I remember when Leonardo DiCaprio hit the big screen and everybody fell in love with his face. I didn't get it. I never got it. I watched Titanic. It was lovely. Hmm…probably not exactly lovely….but it was what it was and it catapulted King Leo into "rock-star-heartthrob-man," the kind that made girls and women alike scream and melt and generally lose their minds. But I was always the one with the weird look on my face in the background scratching my head. I just never got it.
And then I did.
This summer, 15 years after he stood at the bow of the boat, Leonardo DiCaprio strode across the movie screen as the incomparable Jay Gatsby, and I got it. I remember, vividly, thinking, "Wow, did he ever grow into his face!" It was as if time had drizzled seasoning over him and now I couldn't look away. His eyes had depth, his smile said more than happy or sad, somehow it conveyed both at the same time; and I could not get over how the skin around his eyes let you know what expression was coming long before it ever happened. No doubt, part of that stems from an actor's ability to draw from the depth of the character he is playing, but I can't help but believe that a large part of it just comes from living fully and letting life leave its imprint on one's face.
Depth is an acquisition with a magnet all its own.
Many of the most invested minds in the game of women's basketball just finished a full day of laborious, complicated, layered discussions about the future of our tremendous sport. We grappled with our inefficiencies; we threw all our warts out on the table for inspection and flirted with the process of trying to make them go away. And it was hard.
It was hard because we're at that awkward stage where we've grown so fast that our legs and arms don't quite all work together the way they're supposed to. Because of that, we're tattered and a bit bruised in places. And ultimately, when we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror, we're not sure we're wild about what we see.
But no one snaps their fingers and goes from pretty plastic mask to breathtaking magnetism. That kind of gorgeous happens when you're otherwise engaged. It just sort of unfolds unceremoniously while you go about the business of other things. The imperative point being, however, that you have to be about the business of those other things.
This summit, the application process of Val Ackerman's White Paper, is something we could not not do. We have to deal with the "meantime". And though it is imperative, traipsing through oblivion is anything but fun.
Our last decade has been filled with attendance plateaus, declining statistics, and a steady straying from the very things John Wooden once said made him love, and he said "love" about the women's game. Our product's sputtering has been exacerbated by steroidal coaches' salaries and over the moon travel budgets that cannot be offset by ticket prices or television contracts. We ran too fast and grew too tall and now we aren't quite sure what to do with ourselves.
Yet, I portend that there are worse predicaments: We could have never grown at all.
I firmly believe we are on our way to fabulous, the very paradigm shift that the women (and a few men) in that room have lived to see within our world of women's sports reminds us all of the gigantic progress we have made. We just don't like being ugly. And we kind of are right now.
What's imperative -- and I think this is the big takeaway from the day -- is that we don't just sit around waiting to turn into gorgeous. It is what we do in the meantime that will give us depth. Are we willing to let go of the past in an attempt to chase our destiny? Are we willing to toil in the trenches to coach better, to train players better, to cultivate new fans and to embrace wide ranging responsibilities--responsibilities that are unique to the niche for whom we play? Are we willing to leave our institutional hats on the rack in order to lead our game into the kind of relevance that TV windows or jet setting recruiting cannot cultivate?
That's the meantime.
We're in the unglamorous part of the journey, the days that will leave the story of our lives on our face. The work we do now matters. And it will most likely be pretty unglamorous stuff -- re-structuring governance systems, messaging tweaked philosophies of officiating, experimenting with rules, building grassroots systems of teaching for players and coaches alike. Tedious trudging.
But the payoff will come. So many invested people sat in that room engaged in the process of getting it right. It can't help but put us on a look good feel good track. Even though we struggle to agree on many things, we're searching for the firmest footing. Our conversations are intentional. We believe in our game. And we're best served if we understand that that we won't ever look like we used to, but if we do it right, we'll look better than ever before.