Wednesday, May 31, 2023

#151 / The Players, Or The Team?


Tania Ganguli writes about sports for The New York Times. She has reported on the N.B.A. and the Los Angeles Lakers since 2016. 
In a column that ran in The Times on Saturday, May 27, 2023, Ganguli reminded readers about how the Lakers lost four straight N.B.A. playoff games to the Denver Nuggets, thus leading to the Lakers' elimination from the playoffs. Those playoffs are now moving into the finals, in which the Nuggets will face the Miami Heat. This signal failure by the Lakers occurred after the Lakers had eliminated the Golden State Warriors, and was a rather rude awakening for those who expected more from the Lakers. 
Ganguli told readers that the Lakers' star player, LeBron James (pictured above), is "asking for a quick fix." Her headline said, though, that quick fixes "often fail." Actually, as I often do, I am quoting from the hard copy version of Ganguli's headline. The online version of this headline differs. 
I am not, really, a big sports fan, though I did become enamored, about eight years ago, with the Warriors. I find, searching my archives, that I have written about the Warriors on numerous occasions: 

As you can undoubtedly tell from this listing (more extensive than I remembered, and it's not a complete list, either), I have found that the kind of basketball played by the Golden State Warriors has provided lessons that go considerably beyond the realm of basketball alone. How to make democracy work, for instance, is something we can learn from the Golden State Warriors - and from watching what it means to play "Warriors' ball." 

The Ganguli column on LeBron James and his demand for a "quick fix" to the Lakers losing in the playoffs, is one more reminder (as provided by basketball but applicable elsewhere) that we are both individuals and part of a greater whole. We are "in this together." Individuals, alone, however great, do not, in and of themselves, make up a winning team, or ensure a winning season.
Understanding how important individuals are is critically important. They're important! A championship team must have some really great players. Every human endeavor (democracy and everything else) begins with and must include individual persons demonstrating individual and personal greatness. LeBron James, for instance, is an example of how important individual players can be. Steph Curry, who plays for the Warriors, is another example. Everything, in fact, begins with some one individual, somewhere. Individuals are where possibility is first manifested. 

In the end, though, basketball is a "team sport." So, too, is "democracy." So, too, are virtually all our human endeavors. We are "in this together." 
Thinking that one person can provide the "quick fix" for what is lacking is almost invariably a misguided notion. This is, basically, what Ganguli tells us with respect to what will make the Lakers into a championship team. The Denver Nuggets, quite likely the team that will win the N.B.A. playoffs this year, didn't look for a "quick fix." That's Ganguli's point:

The Nuggets have spent years constructing this team.

They waited while their point guard Jamal Murray tackled the long recovery that comes with an anterior cruciate ligament tear. Murray’s injury came in April 2021, after the Nuggets had built a roster that seemed capable of winning a championship. His recovery has delayed that timeline.

The reward for their patience is a team that has looked serene in challenging moments, whose players mesh with each other completely. This season’s newcomers understood the culture right away.
Outside the world of basketball, this same lesson applies. We can never achieve successful self-government unless we are willing, individually, to get involved ourselves. But... (and we should not forget this) self-government is, in fact, a "team sport." Impatience and "quick fixes" are unlikely to work. Long term personal commitments to political involvement will. 

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