Monday, June 16, 2014

Redemption: Literary & Life Lessons from the Spurs' Championship Quest

Nothing like a little redemption.
I’m speaking ostensibly of my favorite hoops team—the San Antonio Spurs—who claimed their 5th championship last night, and in so doing exorcised the demons of the title which slipped agonizingly through their fingers one year ago. It was a loss which haunted them throughout the offseason, and then drove and inspired them from the start of training camp, through the regular season and playoffs and finally to the promised land. Yes, I’m speaking ostensibly of them but I’ll confess here and now to having lived with unabashed vicariousness through their quest for the last year, and so I am also claiming at least a modicum of redemption for myself. I’ve been a Spurs fan a long, long time, and though they are in contention every year, it had been seven years since their last title, and 15 since their first. A long time coming, but a testament to their class organization and class leaders, coach Greg Popovich and Hall of Famer Tim Duncan. The Spurs are the epitome of team basketball and of team, a motley crew of American and international players who to  a man put team and one another over themselves, and Commissioner Silver was right in saying—as he presented their championship trophy last night, “You’ve shown the world how beautiful our game really is.”
The commissioner might have said that to any team who had won, but I’m not so sure. The Spurs demolished their opponents, the arguably more talented Miami Heat, with inarguably superior team play—setting all sorts of records for victory  margin, field goal percentage and passing and assists(the field goal% a direct function of the passing). If you agree that basketball at its best is a team game then you had to love the way the Spurs played, for they played the game the way it was meant to be played. And through it all they demonstrated the class and humility for which they’ve become renown, and which can be sadly all too rare these days. They routinely made the extra pass and then another extra pass until they found not a good shot but a great shot, the best shot, and no one cared who took it, as long as it was good for the team. And in every interview and media session they passed the credit like they passed the ball, selflessly and beautifully and when their venerable, ageless leader Duncan held his children in his arms on this most exquisite of Father’s Days, confetti raining down upon them, you couldn’t be sure but it seemed more than a few tears may have been raining down from their eyes and those of his teammates and I’ve no shame admitting I couldn’t be sure because of my own tears too. This meant a lot to them, and it meant a lot to me too.
It meant a lot in the same way it meant a lot when my original favorite team—the Larry Bird-led Boston Celtics, won their first title in 1981, having stormed back from a seemingly impossible 3 games to 1 deficit in the eastern finals against the vaunted arch-enemy 76ers. Bird wouldn’t let them die, and every teammate of his will tell you it was this spirit, tenacity but also team-first approach which fueled their quest. I remember writing about it in my college essays5 or 6 years later and even discussing it in a college interview, and maudlin though it may seem, one of the admission counselors said it made a difference in my acceptance. I didn’t focus upon the “hey my favorite team won, cool,” aspect, but rather, they ARE my favorite team because of how they play, and how they play is a metaphor for so many other areas of life. Teamwork, cooperation, one for all and all for one, making those around you better, taking responsibly but giving credit to others. It resonated with how I’d been raised—not always how I’d lived, mind you, but how I’d been taught—and so when around 15 years ago I realized the Spurs were the closest thing to the Celtics I’d seen in a long time—not necessarily the best team but the best TEAM—I was hooked. They have won five championships—Duncan being only the second player in history to win titles in 3 decades(his consistency, longevity and class are unrivaled)—but they will tell you this one was sweetest of all. For at least 6-7 years pundits have been writing them off as too old, the window closing, and they not only silenced those critics, they did so with a virtuoso performance that may not be replicated for a long, long time(except, perhaps, by them, though it’ll be tough).
And just like with Bird’s Celtics, this victory for Duncan’s Spurs was about more to me than just basketball. Right around the time Bird was winning his first ring, the first embers of my literary dreams were stirring within me. Not long thereafter, I KNEW I wanted to be a writer, but here I am some 3 DECADES later and only now have I really begun to take strides toward fulfilling that dream. I’m older than the ageless Duncan (he’s 38, old in basketball terms), but what he has done—and he’ll remind you it’s what his TEAM has done—has inspired me to remember that it’s never too late. That if you do what you love and work hard and believe, anything is possible. Sure, writing at first blush is a more solitary endeavor but in many ways it’s a team game too. You do the writing but you have your friends who offer feedback and support, maybe an agent and publisher with whom you work, a broader literary community with whom you connect, and of course hopefully a readership with whom you share your words and your dream. And it’s okay if you write for you—to some extent we must do that—but in the end we want to be heard, and there’s nothing more beautiful than singing our words out into the world—reading the words of others, sharing our words with them, being part of something bigger than ourselves.
So even if you’re not a sports fan or hoops fan or Spurs fan, take heart: you must never lose faith in your  dream. So what if you’re starting a bit late(three decades, here) like me? So what if you haven’t found an agent yet(like me)? Keep at it. Keep writing. Keep dreaming. Turn failures or frustration into fuel. Hold your head high  but keep your nose to the grindstone(with my nose that’s actually easy)—either way, you get what I mean. It is never too late.
Nothing like a little redemption.

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