Thursday, June 30, 2022

What I Learned and Did Not Learn from the Golden State Warriors: 2022 NBA Champions

Upon winning his fourth NBA Championship, Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors was asked what this tough series made him learn about himself. The 6'6" Forward said "I didn't learn anything about myself, I been knew I was resilient." 

His answer garnered little to no surprise from his teammates (see how Steph Curry shakes his head in amused understanding). As a coach and a teacher, my reaction was much different. I thought to myself "that's a terrible thing to say. How do you not learn something about yourself in all of this?" I gave a massive eye roll; my patience for Day-Day often runs thin. And then the more, I thought about it—considering what his teammates and coaches said— I realized he's absolutely right. 

One need not be a Dubs fan to know that Draymond Green is resilient. Seldom one to back down, Green blocked, rebounded and drew a whole lot of fouls from the start to the final minute. In fact, every one of his teammates did what we already know they do to defeat the Grizzlies, Mavericks and Celtics. They probably didn't learn anything about themselves either. Klay made clutch threes and Steph did the same—all while leading the offense and dishing to new teammates Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins. 

After the interview with Green, Lisa Salter asked Wiggins the same question. The Canadian Forward paused and said, "I learned it's hard to win a championship."

Did it take a victory for Wiggs to learn just how hard it is to win? Probably not. There's nothing easy about earning the championship title. Greatness always comes at a cost. I imagine the experience affirmed the hard work, physical and mental demands and personal sacrifices he has put forth day in and day out for years. 

We know this, too. In that moment, I wanted every young American to take notice and listen. I don't know that I need the reminder but question asked of Green and Wiggins did that. So often students want the "A" without putting in excellent effort and athletes was the win without making and taking the sacrifice. Thank you, Lisa.

So, what did the players learn about themselves? And what did we the fans learn?

In the final moments of Game 6, Steph Curry broke down. This break down was not an injury that removed him from the hardwood or caused the offense to collapse. No. As written for 

But before Curry once again got his very deserved flowers for a 34-point, seven-assist, seven-rebound clinching Game 6 performance against the Celtics, the prolific point guard had to find some time to bask in the moment in the most human way. Curry broke down into tears in the closing seconds once he officially realized Golden State had climbed the mountaintop once again. 
I should not have been surprised at this display of raw emotion, but it has stayed with me. I learned what a burden he may have been carrying all year. He said at the "Beginning of the season, nobody thought we'd be here except everybody on this floor right now." I learned what drove him and got a sense of the toll that takes. 

For the first time, Curry earned the Finals MVP award. No one could argue otherwise. When the trophy was given to him, he kept shaking his head as if to suggest a big "yes. please. thank you. you're welcome."

Every Golden State Warriors championship: 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2022 does not happen without Steph Curry. He is the starting point guard and their best shooter. Furthermore, Steph is the consummate sportsman. He comports himself on and off the court with integrity and total class. It's not that he is staid or hard to read, but this moment  Steph was so human and I dare say, so holy.

Why holy? Because Steph showed us what can happen when we will the one thing. He willed the win in Game 4, a turning point for the Dubs in the series. The man gave his heart, body and soul without compromise to what he loves to do and was created to be: a great athlete, an outstanding teammate. This is beauty in motion and sport at its best. To say otherwise is to deny Creator the glory of what the Creator has created. 

How is it possible that the Golden State Warriors, the 2022 NBA Champions both taught us nothing and yet so much. Such is the story of this historic season. Thank you Dubs! 

Photo Credits
Steph holding trophy
Wiggs holding trophy

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Three Reasons to Get Behind Golden State: Go Warriors!

Bay Area sports fans are donning royal blue and bright yellow today as the Golden State Warriors take on the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Whether or not you follow the Dubs, regardless of any affiliation you may or may not have to the Boston Garden, I would like to offer three reasons you should consider paying attention, leaning in, checking out and cheering for the Western Conference Champions: GSW.

There's a singular quality about the Warriors which draws people in. It's a core value of the head coach, Steve Kerr. It's palpable. It's infectious and it's real: joy.

If you have watched any of the past five games, not to mention the playoff games leading up to the finals, you know how intense it has been on the hardwood. The players are fiercely competitive and incredibly physical. Tempers flare, temperatures rise. Officials are necessary to keep things cool but too often, they fan the flames. In spite of it all, media and sports talk radio continues to report on the joy the Warriors bring—to one another and to their fans.

It must be liberating to have joy on your side. But what does this mean and how do we know if we have it?

According to Kerr, "joy means losing oneself in the game and letting it take you away." 

Andre Igoudala added "We play a game and it is a job, but when you're having fun—there is no other feeling like that. You're not afraid. You're not worried about missing a shot or what could go wrong. There are no negative thoughts." 

As a fan, I see joy as a byproduct of balance. To me, the Warriors have the perfect mix of set plays and improvisation. The players take shots we expect them to make and others we never saw coming. What happens in between? There's the joy...and pain!

The joyful dance on the hardwood unfolds with a certain freedom because every player knows his role on the team. There is trust among the athletes to take on their role and a healthy respect for the role of others.

As one Warrior said, "There is a spirit that is infectious out there on the court. Taking pride and excitement in each others' successes, not just your own. That's what makes our team go...playing with joy. When you combine all those ingredients, it's brings out the best in all of us."

Sounds like a great description of joy to me. Thank you Dubs!

From Agitator to Animator
Draymond Green makes a name for himself year round, but the playoffs seem to trigger him from animator to agitator. 

As the animator, his competitive spirit drives the team. It's a controlled fire, a passion that gives life late in the third quarter or when the team trails by ten. This is Green at his best!

Its shadow side prods and provides. An agitator gets under the skin of the opponent and that's on them to react and respond. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but at its worst, agitation leads to distraction and breeds contempt. The negativity debilitates the agitator, causes conflict and can quickly get out of control. 

ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins has been critical of Green. When asked what advice he had for #23 he said 

Draymond, it is time for you to lose yourself in the team.  Be that emotional leader. Be the heart and soul of the team (read: animator). We know that Steph is the best player on the team, but when it comes to leadership it's about Draymond. Other guys are watching you: Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, these younger guys are watching you. 

If he's not having a good game, he still needs to be an extension of Steve Kerr and the coaching staff. They need him to  make sure he leads those other guys to do their part. 

Draymond, don't let those emotions get in the way of leading the young core of players on this team!

Coach Kerr who loves and respects Draymond for who he is ought to give him one simple reminder: animate, don't agitate. 

Courage and Life
I miss seeing both of Steph Curry's parents sitting together in the stands. Having Sonya and Dell Curry on the "sidelines" personalized the professional game. They are still there, both in spirit and sitting separately.

Since their divorce, the mother of the future Hall of Famer shared her own life lessons. One in particular is quite poignant. Cerith Gardiner of 
Aleteia writes

34 years ago, Curry’s mom, Sonya, nearly came close to aborting her son. In her book, Fierce Love: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Purpose, the mom of three explained that having already had an abortion while in high school, she found herself pregnant again.

As she was about to enter a Planned Parenthood clinic, she felt the Holy Spirit intervene, according to a report in Daily Citizen:

“God had a plan for that child. There could be no Stephen. If I would have gone through that there would have been no Wardell Stephen Curry II.”

It could also be said that God certainly had a plan for Sonya, too. Through her own experience, the basketball star’s mom has now been able to share her story with so many others, and maybe inspire them, too, in difficult life decisions.

As she shared with People, “I wrote Fierce Love to share my story, my testimony, and my experience so that others may find strength and purpose in their own journeys. I want to encourage others to pray continuously, live intentionally, love fiercely, and laugh daily.”

And thanks to her decision to follow God’s path, Sonya has blessed the basketball world with a true sporting hero, and taught him the fundamentals in life. As Curry shared: “From the beginning, my mom has been a rock of encouragement, faith, discipline, and gratitude for me and my siblings.”

I think it takes a lot of courage to share this story, as it does to take on an unwanted pregnancy. 
We will be hearing a lot about that reality as the Dobbs decision comes down in the weeks to come. I want restrictions on guns and I want them on abortion. You might find that overly simplistic, but I do believe we can and should protect the rights of the unborn. I also think we need to do a great deal more to help women—whether is Sonya Curry or someone who could never share her story. I keep reminding myself of the words of Mr. Rogers, Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. Let us help one another to live in a place where abortion need never even be a choice a woman might have to make.

Before Tip Off Remember
Joy, Animation, Courage and Life.....not a bad cocktail to hold in our hand. I can certainly raise a glass to that...and I plan to. Go Warriors!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Memory, Time and Perfection: Thank you, Matt Cain

While I am aware the modern understanding of time is based on Einstein's theory of relativity, can someone help me get a grasp on how memory works? 

I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday or how I spent last week and yet there are events that occurred five or fifteen years ago that are frozen in time. The perfect game thrown by San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain 10 years from today is one of them.

I imagine legions of baseball fans have miraculous plays and specific games etched in their mind's eye. No doubt a perfect game—a game in which the pitcher completes a minimum of nine innings without a batter from the opposing team reaching any base—ought to qualify for memory lock. It was the first and only perfect game in San Francisco (and New York) Giants history. Thank you, Matty!

For Bay Area residents, June 13, 2012 was just one event in a week that made us feel as though any search for center of the universe would show the Bay. For one, the 112th US Open took place at the Olympic Club on the west side of the city. On June 12, the Giants celebrated Irish Night at the yard by welcoming Rory McIlroy to throw the first pitch. One day later, Dustin Johnson, one of the top golfers in the world joined Matt Cain behind home plate to tee it up. AT&T Park became a driving range with a dramatic target— the McCovey Cove waterway up and over the right field bleachers. Cain admitted this pregame warm-up was one reason he was so relaxed that evening. Note to coaches and managers....

I remember all of it. In high def, in 3-D, in living color. Go Giants!

June can be warm and free of the fog that characterizes the coldest winter Mark Twain event spent. On this night the temperatures were warm and the skies were almost heavy. I can still see and feel it. How is that possible?

I remember a certain buzz started percolating in the sixth inning around the status of this game; the no hit watch was on. At first, the conversation was purely speculation. I thought, there's a lot of baseball left! My friend Heather texted me to tell me her husband was at the game. I was so excited for the Giants and for him!

As Cain continued to put three up and three down, nerves, jitters, excitement and joy reached a boiling point. Gregor Blanco's spectacular diving catch in the seventh inning not only preserved the perfect game, it sent emotions and amazement over the top. After the game Matt Cain asked the right fielder "What can I give you as a thank you gift? A Rolex? Down payment on a house?" Love it.

This once in a lifetime feat, in the midst of one of my favorite sporting events of the year prompted magical conversations on this day—the day after the perfect game: June 14, 10 yeas ago!

Last week I attended my college twenty-fifth plus one year reunion at Notre Dame. It was such a gift to have time with my classmates to reconnect, recall stories and share stories. The biggest surprise wasn't how people look or what became of so and so, it was what I could remember and what I couldn't. I pride myself on having a good memory and I could hardly believe some of the details about classes and teachers, dorm life and people my friends and I discussed. This was both humbling and inspiring. Memory is not a given. Hold on to what you can!

The poet Virgil wrote, “No Day Shall Erase You From the Memory of Time.” Time may or may not fade our memories. The passage of time can deepen out appreciation for what we have been given. And yet, his words, from Book IX of "The Aeneid" suggest the transformative potential of remembrance. So let us exercise our memory and celebrate the milestones—whether it be a perfect game, 25 year reunion or the first month of sobriety for in them lies the potential for transformation, gratitude, inspiration and joy.

Thank you, Matt Cain. Thank you, Gregor Blanco. Thank you DJ and all those who played some part in perfection 10 years ago!

Photo Credits
10 years

Friday, June 10, 2022

Thank You, June: Finding, Coaching and Teaching the Intangibles

Although I am a long ways away from retirement, I get a small taste of it every June. After graduation, I close my grade book and a shift begins. Though I am still working on campus, it's at a much different pace. Sporting comfortable summer clothes, I have conversations with my colleagues no longer defined by the bell. This time together is both restorative and rejuvenating. I sure hope retirement is no different.

I came back from lunch and decided I would return the cross and anchor figure/ statue to its home in the football office. (The cross and anchor is the symbol for Holy Cross, who founded St Francis High School. This figurine travels! One will find it in the end zone at a football game, on the scoring table in the gym and in the photos of many athletic teams). I walked in to see that coaches had already been hard at work. I placed the heavy cross and anchor on its perch and heard "Hi Anne."

During the school year, not all encounters are welcome. It sounds terrible but when you have to get to class or coach a match, any distraction can be problematic. Not in June.

I started talking to Dan a football coach and English teacher about our summer plans. We chatted about his son, the Saudi-back league: LIV Golf (it's more than just a creative name), Ireland and the football practice schedule. For whatever reason, in that moment time was inconsequential. 

I don't understand the physics of time. I have a sense that it might be relative—which both retirement and June affirm. That sense allowed me to really enjoy the conversation and it gave me the opportunity to ask about one of his players. 

St. Francis running back Viliami Teu won the Nick Dillingham Memorial Trophy for Athlete of the Year. He was first team all league, the Bay Area News Group's Player of the Year and the list goes on. 

As written in the San Jose Mercury News, "Teu, whom his friends call “Juju,” ran for an average of 184.3 yards per game. He finished with 2,211 and scored 28 touchdowns. Along the way, he broke the West Catholic Athletic League’s single-season rushing record with 1,449 in seven league games."

These athletes don't come along every year, every five or ten; they are not to be taken for granted. I asked Dan his thoughts on how Juju might do next year at San Jose State University. I worry, Is he big enough?  and then I asked him a question I love to ask coaches. Why was he that good? 

Most people know how fast and shifty Juju can be on the field. He has to be--he's a running back. But instead, Dan started to describe Juju's vision. He said it was unlike anything he had ever seen (pun unintended). Juju's vision allowed for the coaches to create news system for blocking, running routes, etc. 

When talking about vision in football, it's usually linked to the quarterback. But, I heard this attribute ascribed to Emmitt Smith and Walter Peyton. Enter in Juju. Interesting. 

Dan admitted, "I don't know how to coach vision." He was searching to describe ways that he has in the past and how he has seen it. He noted the difference it made on the field and with this team. I understood its importance and wondered how anyone might coach vision.

Great athletes have singular, specific intangibles that amaze and inspire coaches, teammates and fan. Such intangibles are seemingly impossible to coach. While some will name effort, attitude and communication as such intangibles, I like to think about the others: vision, toughness and sport specific intelligence. While they seem largely fixed, there is a path toward growth. 

I love thinking about how to coach vision. How do you coach up the basketball IQ of a player? How can you get a player to take the heat and hit and play tough?

We can't wait for retirement to ask, discuss, discover and share these questions. We might find time in June to raise them, but they're too enjoyable, too interesting and engaging, too creative and energizing to wait. 

I know this is what we love about summer—the days are longer and slower. I hope this season affords you with moments to talk to others about the intangibles in their craft and consider what attributes you find in the greats. And when summer moves to fall, remember—time is relative....

Photo Credits
Marcus Smart

Monday, June 6, 2022

Graduation Day Rituals: Pomp, Circumstance, Highs and Lows

At graduation, I make a point of extending congratulations to every student, parent and grandparent I see. This year, I found myself saying those very words to my colleagues too.

I would argue, graduation is an important day in the life of every educator. While we may grumble about our assigned duties and the early arrival time, the pomp and circumstance affirm what we do. The joy and smiles I give and receive from graduates confirm this job is a vocation. 

After handing out sheepskins to students with last names N-P, I departed from campus in my robe and hood on a natural high. I thought about the many students I would miss and the impact they had on me and in the classroom. I love seeing them dressed up replete with robe and regalia. It is important to formally gather to bless, recognize, award and call the name of every student before we send them into the world. 

At the conclusion of each year, I partake in my own graduation ritual: I share my highs and lows of the year with a trusted colleague. My friend Kerrie and I sat down for Mimosas and I unpacked those I had as an athletic director and a teacher.

In the Classroom
Returning to school with all 30+ fully masked students was not easy. Even though I offer varied instruction and many ways to participate in group work, the 80-minute class proved to be very difficult for my seniors. I knew something needed to change.

Based on some past evaluations, I decided to create a final project called "Living Sports and Spirituality." In short, this assignment asks students to undertake a sports discipline and a spiritual one. For one month, my seniors practice a physical or health discipline related and a spiritual one of their choosing. Some are religious, emotional, mindful or holistic in nature. They research what they are drawn to and track their progress. They must report on the graces and fruits of each practice. Was it challenging? Would they recommend it to others? Why or why not? 

Part of why this project was a high for the year is because we practiced a number of sports and spiritual disciplines as a class. For example, we watched a video on how to complete a pull-up and then went outside to the track where there are 3 sets of pull-up bars. I enjoyed going to the Wrestling room to practice climbing the rope (not that I did it). Not sure how many others did, though. We meditated for 3 minutes with Depak Chopra; we prayed with an icon of Christ. Everyday brought something new.

The journey and the destination were equally enjoyable. Not only are the final projects fun to watch, they reveal much more about each student than one might expect. For any teacher who is interested in assignment please let me know and I will share it with you.

Second, it's never just the curriculum that accounts for highs and lows—relationships with students and other colleagues always find an in. Once again the San Francisco Giants found themselves in the post-season, finishing the season one game ahead of those pesky Dodgers to win the National League West title. Go Giants!

One of my more spirited and outgoing seniors is a huge Dodger fan. He came to class ready to taunt me with his Dodger blue, Pantone 294. When we realized our respective teams would battle each other in the NL Division Series, he said "game on."

I came to class on Monday after the National League Division Series resulted in a tie: 1-1. Giants took Game one and lost Game two—the one I attended. 

One of my favorite aspects of going to a game is when the big screen captures who is in the audience. At the conclusion of the third inning, the song "Danger Zone" filled Oracle Park. Then the camera zoomed in on Tom Cruise, call sign Maverick. He smiled and was met with clapping and cheers. Cruise is a great many things these days both disparaging and highly questionable....but he's also beloved. He's Pete Mitchell. He's Top Gun. He's Maverick.

The spiritual life invites us to pay attention and notice. Other times it calls us to sit and be still. If I been in the beer line or the bathroom, I would have missed this moment. I'm so grateful I had it.

My students walked in on Monday morning to the song "Danger Zone." I shared the story from the weekend and invited them of this truth. It probably was lost on them, but it was personal high for the school year. My student, the Dodger fan reminded me we lost the game. I said "it's a 5 game series." Smiles all around.

In Athletics
Working in Athletics means that I supervise a number of games. This duty means I work at number of late nights and Saturdays, which can make for long days and full weeks. However, I never felt like I was working when I was on call for varsity boys' volleyball. It's easy for me to say this team who won the WCAL, CCS and Nor Cal championships was dominant. Yes, they were incredibly talented but what appealed to me most is that they played with joy. 

Joy in sports is not a quality to be taken for granted. I will probably write more about this as it pertains to the Golden State Warriors, too. When you see it, you know it. It's contagious, it's infectious. Simply put, I watching their games. If that's work...not bad.

Graduation day is an important day, no doubt. We didn't need the loss of public gatherings, ceremonies or shared rituals in the past few years to reveal how important they are. We got that message nonetheless. With that reminder in our hearts and short term memories, I want to encourage students and teachers to take a moment to reflect upon the past year....every year. Acknowledge the challenges They always lead to lessons and naming them through this annual ritual helps me to let them. Celebrate the graces and ask others to do the same

Photo Credits
Rope Climb