My Vertical Leap

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Measured my vertical leap yesterday: 33 inches.

Only 2 inches below the average for an NBA point guard, which is 34.9 inches.

I haven’t done plyometrics for the last 2 weeks so didn’t even feel at my most springy smile emoticon

I’ll get to 35 inches soon enough.

“I believe I can fly
I believe I can touch the sky
I think about it every night and day
Spread my wings and fly away”

Max Marmer's photo.

Lebron James Returning to Cleveland Seen From Campbell’s Hero’s Journey

Lebron James made the right decision in returning to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It is better for his championship aspirations (better talent/salary/player)

Better for his brand (the only other place with out being a title chaser)

And perhaps most importantly, best for his own hero’s journey, which can stand as an inspiration to us all.

Joseph Cambell’s Monomyth describes the 3 macro stages of the Journey as 1) Departure 2) Initiation 3) Return

James needed to leave home to get to the top of championship mountain with new brothers and supernatural guides.

“I learned from a franchise that had been where I wanted to go. I will always think of Miami as my second home. Without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.”

Following his journey to the peak, his fears and burdens could be released, and James has played with a freedom that has allowed him to step fully into his powers, marked by some of the best statistics the league has ever seen.

“I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from.”

Now “the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man”.

Patterns of Athletic Greatness

I spotted an interesting pattern with some of today’s most elite athletes:

Disappearing hyper athletic father, loving-sacrificing mother, surrogate father who recognizes their athletic talent and takes them in as their own.

Athletes who fit pattern off the top of my head: Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Ray Lewis, Jalen Rose, even Colin Kaepernick as a slight variant.

Possible mechanism: Great genes (where freakish athletic genes creates strong tendency for socially deviant behavior due to abundant testosterone if not in supportive social environment), strong and healthy maternal and paternal energy, incredible work ethic.

Sports as Transcendental Metaphor

There are few areas in the modern world as rich with metaphor and spiritual truth as the world of sports.

Very grateful for the years in my life when nothing was more important than sports.

The competitive fire that once burned on the field and court, now burns inside me while I run the Entrepreneurial Marathon, spar in the Philosophical Pantheon and tear it up on the Dancefloor.

It is all ONE energy transmuted into the MANY forms of our diverse, eclectic world.

Here is a gem from Kobe Bryant I just came across:

“The advice I get from Magic, Michael and those guys, that’s always sacred…that’s going to the mountain top and talking to Buddha, know what I mean? That’s privileged information.”

Byproducts: Learning from Failure and Virtues of Playing Sports

Two more examples of byproducts. Focusing on byproducts makes you less likely to achieve them. Instead focus on what the real end goal should be.

I recommend first reading the original post where I discussed byproducts: Why You Can’t Get More Happiness, Money and Love By Pursuing Them Directly

Learning from Failure

You’re first startup venture will probably fail and it will be a great learning experience that will increase your chances for being successful on your second venture. But you can’t go into that first venture with the expecation that will just be a great learning experience, because then it probably won’t even be a good learning experience, otherwise you’ll quit too early. Only if you have the unwavering irrational belief that this venture is destined to succeed will you push hard enough and long enough to learn some real lessons.

Competitive Spirit

Passion for athletics commanded the largest portion of my free time from the time I was 5 to the time I was 17. At some point around 13-14 I had some pretty tough injuries that were misdiagnosed with compounding lingering effects. (I’ve described that in some more depth in this post)

At some point around 17-18 I wound down my competitive athletics commitments so I could focus on my burgeoning entrepreneurial interests. Now that I have some distance from my athletic career I can see how much I’ve gained from sports.

The other day I was watching a Giants game and they were doing a brief promotional segment on a Giant’s sponsored program for getting more young girls involved in sports. They started listing all the virtues of playing sports, “competitive spirit, toughness, teamwork, ambition…” but hearing those traits rattled off made me want to snicker. In my experience, the only players who touted those virtues as reasons for playing weren’t very good. And the coaches who talked about those virtues to their players usually had bad teams. The good coaches and athletes focused on what they needed to do to get better, what they needed to do to win games and more importantly win championships.

I wasn’t driven by developing toughness, or being a team player. I wanted to win, and I wanted to realize my dreams of playing professionally. But I knew winning required mental toughness and involving my teammates. And along the same lines, you don’t pitch teamwork for teamwork’s sake, you pitch teamwork because it’s required to win.

You don’t chastise cheating, because it’s morally wrong, you don’t do it because it can hurt you chances of winning. Minor discrepenciases of what’s allowed by the rules are fine, and you have to weigh the risk/reward consequences of doing something unallowed.

But after my urge to mock the girls baseball promotional subsided, I realized I have all those traits, and they’ve carried over to other areas of my life even though I’ve stopped playing sports 6 times a week. And while instincts and genetics deserve credit for the existence of these traits, my engagement in sports nurtured and developed these traits.

But the reason I had such a negative visceral reaction to listing the virutes, comes down to byproducts and end goals. Teamwork, toughness, and ambition are all byproducts and by even considering them or any other byproduct as a valid end goal you make them less likely to occur.

Lessons from Sports: Focusing On The Right Things

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I’ve written about sports frequently because I think the lessons are incredibly transferable. Athletics are extremely competitive with a long history of results-oriented focus. It’s a huge business, with a lot of attention, money and science aimed at maximizing results. While transferring lessons from a game can be dangerous, because any game is an over simplification of the complexity of the real world,  closed environments are great testing grounds for honing narrow theories, skills and practices.

During Halftime of the NBA Finals there was a great segment where Dwight Howard, a future great, was spending time learning from Bill Russel, the greatest winner of all time — 11 championships.  Michael Wilbon talked about the importance of listening and its tendency to be underrated. Wilbon praised Howard’s willingness to listen to Bill Russell.

They were discussing how you become great and Russell told Howard that when the season ended he should take a month off and not even look at a basketball. This violated Howard’s worldview — “That’s time others could be working,” he replied incredulous.  Intuition says Howard is right: maximize time working. But I’m inclined to trust the greatest winner of all time. It fits with the current paradigm of the productivity-obsessed that the correct paradigm is to focus on energy management not time management.

High achievers who strive to be the best seem to undervalue the long term benefit of taking time off. Growth requires focus and intensity and you simply can’t do that 24/7/365. Stepping away, recharging, and revitalizing is crucial for long term growth. And think long term growth whenever possible.

Jeff Van Gundy made another astute point on a common error most people make. Van Gundy was addressing criticism other people had of Kobe Byrant, that he should shoot more or pass more. Van Gundy said focusing on passing more or shooting more was flat out wrong. Instead he said, just focus on making the right decision. Let the situation dictate your decision making. If they go single coverage go 1 on 1, if they try and double team, find the open man. This lesson struck me as very universal. So many times we can get zeroed on doing something regardless of the situation, like deciding we should pass more or shoot more. Instead focus on the right thing: being flexible, assessing the situation and adapting. “Mind like Water” as they say.

If you’re trying to write a popular blog don’t focus on the wrong metrics like “driving more traffic” to your site. Instead focus on better content first. If you’re in a conversation with someone important or beautiful and you’re nervous, don’t focus on saying the perfect thing instead just focus on having 100% belief in what ever comes to mind. If you’re trying to get the ear of someone who is incredibly busy and you see them at an event, don’t make a pact that you’re going to get him to help you no matter what, instead if you do enter in conversation just go with the flow, make a good impression and follow up later.

Gladwell & Simmons’ Debate Sports and Everything Else

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I’ve just been getting around to finishing the Bill Simmons–Malcolm Gladwell article on and it has to be the most intriguing, insightful and entertaining sports article I’ve read in a long time. Both pull from a wide range of disciplines have great knoweldge of the history of the sport and possess unique views about where the sports should be headed.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

I’ve just been reading several of the books that were written about the fall of Bear Stearns, and those books illustrate another side of this story. Bear Stearns didn’t fail because the employees were incompetent, because they weren’t good at what they do. They failed because they were good at what they do. They were so successful for so long that they grew overconfident and arrogant and complacent. The biggest obstacle to success is success. My biggest worry for LeBron is that he wins the title this season. And if he wins again next year, and the year after that, then what do you have? A guy still in his mid-20s who has already done it all, and has no reason to doubt his own skills and judgments, ever. You’ll bring him in as a free agent when you become GM of the Minnesota Christians and team him up with Larry Bird’s nephew and two 5-foot-9 “character guys” from Holy Cross, and it’ll all be downhill from there. Mark my words.

By contrast, remember what happened to LeBron last summer during the Redeem Team practices? He watched Kobe getting up at 6 a.m. every day to train for three grueling hours, then said to himself, “All right, this guy works harder than me. I need to step it up.” And he did. And that exposure had a profound effect on his career, just like every splendid Michael Lewis story probably keeps you on your toes. If Kobe dropped dead of a cocaine overdose eight years ago, does LeBron have that epiphany? Maybe not. You can become great without the help of someone else, but you can’t stay great without someone pushing you. Golf excepted, of course.

Given that, then, why do so few underdog teams use the press? Pitino’s explanation is that it’s because most coaches simply can’t convince their players to work that hard. What do you think of that argument?

There are two other things here that fascinate me. After my piece ran in The New Yorker, one of the most common responses I got was people saying, well, the reason more people don’t use the press is that it can be beaten with a well-coached team and a good point guard. That is (A) absolutely true and (B) beside the point. The press doesn’t guarantee victory. It simply represents the underdog’s best chance of victory. It raises their odds from zero to maybe 50-50. I think, in fact, that you can argue that a pressing team is always going to have real difficulty against a truly elite team. But so what? Everyone, regardless of how they play, is going to have real difficulty against truly elite teams. It’s not a strategy for being the best. It’s a strategy for being better.

I wonder if there isn’t something particularly American in the preference for “best” over “better” strategies. I might be pushing things here. But both the U.S. health-care system and the U.S. educational system are exclusively “best” strategies: They excel at furthering the opportunities of those at the very top end. But they aren’t nearly as interested in moving people from the middle of the pack to somewhere nearer the front.

Or how about eliminating the draft altogether? I’m at least half-serious here. Think about it. Suppose we let every college player apply for and receive job offers in the same way that, oh, every other human being on the planet does. That doesn’t mean that everyone goes to L.A. and New York, because you still have the constraints of the cap. It does mean, though, that both players and teams would have to make an affirmative case for each other’s services. So you trade for Steve Nash or Jason Kidd, because they make you instantly attractive to every mobile big man coming out of college. Instead of asking the boring question — which team is going to be lucky enough to draft Derrick Rose? — we ask the far more interesting question: Which team, out of every team in the league, should Derrick Rose play for?

The bigger point here is that what consistently drives me crazy about big-time sports is the assumption that sports occupy their own special universe, in which the normal rules of the marketplace and human psychology don’t apply. That’s how you get the idea of a reverse-order draft, which violates every known rule of human behavior.

We had lunch a few weeks ago and discussed the parallels between music and basketball. The structure is fundamentally the same: You have a lead singer (the NBA alpha dog, like LeBron or Kobe), the lead guitarist (the sidekick, like Pippen or McHale), the drummer (an unsung third wheel, like Parish or Worthy), the bassist (a solid, reliable and ultimately disposable role player: like Byron Scott or Anderson Varejao); and then everyone else (the other rotation guys). Bands can go different ways just like successful basketball teams. McCartney and Lennon were two geniuses who ultimately needed one another (like Young Magic and Older Kareem, or Shaq and Young Kobe), whereas MJ and LeBron were more like Sting or Springsteen (someone who could carry the band by themselves). And if you want to drag hip-hop or rap into it, the best parallel would obviously be Jordan’s post-baseball Bulls: MJ was Chuck D, Pippen was Terminator X, and there is no effing doubt that Rodman was Flavor Flav.