“The new man commanded an instant respect. His players could see from the start that Wooden knew the game and put a great deal of though into organizing his practices. To him, it was no different than putting together a lesson plan for a high school English class. It was the teacher’s job to show up early and be ready to work. He came to practice in his athletic gear and black shoes, and he constantly referred to his three-by-five inch index cards as he presided over the workouts.
"The game was full of untold ecstasies. Little Pete had a big smile- though never when he played. His expression belied the joy he derived from performing, pleasing, mesmerizing. He was energized by the awe of an audience, whether it be men watching him dribble blindfolded or the kids in the drugstore gaping as he spun the ball on his fingertips. But the effect was multiplied in front of a proper crowd. He first felt it as a seventh grader, already playing for the junior varsity at Daniel. There were fewer than ninety people in the stands, but has was wired to them, each fan nourishing a strange, adrenalized sensation at his core. “Out in front of a crowd for the first time,” he would recall,” I just wanted to do everything and be everything…I wanted to put on a show.”
Prodigies are peculiar, not just for their gifts, but for the prodigiousness of their practice regimens. Frail as he looked, Pete didn’t acknowledge the usual boundaries of fatigue, age, or nerve. Nor did his routines distinguish between the athletic and the aesthetic, between the sport and the show. He had already begun challenging his father’s players to games of horse for money. He would have to hoist the ball two-handed, off his hip. “He was like half our size, literally,” remembers George Krajack. “But he took some of our guys’ money.”"
- Excerpt by Mark Kriegel in Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich
"The key moment for me came during a game in San German, a town in the southwest whose fans hated the Gallitos so much they lit candles the night before we arrived and prayed for our death. Just before the game was about to start, someone broke a rim on one of the baskets, and everybody in the stadium, including about 5,000 fans, had to wait while the rim was being rewelded at the local gas station.
It took forever. Meanwhile the fans were getting drunk and restless, and the drums were beating louder and louder. My kids were running wild, and June was worried about Chelsea, whose leg was swollen from a spider bite. I tend to get phobic in large stadiums, unless I’m down on the floor, separated from the crowd. All this craziness was making me nervous, so I retreated to the dressing room.
It was a dank concrete room, lit by a dim bulb dangling from the ceiling. My players were so spooked by the place they always came fully dressed for games in San German. They never told me why; I thought it had to do with witchcraft. After sitting in the dressing room for a while, however, I spotted the reason out of the corner of my eye: a tarantula the size of a softball crawling down the wall inches from my head.
In an attempt to escape on fear I’d come face to face with (for me) an even greater fear. Ever since childhood, I’ve been terrified of spiders, but my mind was clear enough at that moment so that I didn’t panic. I just sat there and watched the giant tarantula slowly—ever so slowly—make its way along the wall. I wanted to sit through the fear, to experience it as fully as possible, until I felt comfortable enough to just be there in the room. And I did. When I finally got up and returned to the stadium, I didn’t feel anxious anymore. From then on, the riotous nature of life in Puerto Rico no longer posed a threat."
- Excerpt by Phil Jackson in Sacred Hoops
"Fortunately, I had an outlet for my energy in which success came easily—basketball. I was 6’6’’ in high school—and would grow to 6’8’’ in college—with square shoulders and arms so long I could sit in the back seat of a car and open both front doors at the same time. My classmates poked fun at my gangling physique and nicknamed me “Bones”, but I didn’t mind because I loved the game. In 1961, my senior year, I led Williston high to the state championship, scoring 48 points in the tournament final. The next thing I knew, I was being hotly pursued by the new coach at the University of North Dakota, Bill Fitch.
One reason for my early success was my fierce competitive drive, honed over the years by battling two older brothers at everything from checkers to one-on-one hoops. Charles and Joe, six and four years older, respectively, made fun of me when I tried to compete with them, and their laughter drove me to try even harder. No doubt I inherited some of that spirit from my mother, who was a basketball player in high school and turned every activity—ironing shirts, playing scrabble, hiking with her Sunday school class—into an Olympic sport. For me, winning was a matter of life and death. As a kid, I often threw temper tantrums when I lost, especially if I was competing against my brothers. Losing made me feel humiliated and worthless, as if I didn’t exist. Once during a high school baseball tournament, I was called in as a reliever and pitched nearly perfect ball for several innings. But I was inconsolable when we lost, even though it was probably my best performance of that year. I just sat in the dugout after the game and wept." - Phil Jackson, Excerpt from Sacred Hoops
“We have only one rule here: Don’t do anything that’s detrimental to yourself. Because if it’s detrimental to you, it’ll be detrimental to our program and to Duke University.”
As the team gathers together in our locker room for the first time, I try to get my only rule out of the way fast. I won’t dwell on it because I’d rather not ruin the moment. This is a great day—a day that I’ve been looking forward to with anxious anticipation for months. You can feel the excitement in the air. You can see the spring in everyone’s step.
Even though the preseason begins around the first of September, it’s really like springtime—time for birth of a new team. All the players come in fresh. They bring whoever they are to that first meeting. They bring innocence with them. And they’re ready to grow.
Looking at the young faces in front of me, I see myself more than thirty years earlier. And I think back to 1969.
“I want to tell you a story,” I’ll say next. “It’s a story about how I first became a basketball coach.” - Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Duke University; Author of Leading with the Heart
Check back Thursday for the story that started it all for Coach K…
"The basketball coaches would sit and watch me play handball, which impressed me: no one had ever paid that kind of attention to me before. And after the game they would talk to me. They always tried to get me to play for them, but I was getting a reputation as the star of team handball and it was fun, so I wasn’t interested in changing. They would see me walking by and say, “This is your sport, this sport was made for you!” Every time the head coach saw me, at the Stadium or on campus, that’s what he would say. I would laugh and go away.
This time I went to him. I had to find a sport to play. The head coach’s name was Ganiyu Otenigbade, and when he saw me coming he laughed at me. It was a friendly laugh. He welcomed me. “I told you all along this was your sport!” I said,” I want to play.”
He looked at me. I was 6’8’’. He said he had room for me on the team. “Don’t come here thinking you’re just going to this tournament. This is permanent.” I didn’t know about that, but at least now I had a game to play, this was wonderful.
The basketball team was at one end of the court and first thing Coach Ganiyu did was take me down to the other end and teach me how to shoot a lay-up. He showed me the steps: one, two, and go. It looked easy when he did it, but I couldn’t get my feet together, I was more worried about scoring. He said,” Don’t worry about that, just get the form, the technique.”" - Hakeem Olajuwon in Living the Dream
Hakeem Olajuwon was always one of my favorite players when I was growing up. I remember I had a Rockets jersey and even did a presentation on him in 5th grade.
This is a cool story to me because he might never had played basketball if it hadn't been for the national team coaches watching him play handball, which was his preferred sport at the time. It did help that he was 6' 8'' and had great coordination for someone that tall and that young. It makes me wander what would have happened if he had never followed the advice of the basketball coaches. We would never had seen Hakeem "The Dream" play and win 2 NBA Championships.
Did you have an instance in your life when someone saw potential in you and you followed their lead? What were the results?
"We’d play one-on-one, and he always beat me. He was really good, but he also played tough. Sometimes he’d hold me with one hand while he shot with the other. He poked me in the ribs and pushed me and grabbed me all over the court. I’d get mad, but he’d say, “No, that’s not a foul!”—which only made me more frustrated, and pushed me to play harder, despite everything he was doing to harass me.
But that was the point. Dad was teaching me that I wouldn’t always get the calls, that I had to play above the contact. He showed me different shots, like the two-handed set shot, which wasn’t used anymore, and a running hook shot, which he had pretty well mastered. But above all he taught me how to be aggressive on the courts: how to drive to the basket and take the charge; how to put up a shot as I was being hit. If they called the foul, great. And if they didn’t, no problem.
He taught me to win against the odds, and never to quit. It was years before I was finally able to beat him one-on-one. But when I did, I knew I had really earned it."
- Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Author of My Life
Do you remember playing one-on-one with your dad? I remember the pride I had when I finally beat him but soon after he hurt his knee. We rarely got to play after that, we just shot baskets. I still enjoyed it because we got to talk about basketball and life. Isn’t the driveway a good reflection of life? How our parents taught us important lessons and we usually didn’t realize it at the time. Then those lessons make there way into our lives outside of basketball. Magic’s dad showed him how to play through the contact and I’m sure he carried that through his life, especially when he had to retire from basketball because he contracted the HIV virus. What lessons did you learn in the driveway that you’ve carried through your life?
"In basketball –as in life- true joy comes from being fully present in each and every moment, not just when things are going your way. Of course, it’s no accident that things are more likely to go your way when you stop worrying about whether you’re going to win or lose and focus you full attention on what’s happening right this moment. The day I took over the Bulls, I vowed to create an environment based on the principles of selflessness and compassion I’d learned as a Christian in my parent’s home; sitting on a cushion practicing Zen; and studying the teachings of the Lakota Sioux. I knew that the only way to win consistently was to give everybody—from stars to the number 12 player on the bench—a vital role on the team, and inspire them to be acutely aware of what was happening, even when the spotlight was on somebody else. More than anything, I wanted to build a team that would blend individual talent with the heightened group consciousness. A team that could win big without becoming small in the process." - Phil Jackson, 11 time NBA Champion Coach, Author of Sacred Hoops
It’s not only about figuring out what your role is on the team, but it’s learning how that role can elevate the team to greater achievements. Focusing solely on what your role is without seeing the bigger picture can be detrimental to the team. Rising above that selfish focus to see the group as a whole can bring the team as a whole to another level.
Also like Lambert, Wooden made sure his players took care of their feet. He taught them how to rub their feet with powder and wear two pairs of socks, and he had them wearing shoes that were one size too small. “I noticed that most players wear shoes that are too large,” Wooden said. “Basketball is a game of quick movement-stop, start, turn, change of direction, change of pace. If there’s that much sliding to the end of the toe, you’re gong to get some blisters. So I decided what size shoe you’re going to wear. I want your toe right at the end of the shoe so that when you stop, there’s not going to be any sliding back and forth. I think that’s important.”
There are so many things that go in to preparing for a basketball game but John Wooden focused on one of the smallest details that a coach could, the athlete’s feet. He wanted to get the most out of his players and he knew that a small blister could limit their potential at the end of the game. So he eliminated the chance of something hindering his player’s focus and allowed them to play the game without any interruption.
It’s no surprise to me that someone who went on to be named the greatest college
coach of all-time would focus on his players smallest needs and put them in a
position to play without deterrence. He was a master at planning out the smallest
details because he knew that they would add up to something big over time. That’s
something I take from Coach Wooden and try to work into my own life. It’s not always the big leap that makes things happen but it’s focusing on the small details, that if done correctly can have a large impact over time.