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Al Jefferson's comments in Oklahoma City do deserve an extra look.

Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

It was 2006 and I needed a summer job. A friend of mine had begun selling cars about a year prior and helped me get a position at a local car dealership. I still remember what my boss told me my very first day. He said, pointing at a man named Gary, "That is our very best salesman. I want you to shadow him for the next couple days and glean as much as you can from him." I was intimidated but up for the challenge. I wanted to be a good car salesman and who else to learn from the best than the best, right?

My first day with him was pretty uneventful to say the least. I kept on asking him specific questions on how he pitched certain aspects of the car or how he approached customers. He answered them rather vaguely with little enthusiasm. I then asked him how he sold a lot of cars every year. He just looked at me like I had asked the dumbest question any living organism could ever ask. He looked blankly at me and said, "Because people come to me to buy cars. The come to me because I ALWAYS sell them cars." When I went home that day I thought he was just some crotchety old car salesman who was tired of having a 21 year old kid following him all over the place. (Which was probably a little true.)

My second day I came back to the dealership early and sure enough there was Gary. He was at his desk at 7:30 AM sipping his coffee and reading a newspaper. I asked him, "Gary, what are you doing here so early?" He looked at me with a smile, "Because people ALWAYS buy cars from me, Mychal." Throughout the summer I'd see Gary just flat out sell. Yes, he had a smooth delivery. Yes, he knew his product knowledge. Yes, he was a very kind hearted man. Yes, he was good to customers. Those are all skills. Frankly, almost every salesman at our dealership easily exhibited those very same qualities and probably was better at those skills. But no one, NO ONE, came close to Gary in sales. He ALWAYS sold cars. He just had a mentality.

And when Gary didn't sell a car in a day, he was honestly shocked. He had the same look of shock as if the sun decided not to rise one day. He wasn't satisfied. As he said, "I sell cars and people ALWAYS buy from me." So when they didn't "always" buy from Gary, Gary took it personally. Not because anybody would fault Gary for not selling a car, he was just disappointed in himself. There were no almosts to Gary. Either he sold a car or he didn't. If there were 112 cars on the lot when you started the day and there were still 112 cars on the lot, he wasted his time. Time he could have spent selling.

It's that mentality that I've grown to admire. Gary would relate the "mental ceiling" when it came to selling. All of us are guilty of this same thing in any line of work we do. Think of it this way. Can you think of the most you have ever spent on a shopping trip? Was it $400, or $1000, or maybe it was just $90? Whatever that is, that is your mental spending limit. Whenever someone spends more than that amount you mentally see that as overspending and recklessness. Maybe that mental ceiling applies to contests. You don't enter contests or you don't call those surveys because the chances you win are so small. You rationalize, "I don't ever win these things." That's a mental ceiling. There's nothing wrong with that. We as humans have the ability to think of a problem and play it out in our heads to see if it succeeds or not. No other species on this planet has that ability. But there's a catch.

This is where we get to Al Jefferson's comments in Oklahoma City. First I will let you read them for yourself. Mind you, these were said after a loss in which the Jazz were without their best defensive presence, Favors, and their starting point guard, Williams. Take a look.

Locke: Al, how long were they inside, and how did that impact what you were trying to do tonight?

Jefferson: Which way?

Lock: Your offensive game.

Jefferson: They played, had strength in the paint, they did a great job pushing me out, and when I did get the ball, they had a guy sitting in my lap, so they did a good job.

Locke: I know losses aren’t good, but that seemed like a difficult night to play and you guys kept it close for 48, is there at least some consolation in that?

Jefferson: I don’t feel bad about this loss at all, I think we did a great job against all odds. We kept playing, we never gave up.

Locke: What was the communication among you guys when the game got difficult during the game.

Jefferson: Stay together. Keep our head up.

Before we delve into this touchy subject amongst Jazz fans, I'm not going to dismiss any opinion to the contrary of what I'm going to put forward. I believe we all have opinions on what a leader is and what he does. I also don't want to dismiss Al's honesty in this. Because it is his honesty that allows us to see a little bit into the psyche of what makes Al Jefferson truly Al Jefferson. That's awesome. Usually you don't get this kind of candor with a professional athlete. We should admire it. But with comments like these there is always room to be critical. Especially if these comments come from a player that is, whether its by default or by choice, the leader of the Jazz locker room.
At the very beginning Al was very gracious in giving the Thunder credit in the win. That's admirable. Honestly, I have no issue with the beginning of his comments. I think if someone gave you a whooping and showed your tail the door you should congratulate them in doing so. I work in sales and if another person in my chain outworks my store that person will receive a hearty congratulations from me. But, and it's a big but, they will also receive a little note from me saying that they shouldn't expect it to happen again.
The interesting thing about Al's quote is the window to his mental ceiling. Even though he WANTED to win this game, he saw it as an uphill battle with the outcome already measured and counted before it began:

Jefferson: I don’t feel bad about this loss at all, I think we did a great job against all odds. We kept playing, we never gave up.

His days of playing in Boston on underachieving teams, his days of playing in Minnesota on underachieving teams, and his first year of Utah playing on a underachieving team has limited his mental ceiling. There is a difference when it comes to wanting to win and expecting to win.

The attitude of Al Jefferson is not a bad one either. You need a personality like his to soften the locker room and ease tensions. His attitude is of a player that has endured many losses, miserable seasons, and many games lost to injury. To say that someone's personality doesn't change during those rough times to make compensate for the disappointment is to be naive.

This gives you the kind of personality that Jefferson has. It's not a malcontent. It's not one of a loser either. It's of one that has a mental ceiling. From the tip off, Jefferson saw the game against Oklahoma City as an almost unwinnable game. It's hard to argue to the contrary either. If Jefferson honestly believed the game against OKC was a winnable game then his postgame comments would have exuded a more frustrated tone. Especially if we put in the context that the game was a very winnable one in the 4th quarter. Execution and mistakes just undid the Jazz.

When you are a leader, a higher law is required. You're no longer just Al. You're the head of a moving train. Wherever you go the team will follow. The team's eyes and attention are on you. The attention of the fans is constantly on you as well. As you go so goes the ship. This is a hard role to fill for Al. He wasn't brought to Utah to be the Captain of the Jazz's destiny. Rather, Al Jefferson was brought on to be the first mate. Unfortunately the Deron Captain and Sloan Navigator both were lost at sea at the beginning of this ship's maiden voyage.

Now to go back to a previous point. This is not meant to be a tear-down Al Jefferson post. It's merely a confirmation of what we've seen in the past. Al Jefferson is what he is. He's a kind, soft spoken man. He's honest, sometimes to a fault. He's someone that was brought in to be a supporter to Deron Williams who has suddenly had the mantle of leadership thrown on him. Fairly or unfairly, that is his lot. It's his attitude, choices, and words that shape whether he rises to that mantle of leadership or not. In this case, he could have rallied the troops and said, "We lost. That's unacceptable. We did some good things but a loss is a loss. Things must be fixed and we will fix them." Instead he hinted at the idea that maybe this loss was already in the stars. Their fate was already affixed and they fought hard against it, but some things are just meant to be. Such are his comments: A slight window into the soul and honest intent of Al Jefferson.