phil-jackson.jpgSports contain many lessons for life. That is one reason I think we are so enthralled by sports contests. They are life condensed, all the drama of life contained in a season.

I’ve always admired Phil Jackson as a coach and a leader, first of the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan and now of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant. Jackson has a laid back, Zen style that I find fascinating. And I have extra respect for a leader who is successful in different settings and times. Often the stars and chance align, and a good leader has the opportunity to be in place when great results are achieved. But is it their extraordinary leadership skills that have sparked the extraordinary outcomes, or did the ball bounce their way and they were smart enough to run with it? When you can take both the Bulls and the Lakers to multiple championships, I’d argue you have something special in your leadership toolbox.

In the middle of this year’s NBA playoffs, when the Lakers had home court advantage, a friend of mine, a misguided Boston fan, emailed me “Celtics overcome 24 point deficit to beat Lakers 97-91. Yay!”

This gave the Celtics a 3-1 lead, and to win the Lakers will have to win multiple games on the Celtics’ home court. Jackson and the Lakers have their work cut out for them and the outcome may be determined by the time this blog runs. My point is that a true champion is never beaten, never, ever, gives up. If the Celtics can overcome a 24 point lead, then the Lakers can overcome a 3-1 deficit. Not that they will, it’s just that they can.

I’m not saying that positive thinking will always win, just that negative thinking generally loses. Self-fulfilling prophecies are very powerful. “Think you can, think you can’t. You’re right!”

The lesson within the lesson is that you can learn whatever lesson you choose.

You can say the Celtics overcame a 24 point deficit and they are destined to win. You can also say the Celtics are just flesh and blood, what they did to us we can do to them. If ever a team has overcome a seemingly overwhelming deficit to win a playoff (2004 Red Sox-Yankees), we can too. And if it has not happened before in the NBA, it has to happen sooner or later, so why not now? Why not us? Let them write the headlines about us, let this team go down in the record books.

I once watched Michael Jordan in the final moments of a playoff game. His team was down multiple baskets and there were single digit seconds left on the game clock, AND the other team had the ball. Normally I’m an irrational optimist but I was saying in my head, “Okay, you’ve lost this one but you can afford the loss. Win the next game and you still win the title. Pack it in and come back fired up for the next game.” Well, Michael wasn’t listening to me because he stole the ball and got fouled while scoring, made the free throws, and won the game.

Every time I think I can’t win, every time I think I’ve lost, I remember that game and I say to myself “There is a way yet to win. How do I find it?”