A Blessing And An Honor...

Spend enough time with your teammates, and words become unnecessary.  Communication is elevated from the direct to the non-verbal, simple, subtle nuances in body language being enough to express a broad range of emotions to those around you who are now much more than teammates.
So we sat, my brothers and I, around a small laptop, with an internet connection so poor that only 1 or 2 of every 6 or so seconds of the 2013 Finals could be seen with any clarity.
We sat around this small laptop, on a small table, in a small corner of a small town in Senegal, sweat dripping off of our weary bodies, mosquitoes gorging themselves on our swollen limbs, heads heavy from the heat of the day.  We sat, and were silent.
We are teammates and brothers not by birth or by chance; we call ourselves the Big Bangs, a misleading name at the best of times, and are united in our passion, dedication and love for this not for profit which uses basketball to fight youth poverty and social disadvantage around the world.
We had just spent a full day at a children's center in Mbour, taking care of, feeding and playing with 100's of street-children, during a week in Senegal where we were training our new team there to carry on our programs and adopt our methods.  We had come to this country, as we do with every country in which we establish ourselves, with love and happiness and a great enthusiasm for the potential of the young people within it.
Yet here we sat, the enthusiasm and love and happiness on hold; through the blistering heat, we had frozen.
As lovers of this beautiful game it was an inevitability that we would love the Spurs; that my family are native to San Antonio and I have been a lifelong fan was a happy coincidence.  Our focus, therefore, was on OUR team, the team we have emulated not only on the court together, but also as a Program, as a way of being.
Even before The Shot, we had an unspoken foreboding about what was to come.  
The loss, delivered to us some 15 minutes after it had really happened thanks to connection issues, hit us hard.
I'm often asked across the board why sport, particularly basketball, is such a big part of my life, why I use it in every facet of my work not only with the Big Bang Ballers but also when helping others establish their own community or not for profit organisations, why does something as seemingly small as a basketball game have such an effect on me particularly when contrasted with the vast developmental and societal challenges we face as an organisation on a daily basis.
The answer is simple on the face of it, but so much more complex when unwrapped; basketball is a microcosm of life.  Our organisation has used it to inspire and motivate and support over 42,000 kids in 12 countries over the last 5 years.  I've personally used the game, the lessons it teaches and the ways it tests character to coach 1,000's of boys and girls.  My brothers and I have grown up learning from this game, and in turn taught through it as well.
Basketball matters because life matters, and what better example of how to live one's live with honor, respect, loyalty and focus than the San Antonio Spurs?
The loss hit hard, yet the mood some hours later, when the roosters had woken the others from their slumber, was not one of anger or sadness, but of hope, of expectation, of excitement for the future.
The game teaches us that no matter how many times the opposing team scores on you, you ALWAYS get the ball back.  There is always another opportunity to change your situation, to improve and learn and hopefully excel.  We started the day then not forlorn at a loss but rather looking ahead to the next opportunity to do better, to be better.
It's easy to "be a team" when you're winning; it's an entirely different beast when faced with a loss or a difficult situation.  In those moments, one's character is tested, and once you realise just how powerful a team can be compared to an individual, once you commit yourself to the greater good and persevere not for yourself, but for the betterment of those around you whom you have the privilege of calling brothers, then no loss ever seems that great, no hardship ever seems permanent, no barrier seems to monumental to overcome.
As the confetti rained down this season, there was an air of inevitability among my brothers.  That it took 7 years was of no consequence; the Spurs had persevered, had remained true to their values and their morals and continued to run their Program in the way they believed was for the betterment of their entire team.  Excellence is a habit, and a habit of excellence is infectious.
We watched the game in our own corners of the world, from Australia to Philippines to France to Malaysia to Senegal to Nepal to the US, and though we were elated at the result, no words were needed to express our true sentiments.
I write this today as I glance over my organisation's achievements over the last 5 years.  I see similarities, and can't help but chuckle a little when I think of just how much I have emulated Coach Pop and the Spurs, or at least tried to, in both my personal and professional life.  Of how within our organisation we have persevered through stumbles and failures and losses, of how personally there have been seemingly endless losing streaks, yet through it all I, and we, have committed ourselves to the system, to the Program, and never wavered on our loyalty to it and the certainty that the hard work will pay off.
That the system will deliver.
That though the pounding seems endless, the sculpture is there, below the surface, and that all it demands is for the artist to keep on pounding away.
It has been a blessing and a humbling honor to be a lifelong Spurs fan.
It has been a blessing and a humbling honor to be a Big Bang Baller.
To celebrate both 5 years of the Big Bangs as well as the 2014 NBA Championship is both serendipitous and oddly inevitable.

Chemistry

In basketball, coaches often worry about chemistry.  Chemistry is a difficult concept to adequately describe and even more difficult to cultivate.

Bringing people who are often very different together is so counter-intuitively difficult in spite of their common goals.

Chemistry also ebbs and flows; where there may be a week or two where the team operates as though they are the cogs of the same machine, there may also be a couple of weeks where everyone seems to be on different pages of different books… the mixed analogy is on purpose.

Fostering, developing, nurturing good chemistry is a long, arduous process, with a level of commitment involved above and beyond any other aspect of the game, which in and of itself is complicated and intensely grand in its scope.

I’m sitting in front of my laptop this morning, working on several things at once, and watching the San Antonio Spurs, my hometown team, the team upon which my beloved charity, the Big Bangs, my philosophy of basketball and even the direction of my life has been based, and I can’t help but be inspired…

If you haven’t seen this tribute yet, please pause and do so now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6NbJMq-QfU .

Chemistry comes from dedicating yourself not only to a common goal, but also from love.

Love and basketball?  Unquestionably.

This is a beautiful game, with so much intricacy and an eternal range of options on how it can be played, yet the most successful of teams, the most successful of franchises, operate not with a focus on one individual (sorry Cleveland), not with a focus on players themselves (sorry Brooklyn), not even with a focus on funds (sorry mostly every other team).

The best players always focus on love.  Love of the game, love of the competition, love for your teammates and your franchise and most of all, love for the legacy of this sport called basketball.

Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncun.

Love.

What did these great players have in common?  They so loved the game, so loved their teammates, and so loved the grand ideals of this sport that their very existence runs parallel to the game, not as a sideshow, not as a career, not as a source of fame.

The separation between them is also love; their successes on the court stemmed from their ability to either be within or create chemistry in their teams.

Kobe is a legend.  Tim is a legend.  Yet for both purists and statisticians, who has had the greater career?  My bias and my love say Tim on the Spurs, and both purists and Statisticians agree.

Your team, whether on the court, in the workplace, even your team at home, being yourself and your partner, will always require cultivation and management of “chemistry”.  Finding balance in opinions, managing expectations and relationships, ensuring each individual is both understood and understands those around them is a monumental task… however the rewards for prioritizing chemistry are endless.

Chemistry is a full-time concern, rightfully so.  Contrary to popular belief it does not occur automatically; sometimes it is easier to find, however it will always require work and focus.

When you love something or someone, don’t ignore the effort chemistry requires of you.  Don’t ever allow yourself to be complacent with that love; saying isn’t enough, you need to show that love.  Wanting chemistry is not enough, you need to actively work on maintaining it.

So yet again I look to my team, my constant source of inspiration and love to remind and teach me how best to attain happiness in my life.


We are all guilty of allowing chemistry to wane, and that’s ok… however I won’t allow myself to take the easy route and allow chemistry with my loved ones to fall because of my own laziness, my own reluctance to put in the work required.

Are you putting in the work required?  Are you being mindful of how important your team's chemistry is to your success?

You're not alone in the world, even Wolves run in packs at times.

P

They had kept him warm, they had kept him safe...

They found him sitting under a tree, snow up to his waist.

Wolf tracks formed a circle around him, imprints of the beasts scattered, showing where they had laid.

They had stood guard throughout the night, patiently waiting for the child to find what he was looking for.

The child showed no fear, no signs of harm, no sense of discomfort.

They had kept him warm, they had kept him safe.

They would keep him until the day he passed, an entire life later.

Ankle on top of the world...

The rolled ankle.

Every baller experiences it at some point.  Its inevitability does little to lessen the frustration when it ends up happening to you.

Last night's ankle injury reminds me that I haven't shared the story of my ankle and the Himalayas...

It's late September, and there are only a handful of days left in the Big Bang Ballers Nepal Tour 2012.  We're all excited today; we're heading out to a school we have previously sponsored, and it's going to be an adventure into the heart of Nepal's mountains.  We're told it's a few hours by truck, and another few hours hike... we should have started worrying right about here, since the time kept changing from 4 and 2 to 6 and 3... nevertheless, we grab our bags, our basketball supplies, the gifts for the kids, and head to meet the truck.

There are 8 of us; we find our transportation is an old Defender with 6 seats... After about an hour of packing the truck and squeezing ourselves into the vehicle in a manner which would make for a great submission to Cirque de Soleil, we set off on our adventure, the anticipation and excitement and happiness rising.  After all, this is what we love to do most, and any setback or strange occurrence is always the basis for great memories later.

As usual, I chose the window seat... watching the world fall away alongside a cliff so high you can barely make out the bottom is both one of the most incredible and terrifying experiences I have ever had.

Through villages, towns and police checkpoints, along roads narrow, muddy, dusty and miserable, through potholes and overgrown tracks we rode, walked alongside and pushed the vehicle until many, many hours later, we were caught in mud high on a peak of a mountain.  We tried valiantly to unwedge the vehicle, at times flagging down monstrous cargo trucks seemingly built in Soviet Russia to transport goods across Hell and back, tying up our truck and attempting to at times both pull and push it out of its place, with no success.

Having travelled for so long, we asked our guide and fellow Big Bangs how much further to the village, as the sun was now setting and we were too far from anywhere else to stay.  Hearing that the trek was only a few hours until our destination, we dutifully gathered our gear, handed some bags to porters who incredibly appeared from nowhere, and began our trek.

There is spiritual quality about trekking in the wilderness.  No matter what the terrain or where I am, I always find myself at peace, able to enjoy the world around me without the pressures of everyday life.  In the midst of this incredible terrain, overlooking peaks glowing mystically in the remaining few rays of light of the day, watching the tiny lights of miniscule villages so far away and yet so clear for lack of other obstruction in the way, I managed to roll my ankle.

Idiot.

Not watching where I'm going.  What a rookie mistake.

I've played full games on rolled ankles, and thinking to myself that we had already been hiking for an hour, with only another hour to go, I would be fine, though in a little pain.

Almost 6 hours later, surrounded by darkness, with only a couple of lights, no water, leeches on our bodies, torn-nerved and stressed, having lost our way a couple times due to the landfalls of the week, we all collapsed on the front porch of our host.

My ankle was enlarged, sore, black, blue, red and purple... a few leeches had fed so much from it that they had fallen off by themselves, too gorged to continue to hang on...

I went into the most deep meditative state I could to deal with the pain.  Then I lay down on my mattress and blacked out.

The next day we ran a full day camp for the kids of the village.  I gave no thought to the ankle; what we do is like a drug; you're so involved and so focused on the task at hand that nothing else gets in the way.

That night, sore and battered, I passed out again, wary of the further pain I had inflicted.

The next morning, terror.  I couldn't move.

The slightest turn of my body sent lightening rods of pain shooting up and down my leg.

We were to leave in an hour, and my motivation to suck it up and take the pain was simple; I was to board a flight from Kathmandhu the next day and meet my Sun, my Queen, at the airport in Sydney and fly again to celebrate our 1st wedding anniversary.

I swung my legs below me, stood up, vomited a little, waited until the blackout and spots went away, packed my bags and joined my team.

Off we went.

6 hours.  6 long hours.

Ju carried my bag, bless that man, and we managed to finally arrive at a village where a truck was waiting for us to take us home... not just any truck, the same one which was bogged down days before.

My ankle, now ready to seek a separation order from my body, was now the worst it had been so far.  Every jolt of the 5 or so hour drive back to Kathmandhu brought me closer to passing out.  Somehow, mercifully, I remained conscious until we arrived.

By the time I boarded my flight home the next day, the pain had subsided to a constant throbbing, rather than a screaming mess of nerve and muscle.  Seated in my chair, relieved I would be home in time to whisk my wife away, I was feeling comfortable in spite of the pain.

The air pressure of the flight wouldn't allow that to last.

From Kathmandhu to Dubai, from Dubai to Sydney, my ankle went through Hulk-esque changes in size, eventually deciding that it would just stay angry and remain the giant beast that it was.  I took the opportunity in Dubai to pick up my wife's anniversary gift, which I had special ordered some 10 days before, and then promptly throw up every momo I had ingested to that date.

Lovely.

I finally reach Sydney.  Broken and beaten, I make it through customs, pick up my bags, head out the door and see my Reason for Being, her smile lighting up the arrival lounge.

Now bear in mind my wife has no idea at this point what I've been through.

She runs to me, jumps in may arms, and attaches herself tightly.  I stand there, my wife in my arms, trying desperately not to fall or cause her to fall.

My ankle endures one more flight, and I reward it by soaking it in a bathtub for the next few hours...

To this day I still feel a slight twinge in it, and have become much more wary of how prepared and aware I am in the wild.

It's wonderful what you can endure when you have to.

Madiba...

Happy birthday, Tata.  For 30 years you have been a guiding light, an inspiration in perseverance and patience and faith.

The world, my world, has been better for your existence.

Thank you for your unconquerable soul.

William Ernest Henley. 1849–1903
 
Invictus
OUT of the night that covers me, 
  Black as the Pit from pole to pole, 
I thank whatever gods may be 
  For my unconquerable soul. 
  
In the fell clutch of circumstance         5
  I have not winced nor cried aloud. 
Under the bludgeonings of chance 
  My head is bloody, but unbowed. 
  
Beyond this place of wrath and tears 
  Looms but the Horror of the shade,  10
And yet the menace of the years 
  Finds, and shall find, me unafraid. 
  
It matters not how strait the gate, 
  How charged with punishments the scroll, 
I am the master of my fate:  15
  I am the captain of my soul.

5 Thousand Words...






Amar Desh...

There’s a saying in Bangladesh which is used at national, sporting and celebratory events; Amar Desh, Bangladesh – My Country, Bangladesh.

It means much more to those who say it than simply its literal meaning; there is an overwhelming sense of pride, of hope and of celebration.  By the time I had left Bangladesh in 2008, that saying had embedded itself into my head, and to this day I feel a kinship and pride whenever I see or hear of Bangladesh, no matter where I am in the world.

Throwing a Ball at Problems...

“It’s a tool we can use to teach kids about their surroundings. In basketball, if you don’t look after the people around you, you’re not going to be successful. It’s that simple. It’s not a man-on-man game, it’s not a one-person game; you can be the best player on the planet, but without a good team, you’re not going to win.”

http://citynews.com.au/2013/throwing-a-basketball-at-big-problems/#comments

My Love For You Endures...


Members from opposing parties debated an issue, spoke with passion and clarity, then voted.  Were that all there was to this Bill, it would still be a triumph of Democracy, one many parliaments, including our own, can learn from.  Yet this Bill was regarding Marriage Equality; not all members voted to accept the amendment, however there were no ridiculous contrarian, pseudo-religious, pretentiously ignorant swipes taken by either side.  Rather, the Bill was voted on, and once passed, members burst into a traditional love song.

Take a bow, New Zealand.

"...my love for you endures, and remains forever more..."


Heart...

Yours, so small, belied their true strength.

Ours, so battered and bruised, wounded again by a loss so great.

Mine, will never forget yours.

Sleep well, dear hearts.  Your strength endures.