Sunday, 28 August 2011


Physiology vs. Psychology, Skill vs. Will.


Picture the scene, your on court. Hardwood or blacktop the location doesn't matter that much. The same goes for the shot. Free throw or three pointer. Inbounds pass or on the stripe all alone. The details aren't really that important right about now. What is important is that this shot is crucial. There are only dwindling tenths of a seconds left. If you make this you've made it because there's no fine line. Between the iron and the twine lie victory or defeat, joy and misery and those who could be heroes and those who may be villains. So what goes through your mind? Nerves or confidence? Do you sweat some more or do you have nerves of steel? Are you a hit or a miss? Do you sink or swim? One things for sure basket or no basket believe me it's all in your head.

It's what separates the MJ's from the John Starks and the Kobe Bryant's from the Nick Anderson's, because free throw, three pointer, fadeway or clutch J, you got to make it in this league. Everyone that's played basketball long enough however knows how to make the play and most can put the ball in the hoop. Now even if their a franchise player or a suit model at the end of the bench every player in the National Basketball Association deserves their spot. This is regardless of stats, jersey sales or rep. Now although this may be true does this mean every NBA player is equal? Hell no!

There's a lot that separates the best from the rest and from the less. There's a reason LeBron James is who he is and Kwame Brown is where he is (although Kwame's still got game) but what really separates guys like this? Sure the most defining thing is skill and talent; it's for sure the most common denominator. It would be foolish however to think that's just it however. Skill only takes you so far. Not to sound like a corny boss at one of those awful team building seminars but a winning personality makes a champion. A talented player isn't just as good as his skill allows, he's a good as he wants to be. A winner isn't just a guy that works hard, a winner wants it more than anyone else on the court, field, track or boardroom (I'm telling you I've been to too many of these seminars). To be successful, you have to crave success and more importantly believe you can achieve it.

There's a reason Ron Artest has gone from having his jersey soaked in fans beer to celebratory champagne. His mindset has changed. Ron is still Ron, Ron, partying hard and cutting rap records but this summer he's gone that extra mile thanking and helping the therapy of mental health more than he did in his infamous NBA Finals press conference. Artest is even auctioning off his championship ring to raise money for the teaching of psychologists/therapists.

This gesture is not only an extremely generous one but one that is for a cause close to Ron's heart and mind. This is Ron's way of saying ‘thank you’ and also maybe his way of saying he couldn't win without the help of his therapist (he has cited this before and from the looks of the MVP of Game 7 the Lakers wouldn't of won without this either). You see a positive mindset is what separates a troubled star like Ron Artest from one like Isiah 'J.R.' Rider. Back in 2001 when Rider played on a championship Laker team he didn't even log a minute of playoff action losing a roster place to Greg Foster of all players. No matter the negative it's important to realize that just like what Leonardo DiCaprio says in 'Inception', "positive emotion trumps negative emotion every time”.

The right attitude makes men out of boys. That's why motto's like 'Yes we can' are believed in. Belief, confidence and a positive mindset makes presidents out of politicians. It's why a guy pushing 40 who's come out of 'retirement' rules the rap game. It's the reason why a down and out actor can come clean out of the darkness of drug addiction and light up the silver screen like no one else.

To be the best, not only do you have to challenge the best (thank you Nas) you have to have the desire to be the best. That's why the aforementioned Barack Obama, Jay-Z and Robert Downey Jnr are where they are right now, amongst the best in their respective fields. This is also why in basketball the Portland Trail Blazers will always regret drafting Sam Bowie. Having the get up and go and the right mindset defines you and can also define history. Imagine if MJ decided to leave the gym and instead didn't redefine a sport, a brand and a culture? Or imagine if another MJ decided to hit the club instead of hit the studio? 'Thriller' may have just become some other filler.

You see Michael Jordan is the biggest icon not just because of the talent he possesses but the man he is. A guy so competitive that he would even stay up all night in college, refusing to be beat by his dorm mate at 'Monopoly'. This willingness not to be 'board' with any game he's playing is the reason 'Brand Jordan' has created a monopoly in basketball.

Jordan's never say die attitude is what has separated him from not only the Sam Bowie's of the league but the best of the best too. When critics wrote Jordan off in college, he shot them down in '82. This proving of the haters wrong continued throughout Jordan's whole career-minus a few bases-call it a rough in the diamond. Even when flu tried to knock Mike out cold in the 1993 NBA Finals he became the virus that the Phoenix Suns couldn't recover from.

On a Nike advertisement Jordan has said it himself, the reason he's so successful is because he's failed so many times and it is his willingness to accept this failure that has made him able to rebound unbelievably like Charles Barkley (another guy who's made 'power moves' because he believed he could, now put that in a commercial). Jordan has said he never worried about missing a final shot and that's why he made more than he missed. In the clutch moments of games he was Robert Horry, he was Bruce Willis, he was Michael Jordan.

This 'Die Hard' attitude is why another legend can go from air balls to parade hauls. Kobe's career may have started with growing pains like any 17 year old would go through, but for over a decade it's been 'Die Hard: With A Vengeance'. The most similar player, the heir to the throne Kobe Bryant is one in the same mind with Jordan. He breathes the same 'air', he proves the same haters wrong and basket for basket he just does it, swoosh for swoosh. The reason he's so close to being 'Like Mike' compared to all the other Lil Bow Wows is because this 'doberman's' killer instinct and mindset is on par like Tiger Woods. Nobody right now in basketball has an instinct as deadly as Kobe and nobody in basketball history has an assassin’s mentality like Michael Jordan. A calm positive mentality is why the Zen of Phil Jackson outlasts the storm of any competition. Phil Jackson is also the coaching mindset that's been behind both Mike and Kobe. Coincidence? There's no coincidence about it just championships.

The flipside of the coin is not a pretty side to face. Negativity is why some players head for the showers while their opponents are telling tales of victory. Maybe negativity is why Nick Anderson's name lives in infamy for the wrong reasons because his reputation lies on the wrong side of the hoop. Maybe a lack of confidence is why John Starks missed all those shots when he could have sunk Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Basketball really is a complex game and is much a mental one as it is a skillful one. When Shaquille O'Neal was dominating Michael and Chicago back in the 1996 NBA playoffs when he was making (Orlando) Magic on the floor a single action turned the game the way of the Bulls charge. No it wasn't a shot or a defensive play; it came when Shaq beat Jordan to the basket and then pat his butt after the play. This was interpreted by Mike that Shaq wasn't as serious as he was. Whether this was true or not didn't matter as this idea was all that Jordan needed. After that it was Mikes touches that where spanking Shaq and Orlando.

Complacency and defiance can sometimes be the product of confidence and over inflated ego's however. So the right balance needs to be struck in a player’s positive mindset, because there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Maybe a lack of killer instinct (that can result from complacency) is why Tracy McGrady has never stuck around for the second round of the playoffs. Maybe the reason Allen Iverson is finding it so hard to even find a roster spot is because he's too busy trying to find a niche. A defiant personality could be the reason the answer doesn't have a team, because he's not 'willing' to accept a reduced role or to lose without question.

A defining mindset, good or bad isn't just apparent on an individual basis, it is evident in team dynamics also. A great team mentality will take a group far. Even if they aren't the best team around they can still beat the best by having the better attitude. Just like the Detroit Pistons did without any big names to a Laker team that featured Kobe, Shaq, Malone and Payton in 2004. On the flip a complacent team or one with a bad coach or locker room cancer is doomed for failure. It's that notion of if one fails everyone fails. If a team isn't on the same page they'll never make the history books.

It's the reason people these days people have doubts whenever the USA play in an Olympics or a world tournament (even in last years successful tournament). It's not just because of the U.S. talent that plays versus the developing talent of the world. It's also because complacency once turned a 'dream' into a nightmare and when the US rested on their reputation they destroyed it. It was this negatively reinforcing motivation however that turned a negative into a positive and put Team USA back on top of the world. Just like the common negative to positive motivation of revenge in sports. Which last week the USA used minute for minute to defeat Russia in 82 after the controversy of the infamous matchup with the Soviets in '72. A team can always 'redeem' itself but a negative reputation can still stick around for awhile however. No matter if we go from Carlos Arroyo popping his countries name on his jersey to Kevin Durant doing it in the FIBA, world championship semi-finals before leading America to Gold in the finals. That's the great thing about the competitive nature of Basketball. No matter what, you've always got to prove yourself.

So do you have what it takes with that ball in your hand? There are so many different factors physically and mentally speaking that separate how much someone can achieve in basketball but success all starts with a positive step forward. So as you set up to take that shot that comes with a an angle of difficulty and an even greater degree of stress, just believe. Mind over matter. Now that's what matters. Do you get it?

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