Lessons from The Park

What did I learn at The Park? 

(From the book Rebound: From Pain to Passion – Leadership Lesson Learned)

I learned about meritocracy. Meritocracy is defined as a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement. Skin color didn’t matter. Income didn’t matter. Your ability to help a team win … that’s all that mattered!

I learned about playing a role. As a young player, I wasn’t the best player on the court, so I had to do the little things to help us win. If I didn’t know how to fit in on a team with older guys, I would never get to play with them again.

I learned to listen and be coachable. I was blessed to be around veteran players who took the time to give me instruc- tion. Whether they barked at me on the court or quietly gave me instruction between games, I soaked it all up. If I didn’t listen, the older guys wouldn’t want me on their team.

I learned to compete. If you lost at The Park, you sat! And if I didn’t play hard, I would get abused by the older players. “Point game” was when one team needed just one basket to win. You could feel the intensity rise on the court. Each player cut harder, screened harder, and defended harder. There were no easy baskets when it was “point game” because nobody wanted to lose. Nobody wanted to sit.

I learned toughness. At The Park, you had to fight. Fight for position, fight for the ball, fight for the win, or just plain fight. It was all about respect! As a boy, I often took a physi- cal beating at The Park playing against older players, some of them men. However, I wouldn’t show them I was hurt because I wanted their respect. If you weren’t tough, you didn’t belong on Court 1.

I learned that you are only as good as your last game. There were nights when our team would win five games in a row and it might be 9:30 p.m. The Park closed at 10 p.m. The guys might say, “Last game.” If you lost that last game, you felt bad. That left a terrible taste in my mouth. No matter how many games you win, you are only as good as the last one. You have to fight human nature. It is easy to relax in that situation, but I learned to dig in and compete so I could leave The Park as a winner!

I learned to dream. Often, I would be at The Park on a Saturday morning by myself after watching the Knicks play on TV the night before. I would imagine playing in Madison Square Garden as a Knick. As I dribbled the ball, I would say to myself, “Frazier brings up the ball and passes to Monroe. Monroe to Bradley. Bradley probes the defense and passes to DeBusschere. DeBusschere throws into Reed. Reed kicks it out to Bradley. 3 … 2 … Bradley shoots … aaahhhhhh! It’s good at the buzzer!” If I missed the shot, it would be the end of the half. If I made the jumper, it was the end of the game and there was a big celebration!

Sports teach us many valuable lessons.

Learn & Grow!

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