The Phoenix Suns were demolishing the L.A. Lakers. They were up by 30 points in the fourth quarter. The Suns, mired in the conference cellar were on their way to just their 18th win in 57 games. The Lakers would add this 39th loss to a season that now saw them just a dribble ahead of the Suns in that cellar. If ever there was a “why bother” game, quarter, moment, this had to be it.
But first year Lakers Coach Luke Walton, a branch from the Golden State Warrior’s sapling dynasty doesn’t understand “why bother.” He called a time out with three minutes left, another a minute later. The score was out of hand and the Suns won by 36, the largest margin in the 302 times these teams have met since the Suns inception in 1968.
After the game, Walton scolded his team for their lack of competitiveness but when asked why he was still taking timeouts down by 30 or more, Walton became introspective. “I told them we don’t waste opportunities, whatever the score is. There is a reason we play a lot of young guys. We want them to experience these things, to learn from and to be able to grow individually and as a group.”
He went further, saying, “If we’re just going to go out there and just do that, even if we are down 30, what’s the point? We’re not learning anything from that. The timeouts were just a reminder that these are still opportunities we can use to get better and not to waste them.”
Walton spent 2 years with the Golden State Warriors who won the NBA Championship his first season there and lost in the finals last year. In this short time, they have reinvented the way basketball is played and Walton has learned much from his former mentor Kerr.
“His overall view of the way coaching should be done and taking in the human element of what’s going on here,” Walton said in an interview after his first year with Kerr of what he's learned. “I think that’s been incredible for me to see and learn from. A lot of people think, this is sports, guys are being paid millions of dollars, so you bring them in every day and grind them and make them into the best top-shape athlete they can be. But the reality of it is these guys have families, there’s pressure, there’s stress that goes, so Steve does a great job of making practice fun and making it competitive.
“His whole thing is playing loose, playing fast, but playing disciplined at the same time. We’ll play music at practice. We’ll do all sorts of different activities. A lot of it he got from Phil Jackson and Greg Popovich, but just working with it every single day has been a great learning experience for me.”
Now with his own team, a collection of talented youth, he focuses on learning with the intent that the winning will come. He has standards that he adheres to, mainly being competitive and giving 100% effort when on the court, but he understands that these multi millionaires, who still have no reason to shave every day, are still learning the game. One year of college, high school where they were mythological in their abilities over their peers and even before that, in AAU programs where they were coveted and coddled, they have lapsed into bad habits that Walton sees to daily.
At the 2017 HP convention in Colorado Springs, USA National Team coach Karch Kiraly said this amazing quote: “I’m not good enough, we’re not good enough. But that’s okay because this isn’t a place of being; it’s a place of becoming.”
As the big qualifiers and tournaments come up the calendar quickly, lest we forget that for most of our athletes, this is still a learning process. Even in the NBA, the world’s greatest athletes, they are never done learning and the coaches never done learning AND teaching. It is constant, it is relentless.
And it’s why we get up every morning!