February 3, 2008

Good day, team,

I was just reading about Brandon Roy from the Portland Trail Blazers, our local basketball team, in this morning’s paper. Brandon is a rookie who just became an NBA All-Star. This is not an easy honor to achieve and is only bestowed upon players whose performance is truly extraordinary. It’s even more difficult to achieve for someone who’s relatively new to the NBA.

This achievement reminded me of a challenge I wrote in November 2006, when Portland got a new coach, traded away some bad boys, hired some rookies and began to turn the team around. Today, we see the results. The Blazers are tied for first place in the their division, and players like Brandon are making it happen. Tickets to games are hard to get and Portlanders have a new sense of pride in their hometown team.

Take a look at the challenge I wrote 14 months ago. The message and the challenge are still the same for all of us:

The coach’s challenge this week is about playing on a winning team. Last evening, I was watching the Portland Trail Blazers play basketball on television. This is a rare occurrence since I don’t particularly like watching televised basketball, though it’s a great game in person. I also have no affection for the Trail Blazers, or at least I didn’t before last evening.

For those of you who don’t follow basketball and don’t live in Portland, I’ll include a brief description of our basketball team. Since I moved here in 1998, the Trail Blazers (or the Jail Blazers, as they are affectionately called) behaved like the biggest bunch of spoiled-brat losers I had ever seen. They were all paid outrageous salaries, they frequently made the front page of the newspaper for committing misdemeanors, and when I shyly said hi to one of them in the grocery store one day, he just frowned at me. How could life be so bad for someone who gets paid so much to play sports?

Last season, you couldn’t give away tickets to their basketball games. They were an embarrassment to all of us, and as the coaching staff continued to turn over rapidly, the city was rife with rumors that their wealthy owner was trying to sell both them and the arena in which they play.

But with a new coach and some rookies, much has changed since last year. What I saw last night amazed me. The rookies ran up and down the court as though their lives depended on it, trying to take every shot they could. In fact, the only guys who looked flat-footed were players who were holdovers from last year.

The arena was full, and the fans were shouting and jumping up and down with great enthusiasm. This was a team they could get behind. Here were some winners they could believe in. Maybe, just maybe, things had turned around, and the Blazers were back!

Clearly, being part of a winning team is the best. It’s great to be part of an endeavor in which people go beyond their normal limitations to win. It makes everyone feel good to see players who “have each other’s backs” work incredibly well together and support each other on every play. Even the coach didn’t sit down. He paced back and forth on the sidelines, gesturing for the ball to go in the basket, giving his players a high five when they came back to the bench, encouraging them to keep the energy up and not to slack off. And he didn’t shy away from letting the slackers know that they weren’t holding their own for the rest of the team.

This week, consider your team. Whether you’re the coach, or a player, or both, are you winning? Are you letting your team players know that each one of them plays a critical role and that their ability to work together is essential in winning? Does your coach give you all the support and encouragement you need to win? Are you putting out your maximum effort to be the best player on the team?

Your challenge this week is to do just that. Play as though your life depended on it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Have a winning week.