After the Miami game, after reading and thinking about what both Amar and Clark had to say, I'm coming at you with a third take. And of course it's based on yet more lessons learned during my job as a teacher.
Lessons from Teaching
You don't see this in official job descriptions, but sometimes a teacher's primary responsibility is to listen to excuses. The best students turn excuse recitation to an art form. Every kid can think up a gajillion reasons why failure is okay, and the most creative have entertained teachers for decades.
So it's important for a teacher to have realistic expectations: every kid will leave assignments undone; every kid will get less than 100%; every kid will screw up some time or another; every kid will have good days and bad.
But at the same time, it's important for kids to know the truth about success: successful, happy students are successful and happy because they tend to do certain things. Successful students do homework. Successful students get along with their peers. Successful students follow instructions. Successful students do the assigned tasks.
Intelligence and natural ability play a part—but behavior, attitude, and habits matter ever so much more.
And so I'm callow when it comes to excuses. I don't care why homework was not done. I care whether it is done. Those who habitually ignore assignments need to understand that successful students do it, regardless of circumstances. Successful students are just as busy after school, they have the same stuff that comes up and impedes—the difference is they still find a way to do it. Excuses and reasons are absolutely irrelevant.
Kids who habitually complete assignments also need to understand something those few times they fail to do so (and they will sometimes, everybody does sometimes). They need to understand that failure cannot become habitual—that if it does they will cease to be successful students, and things go downhill pretty quick.
The habits, then, become a benchmark. A way to judge which students are likely to be successful.
Now to the NBA
First, the realism:
- A loss is not the end of the world, because all teams lose games
- They will beat teams to whom they first lost
- They will lose to teams they first beat
- All teams have cruddy nights from 3-point land (like the Jazz went 1-12 against Miami), and they often lose those games.
- All teams have cruddy nights at the free throw line (like Milsap doinking all 3 in the fourth quarter), and they often lose those games.
- All teams have games during which they get badly outrebounded, and they often lose those games.
- Any NBA team can beat any other NBA team on any given night – even terrible teams can beat the best in the league.
- The difference between elite, good, and lousy teams isn’t how good they are during their best games. It is how consistently they play their best games.
- If you can’t stand watching a team that kills themselves with turnovers, then I suggest abandoning the Jazz until D-Will and AK are retired and their numbers hang in the rafters. It just comes with the players. Larry Bird led the universe in obscenely awful shots. Magic couldn’t shoot outside or defend anyone to save his life. Isiah jacked up 3’s at 29%. MJ’s Bulls could not handle teams with good centers. Kobe ignores his teammates too much. Shaq was out of shape half his career. Deron and AK turn the ball over too much. That’s just how it is. All players have flaws. All teams have flaws. Even teams and players that win championships.
Now, keeping the above expectations in mind, here are some Truths about championship-caliber teams:
- They beat the elite teams
- They win on the road
- They win on the second night of back-to-backs
- Their home court is a tough, tough place to win for all opponents, the good and the bad
- They recognize when to play with urgency
- Even when they don’t play with urgency, they still bring their A-game
- They play well consistently. Poor play is the exception.
And finally, back to our beloved Jazz
So when the Jazz lose 40% of their home games it’s a bummer. Championship-caliber teams simply don’t lose that many home games. Yes there have been reasons the Jazz lost. Yes, we can cite excuses. But in the end, championship-caliber teams don’t lose 40% of their home games. The Jazz are not currently playing with that particular elite-team habit, and fans feel let down.
It’s particularly a letdown right now because suddenly the Jazz have been playing with two habits that eluded them in the past: winning on the road and second night of back-to-backs. So now they can't defend our home-court? Now the loudest, best fans in the NBA doesn't do anything for the team? Really? They have to fix what wasn't previously broken?
Ah, the ups and downs of being a fan.
Clark asked where the fan demands will end. They played with no heart against Phoenix – and we all said we didn’t mind if they lost as long as they played like they cared. Well, they played hard and like they cared against Miami and Dallas. And that still wasn’t good enough, not for us. Yeah, it’s kind of hypocritical. Yeah, it makes fans look flighty and inconsistent. And we are, of course. We live and die with every game. Some of us with every shot.
But in the end it’s about hope.
Because that's pretty much all fans can do. Most of us never interact with players. And for the few of us who do, it sure isn't in a teacher-student kind of relationship. We can't point out the good habits we need to see. We can't help the players self-evaluate. We can't teach them how to go from good to great—no matter how much we think we know how.
All we can do is hope. When our hopes are fulfilled we cheer. When our hopes are dashed we boo.
Where will the fans’ demands end? That's like asking where our hope ends. They won’t. Each success leads us to hope for something a little bit grander is just beyond the horizon. When a team seems to get the hang of one elite habit, we hope that they now move on to master a second. And a third. And on until they’re all mastered and we’re standing in downtown Salt Lake City, celebrating a championship parade while our heroes stroll by. But that won’t even be enough. We’ll hope the team wins again the next year, and the next, and the next.
I agree with Clark that the Jazz showed heart against Miami. They played like they cared. They played hard. At the same time I will never understand the final 3 minutes, when I ached for urgency from the team while they mildly strolled up the court as if competing in the 100-meter mosey.
It was an awful finish, yet somehow appropriate. The team plays great when they have energy and urgency, when they attack on both defense and offense. But too often they play without the attack, without the energy, without the urgency. Maybe they’re trying to not show panic. Maybe they’re trying to show trust in the system and game plan. Whatever the reason, it's frustrating to watch. When we hope to see our heroes play like gods, it's not fun to see them show the urgency and hustle of government employees.
In the end I’m happy with this season to date. It’s been far, far better than the past two. And I’m giddy about their road success and back-to-back success. But there’s still a ways for them to go—at least if they’re going to reach their potential, maximize their talent, and give us fans the championship we ache for.
So after the wins we’ll all celebrate the great things going on. And after the losses we’ll gripe about the good habits we don’t see, but wish we did.