Lessons from the Basketball Court

Happy Spring!

If you are like me, you are excited and relieved to see the sunshine melting all the snow away!  The month of March has never been so welcome as this year after a brutally cold and snowy winter. Of course there’s more to March than just the snow melting. The NCAA basketball tournament is just starting today! There’s nothing like the thrill of a must-win tournament game by your favorite team to jack up some excitement in an otherwise mundane time of year.

Now I might be losing you if you’re not into basketball. I admit that even though I love to play basketball, it’s hard for me to sit and watch a game unless it’s the Wisconsin Badgers, and even then, more of a priority when it’s tournament time. Quite honestly, I’d rather be out playing, in the driveway, in a gym, anywhere really. The fun of the game for me is playing it. For others, like my son who wakes up at 5am and turns on the recording of the Bucks game from the night before, all basketball is fun to watch AND play.

But even if you are not into basketball, or sports at all, really the point of it all is something far bigger than a game involving an orange round ball entering a hoop. Just read about some stand-out basketball stars like Pistol Pete Maravich, or iconic basketball coach John Wooden. The contrast between the two is unmistakable.

Pistol Pete Maravich was born with a basketball in his hands. With a scoring record of 44 points per game  at LSU in the NCAA before the 3-point shot was even invented, his prowess with a basketball was unmistakable and unmatched. He became one of the highest paid NBA players of his time, and continued to find success, although never a championship. For all of his stellar achievements on the court, later in life Pete would be the first to admit his life was a complete failure. He was an alcoholic; he tried all sorts of drugs. His own mother was an alcoholic and took her own life when Pete was in his twenties. His relationship with his father was more about basketball than anything else. Despite all of his successes, Pete was broken. It was well after he retired that he recognized his own depravity of living that had left his heart full of discontent. He called out to God for forgiveness early one morning after a sleepless night of soul-searching, and he never looked back. He had finally found his purpose and satisfaction in life, and it had nothing to do with success or basketball, even though he continued to love the game. And even his father found the same forgiveness, and their remaining years together, short as they were, were the best years that had little to do with basketball.

John Wooden, on the other hand,  learned early on how to respond to the hard knocks of life from his father, who had lost his farm in the 1920’s, but never made an excuse or blamed others for his circumstances. His father's favorite advice was simple: never lie, never cheat, never steal. And don’t whine, don’t complain, and don’t make excuses. Pretty good words to live by, whether successfully coaching on the basketball court at UCLA like John Wooden did for 27 years, or simply living your daily life.

His father also notoriously gave him 7 more rules to live by at his eighth grade graduation on an index card John had kept in his wallet until his death at age 99. These rules have morphed to several more over the years…

  1. Be true to yourself. This was all about playing your game in life. Not worrying about others, but keeping your focus on why God placed you on this earth- to fulfill your own unique purpose that only you can do.
  2. Always keep moving. Whether on the basketball court or in life, you have to keep playing on past your failures to learn and grow toward success.
  3. Make each day your masterpiece. Never waste a day that can be lived fully in the service of others. You never know when it will be your last day.
  4. Help others. Living for yourself leads to a meaningless life. Spread hope and kindness as you lift others up around you to truly live a life worth living.
  5. Earned, not entitled. Don’t expect to be given anything in life. If you want something, work for it harder than you’ve ever worked for anything to achieve lofty goals in life.
  6. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible. Be careful what you read and put in your mind. The bucket from the well will reveal what you have been reading. Analyze and filter the content you are putting in your mind, and consider the motives of the sources of your information.
  7. Make friendship a fine art. Invest time in others and surround yourself with friends of good character.
  8. Start your day with gratitude. Remind yourself why you are here, and be grateful that God has graced you with another day on this earth to help others. Gratitude is the foundation of a contented heart and a balanced life.
  9. Character matters. As John Wooden’s life demonstrated, our words and our actions spread far and wide. What kind of an imprint do you want to make on this world and in the hearts and minds of those around you? Live in a way so others see that you are a winner in life.

Some things you remember your parents saying, and one of my favorite quotes from my dad was his response to me asking him as a late blooming eighth grader if I could go out for basketball. “What do you see in those sports? They’re simply a waste of time,” he said.

I didn’t know it then, but sports teach us so much more than just how to play offense and defense. They teach us how to play the game, together, as a team, in this grand sport called life. And the lessons learned extend far beyond the basketball court, to our everyday lives- working hard is the only way to achieve your goals, appreciating and lifting up your teammates, and being grateful for and making the best of each day and every opportunity. And to those little eyes watching us high school athletes like hawks, we also knew that character mattered, as it still does today with a different set of little eyes starting at our words and deeds as we react to the circumstances of life. Just like the indelible impression John Wooden’s dad had left on him.

So enjoy March Madness, in person, watching on TV, or through the lit up faces of joy (or sorrow!) of your colleagues, friends, and family even if you yourself have no interest. And remember that life is just like a basketball game. Get back up if you fall, don’t give up until the clock reads 0:00, and remember there is always another day, another game to try again to succeed when failure comes your way. And be grateful  and take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way!

Dribbling on...
Dr. Jill Murphy
Owner/Physical Therapist
MotionWorks Physical Therapy