This is how it happens when you learn to know what you thought to be true.
You’re 12 points down, you haven’t made a shot in eight minutes, and the world has left you for dead. Then in the midst of a 60-second huddle, a bunch of tethered souls look at each other and make a decision. Fireworks don’t go off. Rousing speeches aren’t delivered. Guys just look at each other and decide. Then off you go.
And the game turns upside down. A comeback is mounted. An arena goes nuts. Players on both teams make play after play and the game ends where it started: in a locked up tie. Then overtime ensues and the scale, at the end, tilts the wrong way.
But it really isn’t about how it ended at all. Not for me anyway. It’s about what I found out while it was happening.
I always ask my team who they want to be. I ask them what they want to be known for. I ask them how they want people to feel when they watch them play. Then I remind them that they get to decide that, together. Every team is going to be known for something. The best ones usually pick out what they want and then work to make it fit. That’s how intentional identities are formed.
On Sunday afternoon, right there in the midst of a frustrated crowd, a rowdy opponent, and a national television audience, we decided who we were going to be. And I was not surprised as we unfolded ourselves, because that’s exactly who I thought we were.
I wish that I could explain how much fun it is to coach a group of players so sold out on one another. People of substance give other people something to hang on to, and our huddles were full of such grit. From the eyes of the guys who weren’t in the fray to the sweaty brows of the ones who were, we were a crew knotted together, for better or worse. I have to confess that I loved being in the middle of that almost as much as I loved what it said about the kind of year we can have.
Gritty confidence is a weapon. It can be your armor when you can’t buy a 3, and your artillery when you’re backed in a corner, raging a half-court trap. In the arsenal of what you need to win the long game, I’m not sure there is a more important tool.
We have to do so many things better. We have to finish plays and finish games—we can’t keep writing the great sentence without putting a period at the end. But that’s why we play games like this: to figure out how to do it.
Our locker room was not a happy place on Sunday. Disappointment was scattered around like dirty socks, but the resolve that’s already become our moniker was bubbling stronger than ever. This group just refuses not to be great. What a marvelous thing to know.