I just read Kevin Eastman’s book Why the Best Are the Best. My favorite anecdote from the book relates to players waiting on the sideline during practice. Eastman, a former Celtics assistant, tells the story of when Kevin Garnett was asked to step off during a four on four shell drill. The Celtics were looking to give rookie Leon Powe some reps on defense, but KG was not relenting. Doc Rivers finally ordered him to. Here’s an excerpt of the unrequired work that ensued from this point:
“Once convinced to leave the drill, Kevin moved to the adjacent court, and as the eight players in the drill were talking and sliding and yelling out the defensive terminology each situation called for, we all heard another voice. The voice came from the other court, where Kevin was the only player. There he was, sliding talking and pretending to go through every action he would have had he still been in the actual drill… What we learned that day watching and listening to Kevin was the true definition of unrequired work!”
The KG Example is a Catch 22
Coaches have to be careful in sharing this example. Inevitably there are those players that do not want to leave the floor. And depending on the culture, that can either be celebrated or condemned. In the case of KG, the Defensive Player of the Year in the biggest basketball business in the world, ensuring he is competitive trumps making a rookie feel welcomed. In a high school setting, this might not be as important. Perhaps it would be best to simply walk off the floor when the teammate asks.
I intend to share this quote with my team, but I am going to be careful about picking a good spot. I would time it around an instance in the season in which the little things were falling short. After any game or practice in which the competitiveness of the team fell below our standards. Players tend to tune out when they are physically removed from the action. This example of KG calling out terminology and preparing
Great Players Want to Play Defense
I love how KG is so emphatic about playing defense in Eastman’s story. Today, and in any generation really, offense has stolen the glory. Not only does KG embrace getting better on defense, he recognizes how it happens. Putting in work.
Eastman is using this anecdote of KG at practice to illustrate a larger point about unrequired work. Most kids at the high school level and below have always been told that a relentless work ethic leads to limitless potential. This is the American Dream in its traditional sense. What Eastman is suggesting is that work ethic does not differentiate anyone today. Doing your job is easy. It is doing what you are not asked to do and the manner in which you do it that truly separates people.
Trying to support this statement is much easier than building a counterargument. So here are just five examples that I have stumbled on in the last nine months (either directly or through another story online).
- Erik Spoelstra getting the dry cleaning. He literally did not have a role when he started in the Heat organization.
- A player sweeping the floor at Brooks High School.
- Villanova players thanking someone in their lives with a Christmas card.
- Doing the required work on time. The Butler Bulldogs players were still going to class on the day of the finals against Duke.
- Doing the work when no one else is awake.
For any coach looking to push their team to be better on or off the court, there is a simple question. What one thing can players be challenged to do that they are not even being asked to do yet?