Written player-writer, Lily Gustafson, Shorewood High School (class of 2016)
My favorite thing about basketball has recently changed. This is because I have been reading The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons. In the first chapter, he talks about what NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas calls The Secret. Thomas said, “The secret to basketball is that it isn’t about basketball.”
Basketball, more so than any other sport, is less about who is on your team and more about how they play together. It is more important to have players who will buy in to what the team is doing than have a bunch of all-stars doing their own thing.
This isn’t a new concept to me. I have always put the team before myself, sometimes to a fault. Especially when I get the ball at the high post, I tend to look to pass to an open teammate before I look at the hoop, to the dismay of many of my coaches. But the way Simmons wrote about it gave me a new appreciation of how much of a team game it is.
Basketball differs from other sports in that it is a team game, but one person can take over at any given point. And I love the balance you have to find between playing as a team and playing as an individual. The best teams play together; yet, at certain points, every team also needs someone to carry them, someone to step up and make it happen.
I have been playing basketball since 2nd grade. I have been on teams that didn’t win a game and teams that didn’t lose a game. No matter how successful we were, one thing has always been there for me: fun. This has been consistent regardless of how talented my teammates were because we were playing the right way: together, as a team.
Most basketball players don’t know The Secret, but I have been very fortunate to have teammates who play like they know The Secret, whether they have heard about if or not. This makes us a really good team. We don’t have any superstars. We aren’t the most talented team out there. But we do have ball movement, chemistry, and selflessness
One time, my team needed an extra player for a tournament. We had two options: even though the second girl wasn’t nearly as skilled as the first, but we chose her because we knew she would play well with us.
In our first game of the tournament, we played an over-aggressive Todd Beamer team.They pressured the ball and denied passes to the wing, making it hard for us to get into an offensive flow, which was new to us.
At some point in the second half, I suggested to my coach to go five out: all five players spread out on the three point line. This made it possible for us to cut backdoor when they overplayed, negating their defensive pressure.
Once we did this, we got our offensive flow back. The ball and players were moving effortlessly.
We ended up winning the game and the tournament.
Recently, I watching a Sunday afternoon NBA game: Cavaliers at Rockets. It featured two MVP candidates in LeBron James and James Harden. The game went back and forth with many lead changes. Partway through the 4th quarter, LeBron started going one-on-one on every possession. He would stand on the left wing as the shot clock ran down. With eight or 10 seconds left, he would drive and force up a shot.
Despite LeBron’s obvious talent and stardom, this made me mad. The Cavs have a talented team but LeBron chose to do it all himself, showing a lack of trust for his teammates. What made me even angrier was that he managed to keep the Cavs in the game.
I don’t know if LeBron wanted to prove he could beat James Harden or if he thought going one-on-one was best for his team. Either way, this isn’t the way basketball should be played. That game showed what basketball looks like when people don’t play by The Secret. And it isn’t good.
I don’t think I will ever understand why some people think their personal success is more important than the team’s. But as long as my teammates put the team before themselves and continue to play with the ball and player movement that they do so well, I’m fine with not knowing.
Lily Gustafson joined our mentorship program this past winter and worked with former McDonald’s All-American nominee and UPenn player Amy Donovan. Lily captained as a sophomore was named 2nd Team All-Conference for the second straight year.