Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Inclination to Speed Up

Dear Russell, James, and Kevin,

If I may be so bold, fellas, I’d like to offer you some advice. It can be applied immediately to the rest of your games against the Spurs, to the Finals (if necessary), and to any future playoff series. It can also be applied to your personal lives, if you so choose. I watched the second half of Game One in New Orleans, at a seafood restaurant on Bourbon Street on a TV with the sound on mute, so I wasn’t able to pay the best attention, but I couldn’t help but notice that in the fourth quarter you guys began trying too hard, pressing, forcing it. My subsequent research has confirmed this. You went into the last quarter up by nine, traded a couple baskets with the Spurs, and then fell apart. Besides a miss and a foul from Collison and two free throws for Perkins, the Thunder end of the play-by-play summary consists solely of you three. Here it is:

10:45 James Harden offensive foul
10:04 Russell Westbrook enters the game for Daequan Cook
9:48 Russell Westbrook misses 19-footer
9:30 Kevin Durant defensive rebound
9:08 Russell Westbrook misses 10-footer
8:57 James Harden defensive rebound
8:55 James Harden offensive foul
8:12 Russell Westbrook misses layup
7:41 Kevin Durant offensive foul 
7:31 Kevin Durant defensive rebound
6:54 Kevin Durant defensive rebound
6:37 Kevin Durant misses 24-foot three point attempt

During all this time, as you guys know, the Spurs were hitting shots. Twenty seconds after Kevin’s missed three pointer, Ginobili made a layup to put the Spurs up by three—a twelve point swing in less than six minutes. And that was the game. What happened? Like I said, I believe you guys started forcing it, as evidenced by all the offensive fouls and the missed jumpers. You became overeager. And so here’s my advice for the three of you, based on my own personal experience: Whenever you feel the inclination to speed up, that’s exactly when you should slow down.

I know what I’m talking about, fellas. Trust me. Many times in my life I’ve made the mistake of speeding up under pressure, and I’ve always paid a price for it. In fact, the whole reason I was in New Orleans this weekend was for my buddy’s wedding, and at the wedding I was a reader, and I had a major case of not following my own advice about slowing down, and the results were not good. Here’s what happened: I’m standing in the wings during the ceremony—which was beautiful, by the way—and I’m waiting to step up to the podium and do my reading. The pastor looks over at me, smiles, and gives me a little nod. Because I was nervous—feeling the pressure, as you guys were in the fourth quarter—I took this to be my cue and stepped up to the podium. Unfortunately, this happened to be during the middle of a vocal solo. A guy was singing, very beautifully, from the balcony. And I started reading while he was still singing. I said, “A reading from the book of John …” and declared which chapter and verses I was going to read, and then the pastor left the bride and groom to rush over to me and whisper, “Maybe you should wait until the song is over.” I’ve been told that this was picked up by the microphone. So, in front of a crowd of I’m guessing five hundred people in this beautiful church, I had to abort my reading, back away from the podium, return to where I’d been standing, and listen to the soloist finish. When I first stepped up to read, I was only vaguely aware of the music, but standing there afterwards, I could hear the music very clearly. I can assure you, fellas, that it was the longest song I’d ever heard. Then I introduced the verse again and did my reading. When I got back to my seat, my wife’s face was redder than I’d ever seen it, which I took to be a bad sign. On the way out I received a bunch of curious looks from people I didn't know. I’d provided the only flaw in an otherwise incredibly lovely wedding. Luckily the bride and groom are cool enough that they just laughed at me. But still.

Why am I telling you guys this? Because I wish I’d have been fortunate enough to receive the advice I’m giving you. If some wise old man would’ve told me, just before the ceremony, to remember to slow down whenever I felt like speeding up, then none of this would’ve happened. The pastor would’ve nodded at me and when I felt the urge to rush to the podium, I would’ve paused. I wouldn't have been so dang overeager. I would’ve waited an extra beat or two, looked at my surroundings, and said to myself, There’s a dude singing on the balcony. There’s music playing. Now is not the time. Slow down. Instead, I felt the pressure and sped up, the worst thing you can do. And I believe you guys did the same thing. You thought, Crap, they’re coming back. It’s the fourth quarter. I have to do something quick or we’re gonna lose the lead. And that’s exactly when you should’ve slowed down, right? Let the game come to you, as MJ used to say.

Okay, I hear what you might be saying: There’s a huge difference between telling yourself to act a certain way and actually acting that way. Believe me, I know. Otherwise I'd have told myself to dunk a basketball by now. But it still helps to know what to focus on. Harvey Dorfman, the late baseball psychologist that all the Major Leaguers swore by, emphasized the importance of telling yourself to focus on certain things during pressure situations ("The great players control their thinking; the poor ones are controlled by theirs"). He told pitchers to step off the mound and talk to themselves, hitters to step out of the box and do the same. So next time I find myself under pressure—crossing the street, trying to remove a stroller from a crowded restaurant, speaking in public—I’m gonna tell myself to slow down. You guys should do the same, for the rest of this series and beyond. And maybe we had to make the mistake of speeding up before we can finally learn to slow down. MJ said to let the game come to you, but he didn’t really learn how to do that until forcing it against the Pistons, right? Maybe the experiences we had this weekend were good for us, and we’ll learn from these mistakes. Then again, as my grandfather once told me, “Son, you can’t learn everything by mistakes. Some things you just have to know.”



P.S. Last week, after watching you guys run the Lakers out of the gym, I wrote an entire letter comparing you three to the Beatles, but I ended up scrapping it because it was obviously written under jetlag-induced delirium. It was the NBA open letter equivalent of the Yellow Submarine cartoon. Also, there was no Ringo. James was George, obviously (i.e. potential to be an all-time great third option, etc.). I won’t say whether Russell was John or Paul, because it was a stretch. But I will say this: This Spurs series will go a long way in determining if this season’s Thunder team is in their Beatles for Sale or Rubber Soul period. I've narrowed it down to those two.