Values of the Game [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Bill Bradley
eBook Category: Sports/Entertainment/Business
eBook Description: Professional sports seems to offer the cynics among us plenty of reasons to shake their heads in disgust. Public tirades and fist-fights, exorbitant contracts and labor disputes, the myriad temptations of glamorous, high-profile lifestyles, ear-bitings and coach-chokings all cast something of a pall over national pastimes that once seemed theatres for heroism, teamwork and loyalty. Bill Bradley, in his celebrated book, Values of the Game, insists that those positive values are what make sports more than just mere entertainment, and that they are still alive and well. Ten essays in appreciation, Values of the Game focuses on such ideals as commitment, patience and sacrifice as core values that sports both demand and develop in anyone who wishes to succeed. The true value of sports, Bradley argues, is to be found not in the glare of the limelight or in the excitement of last-minute heroics but rather in the solitary hours spent practicing in the gym, or in the selflessness of a player whose priority is to make his or her team and teammates better. It is also about passion, sincerity and playing for the sheer love of the game. Far from being simply a forum for individual talent to showcase itself, sports require such determination and spirit that they cannot help but offer us important lessons about life. Therein lies the true import of Bradley's book: ultimately, sports is a metaphor for life. If an athletic team is to succeed, each of its members needs to be dedicated to the team and not merely to his or her own vision of personal achievement. The same holds true, Bradley argues, for a group of co-workers, a government, or a family. Written from the unique perspective of a man who is a former basketball great, a three-time senator, an educator, a scholar, a husband and a father, Values of the Game insists that the true value of the game is found in what it can teach us about becoming better citizens, better family members and, above all, better people.
eBook Publisher: RosettaBooks
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2002
Perspective: Balancing Act
2 Reader Ratings:
Team players know exactly where they are in relation both to their opponents and their teammates. Off the court, they come to understand the fleeting nature of victory while appreciating the breadth of support needed to achieve it. Knowledge of one's strengths and weaknesses remains a necessary but not sufficient step to success; acting on that knowledge requires perspective.
"Winning brings out the best in people who are good and the worst in people who are not," Pete Carril wrote in his memoir. You can see that pattern of behavior forming as early as high school. Some players become insufferable when they win. Others handle victory with modesty and dignity, and earn admiration for it. "When you win, don't crow; when you lose, don't cry," Arvel Popp, my high school coach, used to say. A perspective on victory comes from knowing who is responsible for it in a team sport. Never is it one player.
In 1965, I set the record for the highest number of points in an NCAA tournament game: 58. Several years later, when Austin Carr of Notre Dame scored 61 points in a game, people asked me whether I was disappointed that he had broken my record. My answer was that I didn't care, that records were made to be broken. Like batons in a relay race, they are passed from one athlete to another. In team sports the only record that's important is the team's, not a team member's. UCLA's ten NCAA championships in twelve years and the Boston Celtics' eleven NBA championships in thirteen years are the most impressive and important records in basketball. I predict that they'll never be broken -- until they are.
* * *
Basketball, perhaps above all other sports, affords a unique perspective on a fundamental moral issue of our times: the need for racial unity. Bill Russell once said that the reason he liked the game was because it was about numbers, while much else in life was politics. The implication was that given the politics of life in America, a black man would not be able to rise with his ability, because somewhere along the line racist thinking and racists acts would subvert his achievement, whereas in basketball you got the rebound or you didn't. The ball went in or it missed. There were no artificial barriers between ability and reward.
On a February evening in 1998, an organization called XNBA assembled in New York City to give its first awards to basketball players, owners, and coaches who had shaped the modern game. Bill Russell presented an award to Red Auerbach, his old coach -- the man who had won nine NBA championships in ten years but had been named Coach of the Year only once. Russell got right to the point about his friendship with Red. "I never considered him a social innovator," Russell said, "but Red did things. For example, the Celtics. . .were the first team to draft a black player, a number one draft pick from one of the Negro colleges; the first team to start five black players; and the first team to hire a black coach. And I never once thought that Auerbach did that for any other reason but that he thought this was the best man for the job. And that's the only way to do things like that."
* * *
You can't play on a team with African Americans for very long and fail to recognize the stupidity of our national obsession with race. The right path is really very simple: Give respect to teammates of a different race, treat them fairly, disagree with them honestly, enjoy their friendship, explore your common humanity, share your thoughts about one another candidly, work together for a common goal, help one another achieve it. No destructive lies. No ridiculous fears. No debilitating anger.
Why, of all the places in America, is that ideal closest to being achieved on a basketball court? I believe it's because the community of a team is so close that you have to talk with one another; the travel is so constant that you have to interact with one another; the competition is so intense that you have to challenge one another; the game is so fluid that you have to depend on one another; the high and low moments are so frequent that you learn to share them; the season is so long that it brings you to mutual acceptance. That is not to say that no racists have ever survived a multiracial team experience with their prejudices intact, but my guess is that the numbers are few.
* * *
Basketball shows you how thin the line is between victory and defeat, and how we all live most of our lives in the middle, between the two. In 1970, the Knicks played the Lakers for the biggest prize in basketball, the NBA championship, and I found myself playing against my childhood heroes -- Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, and Jerry West. The series took a number of dramatic turns, with a devastating injury to Willis Reed in the fifth game and constant press comments about which was the better team, the old stars or the new upstarts. Everything came down to the seventh game.
As we approached the championship game, I began to see our campaign as something like Tolstoy's idea of war: It was not great generalship that was decisive, but rather the accidents -- the unforeseen was what dictated events. Fate, in the form of Willis's torn abductor muscle, had intervened. In such circumstances, though you have prepared meticulously, you still look for a way to seize the initiative. No advantage is too small to be pounced on.
During the warm-ups in the Garden, West, Baylor, and Chamberlain limbered up for what they thought -- absent Willis -- would be their first championship together. Then Willis appeared from underneath the stands. The audience erupted in a roar as loud Niagara Falls. The unpredictable had occurred again. The advantage shifted, and each Knick felt tremendously uplifted. DeBusschere recalls that Chamberlain, Baylor, and West stood at the other end of the court, their warm-up stopped, just watching Willis, his lips pursed in determination, take his last shots before the game's opening buzzer. If Willis's entrance had changed the momentum all by itself, the first two minutes, in which he hit his first two shots, sealed the Lakers' fate. They seemed dazed; the pressure had reached even my childhood heroes, and they were carried away in the current. Chamberlain's 45 points in the sixth game, against essentially the same team, dropped to 21 in the final. Baylor and West couldn't break out of the reversed momentum. Our team stuck together and we won.
The game could have easily gone the other way were it not for Willis's heroics, our home court advantage, or the fact that Walt Frazier's opponent, Dick Garrett, was an old teammate from college who still stood in awe of him. If any one of these countless variables had shifted, the outcome could have changed, but none of them did. When we needed to perform, we did. There would be other times in other places when it wouldn't go so well. One year later, with Willis suffering from tendonitis of the knee, we would lose in the Eastern finals to Baltimore. Two years later, a slightly different Laker team defeated us in the finals four games to one, in a series that, had a few baskets in the fourth game gone in our favor, could have stretched to seven games -- and then who knows what might have happened? Each time I think about those moments, I remember how intense they were and the perspective they gave me about how life works: about the importance of continuity, the ability to see beyond the immediate, and the fragility of balance. Awareness of this sort leads to gratitude for the bounty that life does bring you, and to a determination to live it to the fullest.
* * *
Beyond the game on the court, there is the larger world of your dealings with the public and its representatives, the press. Having the right perspective on yourself as a public figure is no easy task. The problem can crop up early in your playing career. As a high school athlete you can get some press attention and suddenly feel self-important and separate from your team. Fame, you learn, is like a rainstorm -- it comes on fast and then goes just as quickly, often leaving behind a certain amount of destruction.
I always felt that the public was owed a good performance on the court, and I tried to give as close to 100 percent as possible every night, but as a pro I was never any good at the postgame interviews. Mine usually amounted to little more than restatements of the box score -- besides, other teammates liked to do them. Yet I knew, and many players know, that the press is not the adversary; the first thing to understand is that most reporters are just trying to do their job. Relating to them as professionals worthy of courtesy and respect is infinitely preferable to feigning friendship or avoiding contact.
* * *
Some of the very best basketball players, through their athletic accomplishments, legitimize youthful aspiration and encourage commitment. They know how hard they've worked to cultivate and extend their talents, but, with an appealing modesty, they also recognize their talents as a gift. By recognizing that they are not the sole creators of their own particular genius, these players reflect a perspective that at core can be spiritual. What comes to mind is Magic Johnson's enthusiasm. (The Greek word enthusiasmos means "being filled with the spirit of the gods.") Julius Erving once described what he did as literally "leaping for God." Players like this seem to have a natural understanding of the spirit. In contrast to the greed and selfishness that is too much a part of American life, and increasingly of basketball itself, they point toward another way, one influenced more by internal peace than by envy or celebrity. As the ancient Greeks understood, great athletes not only accept the ordeal of competition and the trial of strength inherent in it, but also show us a connection between what we do each day and something that is larger than we are and lasts longer than we do.
Copyright © 1988 by Bill Bradley