“Can we film the operation? Is the head dead yet? You know, they boys in the newsroom got a running bet. Get the Widow on the set! We need dirty laundry”. As Don Henley’s song articulately states, Americans get a big rise out of bad news and slimy villains. The news cycle runs so quickly that heroes are no sooner put on a pedestal than the mob pulls them back down. However, I think there’s plenty of positive stories to be found in sports, and especially in the multi-billion behemoth of basketball. Basketball, in a matter unlike any other sport, teaches sound life values to athletes, and by extension their followers.
It’s pretty much a slam dunk that selflessness supersedes selfishness as a virtue. But basketball teaches that’s it’s not quite so simple. A player who passes too much can actually be called-too unselfish! The fluid nature of the game, requiting constant teamwork from all five players, serves as a microcosm of the self in society. And this is a crucial dynamic to become comfortable with.
In Confucianism, cardinal values include fulfillment in set roles and obedience to authority. The latter certainly isn’t popular in America today. Yet the sooner one lets go of the illusion of control, the better. The best teams in basketball have one coach clearly on top and each player in a an entrenched position. In fact, these roles are so well defined they’re known by just numbers. When a team plays extremely well, no complaining or coaching is necessary anymore. One finds peace if they try do do their jobs as well as the sixth man on their favorite team.
The phrase “the process” rightly earns eye rolls from jaded fans, who must hear it as an excuse from bad teams such as the 76ers and Browns. But while this phrase is certainly misused, it still has much validity. Last season WNBA Los Angeles Sparks coach Brian Agler sung a similar tune, Tweeting that “success is a process, not a destination”. But the Sparks aren’t a tired team-they’ve become among the league’s best the last two years after a decade of irrelevance. Basketball involves a progression in attention to detail and continual improvement, some of life’s best traits. Sparks star Candace Parker, despite numerous off-the-court difficulties, always put her trust in her work of the game. When a milestone title came in 2016, the payoff proved to be worth the effort. But importantly, it was the consequence, not the goal, of her and her team’s consistent efforts.
On a similar note, successful players and coaches follow a path they stumble upon, not one preordained by a club coach. Consider Luke Walton. For years Walton was in a position no aspiring coach wants to be in: an assistant overshadowed by a heroic head coach. But when Steve Kerr was out with health issues, Walton was more than ready. Statisticians may not give him credit for his 24-0 start, but the rest of the league sure did. He embarked to the Lakers in the start of what’s sure to be a fulfilling career journey, to be envied by young clipboard carriers everywhere. Diligently taking care of small matters makes one able to handle larger responsibilities, setting the stage for a step up in life.
Unfortunately, it seems that scribes’ eyes expand to the size of a NBA fanboy’s whenever bad news comes across the wire. But in a world where the mass media is a vortex circling down, these fanboys’ idols set a more positive example. The better a player finds a spot in the dynamics of team play, the longer he’ll play. At the highest levels of play, the best teams exhibit a breathless display of passing and rotations-poetry in motion. When it comes to improvement in the game of life, basketball proves to be a wide-open look.