. Find a photo of Mr. Dunan – look at him up close. What you’re looking at is a man who needs no “rah-rah” chatter or praise. He needs no strokes. He’s in this game because he loves it.
Regardless of how many points he scores or doesn’t score, his eyes and facial expression are virtually the same. Yes, when he loses he feels pain – and shows it. That’s part of humility as well. No pretense. No arrogance.
Duncan is there to do a job – but at the end of the day, despite the wealth, the fame and the trophies, most importantly, he’s a professional human
He could care less about endorsement deals. He doesn’t need to be the face of a franchise. None of that matters to him.
Back in 1980, when Olympic Speed-Skater Eric Heiden won five gold medals, he could have ridden his fame into the sunset with endorsements. I read an aricle about him that used a headline I remember as follows:
“HEIDEN; WON’T BE JENNERIZED, SPITZIFIED”
And Heiden held true to his word.
is there anything wrong, in my book, to taking endorsement deals?
It’s just that you have to stand back in awe when you meet someone who could care less about any of “that stuff.”
Even though he now has five (5) NBA Championships to his credit, Tim Duncan will probably not enter this discussion on mainstream sports media of being “the greatest ever.”
And I don’t think he cares.
LeBron was right when he said, “It’s just basketball.” He truly was.
On the other hand, to Duncan, he played as if “IT IS and IT ISN’T – just basketball.”
It is and it isn’t.
When you’re on the court – It’s ONLY BASKETBALL. Nothing else in the world exists – or matters. So it IS and it ISN’T at the same time.
It’s isn’t just a game. It’s an opportunity. It’s a moment in time that almost no one on this planet will ever experience. It’s a way to show yourself and prove to yourself that you CAN rise above yourself – you can even rise above the HEAT – and finish in grand glory.
In the Zone. That’s what Duncan and the Spurs were in. The Zone.
You don’t get there by thinking, “It’s just basketball.”
You get there when you think, “This is DESTINY.”
Congrats Spurs. Condolences Heat.
Thanks to both of you for another great series.
author of Theatre of the Mind