Last night, the Golden State Warriors won the 2017 NBA title. It was easy. Looking at their regular season record of 67-15, and their playoff record of 16-1, some would argue that it was too easy. They added Kevin Durant, an incendiary, all-purpose scorer-slash-perimeter-defender-slash-rim-protector, to an already historically great team, and they cut down the competition as though they were a varsity team in a J.V. league.
Individually, their four best players rank among perhaps the top fifteen players in a league comprised of the world’s best 450 players. They have the two most recent MVP’s on their roster (not withstanding this season’s, which will be Russell Westbrook). They score and defend at record levels, and their play inspires “Greatest of all time” discussion and hyperbole. It is breathtakingly beautiful to behold if you like basketball.
It also takes a lot of the intrigue out of the outcome. Assuming they all stayed healthy, this victory was a foregone conclusion; they are far and away the most talented team in the league, and their playoff romp only served to reinforce that status. So, after their victory last night, I started trying to think of a lesson I could glean from their triumph.
The first thing that came to mind is that teamwork and support create victory. I want to visit three verses about teamwork, and talk a moment about each one as it pertains to basketball, and to my own life.
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
The entire point of basketball is that a team of players can be more than the sum of its individual parts, and with their dazzling passing and playmaking, perhaps no one team embodies that principle better than the Warriors. They are unselfish, and they constantly have one goal in mind. Because of this, they put their egos aside, despite their considerable individual accolades.
One common downfall of “super teams”–teams with more than one or two transcendent talents–is that individual egos impede team growth and progress. Bill Simmons, a sportswriter whose talent I greatly admire, wrote an 800 page treatise on basketball success appropriately entitled “The Book of Basketball.” The distilled synopsis is this: The path to true victory is through getting an entire team, regardless of talent, to buy into this “secret:” Only by putting the team’s success before oneself can perfect victory be achieved.
I’ve written about Pride before, and how it has affected me–and how it affects me still. I ought to take that same secret to heart, and be of one mind with my team of Christians. After all, we are all of one mind when it comes to loving Him. My ego will not help me in any way on that path to victory.
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).
Another thing that makes a good team great is their ability to push each other to new heights in a healthy, positive way. In practice, in games, in free-agency. Even in competition against nemeses. When a level of competition is elevated, one is forced to rise to a new level of greatness.
Sometimes, a nemesis isn’t readily apparent. Sometimes it’s in a shadow, or even lurking in our own minds. Perhaps my nemesis is apathy, or insecurity, or pride. What I must be mindful, what I must do, is raise my level of resolve and strength to overcome those nemeses. I must anneal and hone my mind, and rise up to overcome the parts of the world–and parts of myself–that would seek to drag me further away from God.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow” (Ecclesiastes 4:9).
In basketball, one of the marks of a great teammate is that he makes the players around him better. When things are humming along, everyone’s play is elevated. This is evident statistically and stylistically. Magic Johnson, Steve Nash, LeBron James, and Stephen Curry are all examples of guards who make the game easier for their teammates. Of course, when things are going poorly for one teammate, the others can pick him up and drag him across the finish line. But lifting a fellow up means elevating him, whether or not he falters.
I’ve said before that one of my great weaknesses is that I feel as though I can do everything by myself. One aspect of this is that if I am alone, there is no one to catch me as I stumble. There is another aspect, though, that I hadn’t considered before: I need teammates to make me the best version of myself.
Only then can I truly achieve victory.