This article was written by our Program Director, Joel Swedlove, and is part of our “Character Corner” series.
Every year at this time millions of us settle in to watch the NBA Playoffs. Coming off the heels of the NCAA Tournament, these few months are nirvana to a basketball junkie (like me). However, I’ve been noticing a trend in recent years that began long ago in the NBA but has now trickled down to even the most basic schoolyard levels of the game.
Basketball by its modern nature is a physical game and physicality will often breed heightened emotional reactions like trash-talking or overly enthusiastic celebrations. It has become commonplace now that after a big three-pointer the shooter leaves his hand in the air as he runs back down to court, showing up the person who did a poor job of defending him.
Now it may sound like I’m being a “get off my lawn” basketball purist here, but that is not the case. I cheer and throw up my hands in a “3” whenever the Warriors knock down a long-range shot, but something feels wrong about it. We teach our children that it is not about winning or losing, but how we play; how we handle the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
There is nothing inherently wrong in celebrating your positive achievements, but what is sometimes forgotten is that for every amazing buzzer beater there is a team that just lost in heartbreaking fashion.
For the better part of two decades the San Antonio Spurs have shown us how to win with class. Do they celebrate big shots? Absolutely, but you never feel that the moment is about an individual, it is always about the team and that they are simply doing their jobs.
Admittedly, I am a biased observer when it comes to the Spurs (having coached Kawhi Leonard when he was in high school in Riverside, CA), but there is something admirable about the way they carry themselves. When they lost the 2013 NBA Finals in heartbreaking fashion there was no blaming the officials or making excuses — they just quietly spent the next year focused on winning the title.
That next year, when they achieved that goal, they didn’t taunt the Heat or proclaim themselves the greatest franchise of this century (a point for which they’d have a strong argument) they just quietly got back to work so they could be ready to defend the title.
We have been told for as long as we can remember that there is no “I” in TEAM, but we should also remember there isn’t one in “CELEBRATE” either.