“Champions are made from something they have deep inside them — a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.” -Muhammad Ali
This is echoed by other great champions; you have to put in some serious work, even when the lights are off.
“The vision of a champion is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion, when nobody else is looking.”
Elite athletes all relay the same message; you have to fall in love with the hustle. Then when it’s time to perform, there are no nerves because you’ve already done the hardest part; now it’s time to show everybody else what you’ve been doing.
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” -Michael Jordan
Jordan takes it a step further and dives into the mental fortitude one must have to become a champion. You will fail, but what defines you is what happens after that. The greats have all come back from defeat better in their pursuit to reach the top.
“The mark of a great player is in his ability to come back. The great champions have all come back from defeat.” -Sam Snead
The underlying themes of becoming a champion seem to be an unparalleled work ethic complemented by superior talent, a desire to be great, and a championship mindset. This includes the ability to learn and get better from failure, and an obsession with being the best. In team sports, I would also add the ability to sacrifice for the good of the team. One must always think of what will make the team better first, not what will make the individual better. Lastly, great coaches and mentors are helpful as well. When striving for greatness, you must always have people around you conducive to success.
THE CELTICS WAY
So, does this team have these characteristics, the heart of a champion? Brad Stevens has always instilled in his players the belief that they can be great, all the way to the last player on the bench. “The walk-on, the manager, the head coach, the best player—we’re all a part of something bigger than ourselves. I would say that’s the Butler Way,” says Ron Nored, a four-year player for Stevens at Butler. With a fierce dedication to this culture, they made it to the NCAA championship twice. Despite losing both times, Stevens has come back even hungrier to get back to that point and win a championship. Now, it’s the Celtics Way, and just about every player that has made a stop in Boston under Stevens has bought in.
Stevens’ old Butler pal and one of the newest Celtics, Gordon Hayward, was a key piece in one of those championship runs. He was a perfect fit as the leader of that team because he represented what the team was all about, or “the Butler Way” as they called it. “To me, it’s all about winning basketball games,” Hayward says. Now reunited with his old college coach, he continues to strive to get back to that championship stage as well. He has gotten noticeably better in each of his seven seasons in the league, a testament to the work he puts in to honing his craft. Now, they will take on the league together along with a revamped roster that will be getting a crash course on “the Celtics Way” in the next month or so.
ACCEPTING THE CHALLENGE
Hayward should fit in seamlessly, just as he did with this system in college. The biggest question mark surrounding this team is its biggest star and newest member, Kyrie Irving. Will he be able to fit in, or will he be trying too hard to stand out? He is saying all the right things, claiming to be excited about “going after something bigger than myself,” echoing what Nored said when describing the Butler Way. The story the media portrayed was that Kyrie wanted to get out of Lebron’s shadow and have a team to call his own. He cleared this up on First Take recently, stating that it was actually quite the opposite; he wants to be part of a team that focuses on every players strengths, not revolves around the greatness of one.
So, can Brad Stevens work his magic and get the absolute best out of Kyrie Irving? Regardless of what Kyrie says, he has been known to go AWOL at times and try to take on the entire defense on his own. More concerning is his lack of effort at times defensively, something this team emphasizes, so this will be a challenge. If there was one thing to take away from the press conference introducing Kyrie and Gordon, it was the unmistakable grin on Coach Stevens’ face that the always calm and collected coach couldn’t wipe away for the entire 30+ minutes. The message? He can’t wait to get to work with these guys and show them what the Butler Way, the Celtics Way, the Stevens Way is all about.
EMBRACING THE CHALLENGE
We do know Irving has the desire to be great, the dream, the vision. Another thing we know is that Kyrie Irving is a champion. Say what you want, but he has the ring to prove it.
“Embrace the challenge; never run from it. Don’t let anyone’s thoughts or opinions affect your drive to be great.” -Kyrie Irving
He is a firm believer in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, which focuses on honing and perfecting your craft every day. He was lucky enough to learn firsthand from one of the all-time greats, playing alongside Lebron James for three years. Together they made it to the Finals, lost, and came back better to win it the next year. Poetic justice if Michael Jordan and Sam Snead have anything to say about it. Oh yeah, and he hit the shot to seal the series in a classic game seven of those 2016 Finals. Being clutch never hurts.
The rest of the team seems ready to step up to the challenge as well. BSE’s own Ricardo Vieira wrote a nice piece about Marcus Smart’s rigorous offseason training in preparation for a bigger role. Jaylen Brown made it a point to play in Summer League to log more game minutes, and has been working nonstop this summer as well. He is a potential starting candidate after a solid rookie campaign. Al Horford has been a key piece on both Hawks and Celtics teams that clinched the #1 seed in the East, and is still hungry for more.
All the pieces are in place for this team to make some great runs in the coming years. When it comes to championship DNA, I think these guys have it. The team culture is one that should push this forward, and the culture of the city will elevate it even further with its illustrious championship history. With the core of Irving, Hayward, and Horford, along with improvements year by year from the young guns, it is only a matter of time before we see the Celtics hang Banner 18. And while it might not happen this season, I’d bank on it coming sooner rather than later.