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.