Tag Archives: Basketball

A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton by John McPhee

Summary

  1. John McPhee was able to spend time and get to know Bill Bradley during his heydays at Princeton. McPhee beautifully writes about Bill, not only as a basketball player but as a person too

Key Takeaways

  1. I watched the general flow on the court for a while, and it was soon clear enough who had drawn the crowd, and that he was the most graceful and classical basketball player who had ever been near Princeton, to say the very least. Every motion developed in its simplest form. Every motion repeated itself precisely when he used it again. He was remarkably fast, but he ran easily. His passes were so good that they were difficult to follow. Every so often, and not often enough, I thought, he stopped and went high into the air with the ball, his arms rising until his hands were at right angles to one another and high above him, and a long jump shot would go into the net. My father, once a college basketball player himself, was so moved by this that he nudged me with his elbow. It was not the two points, obviously enough—it was the form and the manner with which they had been scored. I looked from the boy’s number down to the mimeographed sheet in my hand. His name was Bill Bradley. He was six feet, five inches tall. And he came from Crystal City, Missouri.
  2. He not only worked hard on defense, for example, he worked hard on defense when the other team was hopelessly beaten. He did all kinds of things he didn’t have to do simply because those were the dimensions of the game.
  3. The most interesting thing about Bill Bradley was not just that he was a great basketball player, but that he succeeded so amply in other things that he was doing at the same time, reached a more promising level of attainment, and, in the end, put basketball aside because he had something better to do.
  4. For one thing, he has overcome the disadvantage of wealth. A great basketball player, almost by definition, is someone who has grown up in a constricted world, not for lack of vision or ambition but for lack of money; his environment has been limited to home, gym, and playground, and it has forced upon him, as a developing basketball player, the discipline of having nothing else to do. Bradley must surely be the only great basketball player who wintered regularly in Palm Beach until he was thirteen years old.
  5. Bradley says that when he was seventeen he came to realize that life was much longer than a few winters of basketball. He is quite serious in his application to the game, but he has wider interests and, particularly, bigger ambitions. He is a history student, interested in politics, and last July he worked for Governor Scranton in Washington.
  6. Bradley is one of the few basketball players who have ever been appreciatively cheered by a disinterested away-from-home crowd while warming up.
  7. “When you have played basketball for a while, you don’t need to look at the basket when you are in close like this,” he said, throwing it over his shoulder again and right through the hoop. “You develop a sense of where you are.”
  8. Most basketball players appropriate fragments of other players’ styles, and thus develop their own. This is what Bradley has done, but one of the things that set him apart from nearly everyone else is that the process has been conscious rather than osmotic. His jump shot, for example, has had two principal influences. One is Jerry West, who has one of the best jumpers in basketball. At a summer basketball camp in Missouri some years ago, West told Bradley that he always gives an extra hard bounce to the last dribble before a jump shot, since this seems to catapult him to added height. Bradley has been doing that ever since. Terry Dischinger, of the Detroit Pistons, has told Bradley that he always slams his foot to the floor on the last step before a jump shot, because this stops his momentum and thus prevents drift. Drifting while aloft is the mark of a sloppy jump shot. Bradley’s graceful hook shot is a masterpiece of eclecticism. It consists of the high-lifted knee of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Darrall Imhoff, the arms of Bill Russell, of the Boston Celtics, who extends his idle hand far under his shooting arm and thus magically stabilizes the shot, and the general corporeal form of Kentucky’s Cotton Nash, a rookie this year with the Lakers. Bradley carries his analyses of shots further than merely identifying them with pieces of other people.
  9. His high-scoring totals are the result of his high percentage of accuracy, not of an impulse to shoot every time he gets the ball.
  10. Other Princeton players aren’t always quite expecting Bradley’s passes when they arrive, for Bradley is usually thinking a little bit ahead of everyone else on the floor.
  11. He is painfully aware of his celebrity. The nature of it and the responsibility that it imposes are constantly on his mind. He remembers people’s names, and greets them by name when he sees them again. He seems to want to prove that he finds other people interesting. “The main thing I have to prevent myself from becoming is disillusioned with transitory success,” he said recently. “It’s dangerous. It’s like a heavy rainstorm. It can do damage or it can do good, permitting something to grow.”
  12. One of his most enviable gifts is his ability to regiment his conscious mind. After a game, for example, most college players, if they try to study, see all the action over again between the lines in their books. Bradley can, and often does, go straight to the library and work for hours, postponing his mental re-play as long as he cares
  13. “Basketball discipline carries over into your life,” continuing, “You’ve got to face that you’re going to lose. Losses are part of every season, and part of life. The question is, can you adjust? It is important that you don’t get caught up in your own little defeats.”
  14. The metaphor of basketball is to be found in these compounding alternatives. Every time a basketball player takes a step, an entire new geometry of action is created around him. In ten seconds, with or without the ball, a good player may see perhaps a hundred alternatives and, from them, make half a dozen choices as he goes along. A great player will see even more alternatives and will make more choices, and this multiradial way of looking at things can carry over into his life. At least, it carries over into Bradley’s life.
  15. “The average basketball player only likes to play basketball,” van Breda Kolff says. “When he’s left to himself, all he wants to do is get a two-on-two or a three-on-three going. Bradley practices techniques, making himself learn and improve instead of merely having fun.”
  16. His most remarkable natural gift, however, is his vision. During a game, Bradley’s eyes are always a glaze of panoptic attention, for a basketball player needs to look at everything, focusing on nothing, until the last moment of commitment. Beyond this, it is obviously helpful to a basketball player to be able to see a little more than the next man, and the remark is frequently made about basketball superstars that they have unusual peripheral vision. People used to say that Bob Cousy, the immortal backcourt man of the Boston Celtics, could look due east and enjoy a sunset.
  17. Dr. Abrams said that he doubted whether a person who tried to expand his peripheral vision through exercises could succeed, but he was fascinated to learn that when Bradley was a young boy he tried to do just that. As he walked down the main street of Crystal City, for example, he would keep his eyes focused straight ahead and try to identify objects in the windows of stores he was passing.
  18. At Princeton, Bradley has become such an excellent basketball player that it is necessary to look beyond college basketball to find a standard that will put him in perspective. The standard’s name is Oscar Robertson, of the Cincinnati Royals, who is the finest basketball player yet developed. Robertson, who is known in basketball as The O, stands out among all professionals for the same reason that Bradley stands out among all amateurs. Other players have certain individual skills that are sharper, but Bradley and Robertson are accomplished in every aspect of the game.
  19. With all his analyses of its mechanics, Bradley may have broken his game down into its components, but he has reassembled it so seamlessly that all the parts, and also his thousands of hours of practice, are concealed. He is as fluidly graceful as any basketball player I have ever seen.

What I got out of it

  1. Beautifully written book showing how hard and deliberately Bill practiced to get as good as he was. Also highlighted how humble and multi-faceted he is

Drive: The Story of My Life by Larry Bird

Summary

  1. Bird discusses his childhood, college years, and life as one of the all time great NBA players

Key Takeaways

  1. Magic Johnson gives the foreword and says there are 3 reasons he respects and fears playing against Bird – his dedication, guts, and poise under pressure
  2. Baseteball just ‘clicked’ in his mind. Whatever he practiced he would pick up quickly – he also practiced more than anyone
  3. Didn’t care how much he scored or was the main player, as long as his team won
  4. Extremely competitive and grew up going at it with his brothers – family was always a united front
  5. Blessed with a good memory and was able to remember every instruction – was given the nickname ‘Kodak.’ My memory has always helped me to quickly up on things that I’m interested in. I think I’ve surprised people sometimes when they become aware of my recall capacity. Once, when I was doing a network interview, the producer ran a videotape of a previous year’s NBA championship game so I could comment on the game. When they stopped the tape randomly, they were trying to figure out at what point of the game it was, so I told them right away, “It’s the fourth quarter with fie minutes and forty seconds left.” The producer asked me how I could possibly have known that exact time and I told him I could tell from the fight song that was playing. He asked, “What fight song?” I explained, “I remember in the game the fight song was played three times. The last time they played the song the crowd was going absolutely crazy. Houston had come back from being 17 points down and I remember looking up at the clock at that point and there were five minutes and forty seconds to go.” I went on to describe the rest of the plays for the producer before they appeared on the tape. I guess it’s things like that that earned me the nickname of “Kodak” from Coach Bill Fitch.
  6. Never treated rookies badly – always took them under his wing
  7. His life motto was: I’ll deal with it when it comes. Never over thinking things or wasting energy
  8. When looking for his agent, the key question his team asked of each candidate was, “If you don’t get the job, whom would you recommend?” Almost all of them replied, “Bob Woolf.” Bird was really impressed by that and ended up choosing him
  9. After he was drafted by the Celtics, he read up on their history Red Auerbach, and the rest of the team
  10. As a rookie, have to gain respect. Focused on consistency so the team knew they could count on him every night
  11. Maxwell tried to get reactions from others to get himself fired up
  12. A basketball team consists of 12 men – not five or six. If the team is going to function properly, every member must have a role and that includes off the court, as well as on. The problem is that the public only pays attention to the ones who play the most minutes. Eric Fernsten was perfect for our team because he did everything and anything Coach Fitch asked. What he wanted to do was practice. His games were like mine while I was being red-shirted at Indiana State. He lived for practices. You may find this difficult to believe, but he really didn’t care that much about playing in the games. Eric would walk into practice and say, “Today is my day.” Then he’d go out and give you a real battle. He made the players he practiced against better – and that includes me. If Coach Fitch told him he wanted him to tackle you – which happened about three quarters of the time – that’s what he’d do. He would get me so frustrated, he’d make me want to play harder. He would do everything to you that you hated in an opponent. 
  13. We all knew Danny Ainge had to start playing more, but when you’re a player you don’t think the same way they do in management. Danny had a tough time his first 2-3 years. He played a lot with one eye on the bench and I’ve always said you just can’t play that way
  14. Whenever I’m trying to improve my game, I analyze my weaknesses first and work on those relentlessly. When Michael Cooper made all those subtle changes on me, I knew I needed to come up with something new.
  15. Bill Walton wanted to get his points, just like everyone else on the team. We weren’t afraid to go to him, but we never wanted him to get to the point where he felt he had to score. I think there was a time that seasons when he felt he should score eight or ten points a game. I remember telling him, “Don’t worry about points. We’ll take care of that. Just make your move if you have it. If not, give it to someone who can shoot it.” Once he accepted that, we didn’t have any problems
  16. Magic plays basketball the way I think you should play basketball. We think the same way about the game. We look at such and such a player and say, “If he was on my team, I could make him a great player.” Well, maybe not make him one, but sort of bring out the best of his abilities. We’ve reflected on that experience when we played on the same All-Star team in college. Both of us want to bring out the best in our teammates. We also want the fans to be involved in the game. Without them reacting, it just wouldn’t be as much fun. Magic plays to the strength of every teammate. The Lakers have a great team and they would be very good without him, but he is the special ingredient that brings them championships. 
  17. The Lakers learned a lot from the loss in ’84. They’ve developed the attitude we used to have. When we had our great teams, we remembered every loss. The next time we played that team, we wanted to bust ’em. If we lost a game, the players would say, “What went wrong tonight? The next time we play them, it won’t happen again.” And it wouldn’t
  18. I play for the fans, but they don’t come first. The owners come first. Without them, none of us would have anything. Then come the Celtics, which means Red. He gets me more fired up to play than any other individual. My high school and college coaches were great, but Red is “Mr. Basketball” to me. Then come my teammates and somehow in there I include myself
  19. Leadership is getting players to believe in you. If you tell a teammate you’re ready to play as tough as you’re able to, you’d better go out there and do it. Players will see right through a phony. And they can tell when you’re not giving it all you’ve got. Leadership is diving for a loose ball, getting the crowd involved, getting other players involved – no more, no less. It’s being able to take it as well as dish it out. That’s the only way you’re going to get respect from the players. 
  20. As a kid I always thought I was behind and I needed that extra hour to catch up. Jim Jones once told me, “No matter how many shots you take, somewhere there’s a kid out there taking one more. If you dribble a million times a day, someone is dribbling a million and one.” Whenever I’d get read to call it a day, I’d think about that other kid. There are many times when you’re better off practicing than playing, but most people just don’t understand that. 
  21. Surround yourself with good people and good things will happen

What I got out of it

  1. Perseverance, hard work, freaky memory, honest and straightforward, empathetic, and the consummate team player

The Carolina Way: Leadership Lessons From a Life in Coaching by Dean Smith

Summary
  1. A detailed overview of University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith’s philosophy. One of the best books on leadership I’ve yet come across
Key Takeaways
  1. Smith gave his players the same 3 goals each year – play hard, play together, play smart as these were the only things each player had in their own control
    1. Play hard – Insist on consistent effort. Focus on the effort and the end will take care of itself. The final result, especially in a competitive situation, is often outside your control, but the quality of your team’s effort is not. Create a system that demands effort, rewards it, and punishes its absence
    2. Play together – Play unselfishly. Don’t focus on individual statistics. Recruit unselfish players, reward unselfish play and punish selfish play and showboating
    3. Play smart – Execute properly. Understand and consistently execute the fundamentals. Drill the fundamentals, reward their execution and punish their absence
  2. Making winning the goal can actually get in the way of winning. Rather, winning should be the byproduct of success
  3. Honesty was the basic foundation for everything Coach Smith did
  4. Coaches are part benevolent (open-minded) dictator and part servant to the player. Honest and fair and plays no favorites. Pushes but understands different situations. Disciplinarian but understands that all individuals are not the same. Requires people to look at team goals but he understands that individuals have their own goals and needs too. Listens to players in one-on-one meetings and hears suggestions but when it comes time to approve the overall picture, he must be a firm leader with a clear vision and strong convictions
  5. His players worked so hard because they saw that he worked harder than any of them did. Coach Smith made players feel good about sacrificing for the greater good – power of incentives and rewards
  6. His philosophy didn’t allow for a star system. It was all about the team
  7. Great leaders take the blame for losses and dole out credit for victories
    1. Blaming others for mistakes not only doesn’t correct it, but compounds it
  8. Believed in following a process rather than dwelling on winning or worrying about consequences
  9. Genuinely cared about his players – Honesty, integrity, discipline administered fairly, not playing favorites, recruiting the right people, effective practice and training, and caring are foundations that any organization would be wise to have in place. The most important thing in good leadership is truly caring
  10. The most effective leaders have the talent to create a sound strategy for their teams or business; knowledge of the importance of recruiting good people who wish to improve their personal skills and believe in the companies’ or teams’ philosophy; understand that whether they like it or not, they lead by example; belief in the importance of being light enough on their feet to adapt to changing conditions; and the ability to honor their commitments, admit their mistakes and take responsibility for their failures
  11. Rituals help greatly in team building
  12. Constant iteration and experimentation at Air Force Academy was a great learning experience for Smith. This type of risk appetite was natural to Smith at this time because he was new, young and had nothing to lose. Not falling into the trap of complacency as one gets older and more successful is vital
  13. Tore down freshmen to break habits and then built them back up as team leaders
  14. Never had the same team two years in a row but was still so consistently successful! Disguise weaknesses and accentuate strengths and always adapt based on personnel. Didn’t fear change even in the middle of the season
    1. His coaching system was that he had no system because each team was different
  15. Aimed for players to be quietly confident, it must be earned
  16. Getting to the top is very difficult, staying there is even harder. You prepare for that pressure through deliberate practice
  17. Never allowed anyone but players and the coaching staff into the locker room. This created a space of total trust and love where everyone could be open and honest with each other in the midst of competition
  18. Map is not the terrain. They had their own statistics that they followed and praised
  19. Basketball is simply an extension of Smith’s philosophy of life
  20. Keep poise and have options when things go poorly
  21. Mistakes – recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it
  22. Fundamentals of basketball are the fundamentals of good character, of life. Many of the same skills are necessary for success regardless of the endeavor you choose
  23. Best leaders are absolutely devoted to their people
  24. Winning should simply be thought of as a byproduct of the process. This is the best way to win as it gets you in a healthy frame of mind
  25. Nation’s leading scorer rarely plays for a ranked team and never for a championship team
  26. Good businesses tend to die because senior leaders lose touch with the outside world, the important stakeholders. Executives spend too much time working and not enough time thinking. They should delegate more to create more. Work on the important things first; your people and their skills are the important things
  27. Don’t let winning get you to overlook mistakes – process over outcome
  28. Sole focus on winning (profits) actually leads to lower chance of winning
  29. Crises bring each of us face to face with our inadequacies
  30. Skill of being a gracious loser is vital for leaders. Must see an opportunity in every loss
  31. Part method teaching – can better understand whole if it is broken down into smaller, manageable parts
  32. Hiring well makes managing easy
  33. If treated correctly and this advice followed, players become the best recruiters
  34. People will only change when they see it will benefit them
  35. If the hard work is also fun, performance will be enhanced greatly
  36. Must first provide first rate employee experience before can get first rate customer experience
  37. There is a real strength derived from depending on one another
  38. Avoid the formation of cliques at all costs
  39. High performing teams – individual peak performance, selflessness, high morale, no fear of failure, mutual care and support
  40. Specific coaching and understanding of role is vital – also what one’s role is not
  41. Never substitute because of a player’s mistakes – would lead to scared playing and public embarrassment
  42. Teamwork hard to build because of society’s fascination with individual success and the emphasis it places on winning no matter how it is achieved
  43. Smith was a master at tailoring his teaching method to each individual
  44. Never underestimate the power of appreciation
  45. Smith institute the tired signal with his players – this made them play all out until they needed a quick break. To overwork is to underperform
  46. Everyone is important
  47. Take care of the small things without getting bogged down by minutiae – punctuality, no swearing, clean and matching uniforms, no scoreboard gazing (worry about the process and not the outcome and stay in the present), hyper focused on end of game situations, set the pace by being the aggressor, not the reactor,
    1. Great leaders are adept at identifying and tending to the crucial details. The smartest use of their time, effort and money is to spend far more of them in the planning stages than one thinks necessary
  48. One-on-one meetings very important as it opens up the lines of communication, builds trust and shows you care
  49. One of the best ways to teach is for all leaders and workers to mentor younger associates. Solve for problem of not getting to it after retiring or because too busy by doing your teaching on the job
  50. Success is the byproduct of intelligent, sustained effort
  51. People accept punishment if it is fair and consistent
  52. On confidence
    1. Think through what the worst possible outcome could be concerning the project being worked on
    2. Predict the probability of that worst-case scenario’s happening
    3. Develop a plan to implement if the worst does occur
    4. If the worst outcome becomes reality, assess whether it can be survived
    5. Once the task begins, give the best possible performance. Since that’s all anyone can do, enjoy the challenge
    6. If failure results, learn from it, forgive yourself and move on to the next task
  53. On continuous learning
    1. Most people say best learning experiences come from mistakes by why wait? A smarter strategy is to learn on a continuous basis from daily events. Each lesson might be a small one, but soon the lessons will accumulate to become something meaningful and important in your life
    2. Achiever’s Brain Book – an accessible notebook to write in throughout the day. In spare minutes write down key things you’ve learned and at the end of the day add the three major experiences of the day (decisions, projects worked on, meetings attended, interactions) Analyze what was done in those three instances and what the impacts or consequences were. Then establish actions based on what you’ve learned that will positively affect your future behavior
    3. The key to continuous learning is to articulate one’s inarticulate knowledge. Do it continuously, draw lessons from daily experiences. Lessons don’t arrive on command, but you can budget a little time in your life to step back and get the perspective that leads to insight
  54. Don’t waste time looking back. Learn from mistakes/regrets, make sure they never happen again and spend time planning what’s next
  55. Importance of change – Smith’s success came partly from his ability to adapt and change better than anyone else. He knew where to place his players on the court to get the most of each man’s ability. Leaders should select for their team’s individuals who have proved capacity to change (curiosity, listen well to ideas different from their own, humble, resilient, test new ideas, willing to admit they’re wrong?)
  56. The importance of the bottom half of the roster – often one of the hardest things is finding the right kind of leader to be the 11th and 12th men on the team. In the best of worlds, these two would know in advance that they wouldn’t play much but would work hard in practice and meetings to make the team better
What I got out of it
  1. Focus obsessively on process and things you can control, the most important thing in high performing teams is genuine caring, constant iteration, adaptation and non-dogmatic ideals are needed when you have a different team every year!, Achiever’s Brain Book

The Beautiful Game – Tribute to the San Antonio Spurs

Absolutely beautiful montage to Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs – teamwork, humility, sense of humor, ability to enjoy other’s success, work ethic, growth outside of basketball, complete trust, greatest success is found in building strong, lasting, trusting relationships

Wooden on Leadership by John Wooden

Summary
  1. Wooden’s goal never changed – get the maximum effort and peak performance from each player in the manner that best suited the team
Key Takeaways
  1. Explains his pyramid of success which outlines mental, emotional, and physical qualities essential to building a winning organization
  2. Shows you how to be your best when you truly need it
  3. Take care of the little things
  4. Don’t be emotional
  5. Perfection can’t be reached but it must be the goal
  6. Never Lie. Never Cheat. Never Steal. Don’t whine. Don’t complain. Don’t make excuses
  7. Pyramid of Success
    1. Industriousness
    2. Friendship
    3. Loyalty
    4. Cooperation
    5. Enthusiasm
    6. Self-control
    7. Alertness
    8. Initiative
    9. Intentness
    10. Condition
    11. Skill
    12. Team Spirit
    13. Poise
    14. Confidence
    15. Competitive Greatness
    16. Success (faith and patience needed throughout)
What I got out of it
  1. Amazing man with incredible principles and a proper perspective. Quit coaching at the peak of his career because he was over it and wanted to spend more time with his family

Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty

Summary
  1. Phil Jackson recounts his time as a player and a coach and the many important leadership and coaching skills he picked up along the way
Key Takeaways
  1. A ring symbolizes love and unending connections – Native Americans considered the ring sacred and built their communities around the shape
  2. Different tribal stages – life sucks, apathetic people, focused on individual achievement and have to win (lone warriors), main focus is tribal pride and needs a strong adversary, and last stage is that life is great
  3. 11 “Rings” of Leadership
    1. Lead from the inside out – be “anti-lemming” and develop your own culture and system. Speak from the heart and be transparent
    2. Bench the ego. The more power you try to exude and force, the less resort and power you will receive
    3. Let each player discover their own destiny – don’t force your changes on people. Remember players aren’t just cogs in a machine, they are people
    4. Road to freedom is a beautiful system. Create a system where players can decide for themselves
    5. Turn the mundane into the sacred. Incorporate rituals like meditation into mundane practices and routines
    6. One breath equals one mind. Mindfulness meditation is very useful to focus ones awareness on the present moment and shut out the noise
    7. The key to success is compassion. Simplicity, patience and compassion are all vital
    8. Keep your eye on the spirit and not on the scoreboard. Process over outcome
    9. Sometimes you have to bring out the big stick
    10. When in doubt, do nothing. When the mind is allowed to relax, inspiration often follows
    11. Forget the rings – winning shouldn’t be your focus, do your best and then let the outcomes unfold
  4. Selflessness is the holy grail of basketball
  5. 3 helpful aspects of Zen Buddhism – give up control, stay in the moment, live with compassion (especially for oneself)
  6. Aims to give each player enough space to grow and an environment where they can prosper. Transparency is key
  7. Instead of firing the players up he created rituals to help quiet their minds before games
  8. Being focused on the present helps you see the unseen and hear the unheard
  9. One of the best ways to deal with anxiety is to be as prepared as possible
  10. Important to have a “pecking order” on your team which is well known and accepted
  11. The sacred is in the ordinary. Your work had to represent your passion
  12. As a leader you need to meet people where they are and show them where to go
What I got out of it
  1. Really interesting story and many of the leadership and management principles Jackson outlines can be incorporated into any leadership position. I didn’t know that Jackson had such an interest in Buddhism and quieting his player’s minds

Read Eleven Rings