Recently I was reading excerpts from the new Phil Jackson book, which chronicles the demise of his final season with the Lakers. On paper, the team of Shaq, Kobe, "the Glove" Gary Payton, Karl Malone, and [insert anyone else], should have been one of the best teams ever assembled. Then you throw in the Zen master himself and they should have been unstoppable.
There was one problem. You don’t play sports on a piece of paper. The triangle offense was the calling card of Phil Jackson. It is a system that relies heavily on passing in order to create opportunity. Often times, it is the third or even fourth option that ends up taking the shot. That kind of selfless play forces a defense to do just that. Defense the entire team, not just the all-star. This is the same offense that helped propel the Chicago Bulls to 6 NBA championships, and took the Lakers to the NBA finals 4 out of the last 5 years.
Very early in the season there were calls to abandon the triangle offense because it just wasn’t working. There was nothing wrong with, and still is nothing wrong with, the triangle offense. But you can’t run any offense, triangle or otherwise, without players playing together. That team had too many scorers and only one basketball for all of them to share.
A few years ago Phil Jackson put out a TV commercial that ran the punchline "sacrifice the me for the we." This is a great team concept and one that I have used in the past. Recently I was thinking that the paradigm of players has changed a little and maybe so should the saying. What if you could get those same Lakers to sacrifice the Now for the Later?
The now for the later isn’t really that much different, There is one thing that changes slightly. When you ask someone to sacrifice the ME for the WE, the implication is that WE will all be rewarded by the improvement of the collective good. I agree with this statement, but it excludes personal responsibility. If you ask someone to sacrifice the NOW for the LATER, you are putting the responsibility squarely on their shoulders. When each member of any team is performing to their maximum ability, the team is firing on all cylinders
That doesn’t mean the individual should look out only for him/herself. That ultimately wouldn’t be in the player’s best interest. No one person can beat a team of five or however many depending on what you are playing. Team play is part of the game, and important at that.
Last night I got to watch the Sox clinch the World Series. I placed a call to Terry Francona this week and asked him to wrap it up in four so I could publish this article on deadline. Going into the playoffs, they could have hung their heads when they made it as the wild-card team. They didn’t and in the ALDS they swept the Angels. When they trailed the American League-leading Yankees 3-0, they should have listened to history and hung it up. They didn’t and made history coming back to win four straight. The final test of the season was against the Major League-leading Cardinals. Well we all know what happened there. The Sox, who haven’t won a series in my lifetime, my Dad’s lifetime, or my Grampa’s lifetime, swept the Cards.
That was a team of great players, all of whom seemed willing and able to sacrifice the now for the later. Each one of the players did everything that he could. Not one of them was perfect. They made fielding errors, their bats went hot and cold, the pitchers threw some bad pitches. Making mistakes didn’t stop them form achieving what they had set out to do. I watched a team of guys truly sacrifice the now for the later.
We used to joke in Little League about getting hit by pitches; we actually dared each other to lean in at the plate and "take one" for the team. I can’t remember who said it and I doubt they made it up, but there was a saying we used to have, "Pain is temporary; glory is forever." We weren’t the best team ever (actually, I don’t think we were the best even in our small-town league), but we gave it up like we were. Not that my own experiences were on par with those of the Red Sox. It’sit just that they reminded me of why kids play sports.
I know that I have been talking about basketball and baseball, but I had to take this opportunity because I don’t know if I will be alive in another 86 years. The Red Sox have taught us lessons that relate better to swimming than they do to baseball. Put it on the line day in and day out. When you get to your practice tomorrow, or the next day, or whenever, think of the glory of achieving your goal, not the pain that comes with it. It isn’t easy and you will make plenty of mistakes along the way, but it will be worth it later.