Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Athlete Who Plays with Heart: Draymond Green

Sports allow us to integrate mind, body and heart. I'm having a hard time thinking of other activities that provide such a "holistic look at life." Most of our day is occupied by the mind and/or the heart. But according to Rev. Dr. Michael Tino the connection of all three is "a spiritual gift." And no where am I more reminded of this gift than at a Golden State Warriors game. While most NBA fans would think I might speak about Stephen Curry, who at 6'3" and 185 lbs. defies the physical odds of who (and what) he goes up against, a recent Grantland piece revealed to me who Coach Steve Kerr considers the "heart and soul" of the team: Draymond Green. Oh and he's a beast too.
If hands could talk, Draymond would never be silent
Overall, I agree with Tino. In the article "March Madness" he writes, "too often in our culture, we are asked to separate the physical, the mental and the spiritual—as if our bodies and consciousness could be artificially split into pieces. But the connection between body and spirit in sports is strong. The grace, strength, and endurance that athletes exhibit on a regular basis—sometimes seemingly without effort—remind us that our bodies, whatever shape they are in, are beautiful and wondrous creations."
Things I will never be able to do: Climb Mr. Everest,
become a meter maid, & this...
Indeed he physicality of sport is on display and leaves us in awe. It's hard not to be wowed by a one-armed slam dunk, the hang time of a volleyball player or the skater who lands a triple axel. We can easily name the athletes who are pure physical specimens. And who doesn't love to see their power unleashed? Especially when I know they complete tasks that I  will never do (or should even try doing). But, as much as we love to see our favorite athletes e.g. Bo Jackson display their giftedness, I think it's high time we also give praise to those who have a great sports IQ and play with a whole lot of heart.

As we were discussing these qualities in Sports and Spirituality, I honed in on emotion. I was curious to know what athletes do my students believe play with a lot of heart. Much to my delight a slew of hands shot up. So I played up the question. I said "Who is that athlete? Who is that player that you know brings all of their emotion to the game? He or she not only wears their heart on their sleeve, they give so much during the game that you might wonder: Did they leave it there? 

I looked one senior in particular. I have never seen a smile that big. His eyes were laser focused on me. He was sitting on the edge of his seat. He couldn't wait to share his response. He made it impossible NOT to call on him.

Who was it? "Draymond Green," he said. I looked at Jake and I realized that while it may seem these two share absolutely nothing in common. Green is a 6'7" 225 lb African-American small forward from Michigan and Jake is maybe 5'9,"—an Irish guy from the Sunset, the two have the same smile. It's a great one. I wondered if he ever thought about that.

When Draymond contributes at any point in the game, he flashes a huge smile. When he earned his first triple-double against the Raptors, he must have given high fives to the entire fan base sitting court side. Today, my students couldn't wait to tell me "Draymond got another technical last night Ms Stricherz." I love that they want to share this with me. The only thing I can say in response? "I know, I'm not surprised. When you play with heart, the emotions run strong."

But the beauty of this example, is that Green is also known for his incredible basketball IQ. As mentioned in the article Spartan Warrior Draymond Green is the Most Improved Player in the NBA and He's Just Getting Started, "his former coaches all fawn over his intelligence.Tom Izzo said in 2012 that Green was “smart like [Shane] Battier, where what he lacks maybe in defensive ability as far as quickness, he makes up for as far as brains.” And as mentioned in the article, he is working out harder than ever before—something that did not come easily to him, I find that in the Warriors #23 we have the integration of all three qualities that arete demands.

So, let us praise those athletes who play with great heart, learn from those who have a great IQ and appreciate those who have raw talent and ability. And for those who are blessed with the integration of all three, I stand in awe before you.

Photo Credits

Typical Night at Oracle

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