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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Be the best that you can be

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As we start a new year, coaches all over the state are searching for new ways to keep their teams motivated and inspired. As a coach, I spent my holidays searching for a team motto or what we are going to be about in 2012 when I ran across this great article about the 2008 Boston Celtics written by ESPN writer Chris Brossard.

I remember watching the 2008 Celtics team play and admiring the passion and unselfish manner they played with. This story explains why they had such a special season.

A powerful word inspires a championship

Two former classmates see each other in passing. A word is exchanged. They go their separate ways. No big deal. Except that in this case the word inspires a man, who inspires a team, which wins an NBA championship.

That’s some word.

The word is “ubuntu” (Ooh-BOON-too), roughly “I am because we are.” A Bantu term, it served as a rallying cry for South Africans battling apartheid, voiced by Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“When you’re building a new country and you’ve spent so long divided, with one group oppressing another, it’s a very big statement,” says Stephanie Russell, Arts ’83, executive director for Marquette’s Office of Mission and Identity.

It can also be a big statement for a newly rebuilt basketball team trying to forge a cohesive identity.

“It caught me right away,” says Boston Celtics Coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers, Arts ’85 and Marquette trustee, who heard about ubuntu from Russell during a lunch break at a Marquette board meeting. “It’s not just a word. It’s a way of life, a way of being.”


Recently, Russell and Rivers shared their memories of that conversation.

The Celtics were coming off a rough season. Nine of 15 players were new. Rivers was searching for something to unite them. When Russell explained the core concept of ubuntu – I can’t be all I can be unless you’re all you can be – he was hooked.

“Right when she said that, I said ‘That’s it. That’s the word. That’s the philosophy. That’s what I need,'” Rivers remembers.

The Celtics went on to become the 2008 NBA champs, buoyed by the power of a word.

A message to athletes by Coach E: Be the best that you can be

There is a parable told about a Pencil Maker who took the pencil aside, just before putting him into the box.

“There are five things you need to know,” he told the pencil, “Before I send you out into the world. Always remember them and never forget, and you will become the best pencil you can be.”

One: You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in someone’s hand.

Two: You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, but you’ll need it to become a better pencil.

Three: You will be able to correct any mistakes you might make.

Four: The most important part of you will always be what’s inside.

Five: On every surface you are used on, you must leave your mark. No matter what the condition, you must continue to write.

The pencil understood and promised to remember, and went into the box with purpose in its heart.


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