The word team defines an environment that demands that multiple people work together to achieve a common goal. In the context of sports, the harmony and simplicity when a group of skilled people come together and play as one is pure poetry in motion. Contrast that with teams that perhaps have more talent, but prefer to rely on the superior talents of their roster, and the dissonance is often palpable. Team success comes from a delicate balance between the selfishness needed to achieve individual greatness and the selflessness needed to put the team’s need ahead of ones’ own. Too often though, we have fallen into the trap of choosing me before we.
Growing up, my favorite player was always Steve Nash. I loved the way that he could influence the game of basketball by involving his team; after all, basketball is a team sport. My favorite teams to watch nowadays are the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors. These teams are composed of individuals who have an incredible amount of talent coupled with the selflessness required of a team sport. They embody the idea of we before me.
From high school to college to the professional level, there is an immense amount of talent in the basketball world. Most people get to where they are in the sport through relentless work and dedication. Selfishness comes in the desire to transform ourselves to become the best basketball players that we can possibly become. It comes in the hours that we spend in the gym, in the weight room, and on the track preparing our bodies to do what the game demands. It comes in not letting anything get in the way of our personal development into the greatest individual basketball players that we can be. But once we step between the lines and the ball is thrown up for the tip, the game has no room for selfishness. There is one goal and one goal only: do what needs to be done to make the team better. In other words, being on a team means being selfish in our preparation, but selfless in our execution.
With talent comes responsibility. There is the responsibility to the institution/organization that I am playing for, to develop myself into the best basketball player that I can possibly be in order to represent that institution well. Then there is the responsibility to myself to play to the best of my ability every time I step on the court. But most of all, there is the responsibility to the sport to do it the right way. Basketball was designed to be played as a team. Five versus five. At the end of the game, one team will have lost and one team will have won. It is not an individual that wins or loses, it is a team. It is not about me, it is about we.
We before me is the idea that the team comes before the individual. Before any accolades or personal recognition comes the success of the team. It may seem easy for me, a person who averaged maybe 5 minutes a game in their college career, to put the team above myself; after all, what other choice would I have? In all reality, however, embracing we before me was actually the more difficult task. It would have been much easier to sit around and complain, to begrudge the lack of playing time, to say that coaches don’t know what they’re doing, or to simply quit. The much harder thing was to put others first and say that no matter what happens for me, if we are successful, then I am happy.
Too often, we measure success through the yardstick of what society has defined or that which can be easily measured – points, rebounds and assists for instance. I used to think that being the leading scorer on a team or having certain averages in certain statistical categories was what defined success. Other times, I defined success in terms of wins and losses. This led to a mindset of considering me before we. Everyone wants to be successful; of course, no one wants to fail. I took it upon myself to say that I need to score 20 points a game in order to be successful. Or I thought that if my team didn’t win a championship that year, then we were a failure. My selfishness stemmed from a desire to not fail.
If success is defined solely in terms of wins and losses, then across the world of sports, only the team that hoists up the trophy at the end of the year would be considered successful; everyone else would be considered a failure. That is simply not the case. Success is when I have grown as both an individual and a basketball player over the course of my journey. The greatest success that I have ever had is realizing what it means to be a part of achieving something that is greater than myself. The only true failure in sports is a lack of growth, which is not something that is achieved in a mindset that concerns me. My true success came when I learned that this journey is really about we. We need to be selfish in our preparation and selfless in our execution.
Life, just like basketball, is something that I am not venturing through alone. As a human, I am designed to be in relationships with other people. I was born into this world in a natural relationship with my family. I chose the relationships that I have with my friends. Outside the parameters of a basketball court, I have to live my life in the world. Life in that world involves other people. The journey through life, like the journey through basketball, involves putting we before me.
Everyone’s athletic career eventually comes to an end; that is just the way life is. I am about halfway through the final year of basketball that I will ever play. When this is all said, and done, I’m not going to be telling my kids about how many minutes I played, how many points I scored, or what my overall stat line was. I’m going to tell them about the people that I built lifelong relationships with. I’m going to tell them about the joys and pains that came from playing this sport. The legacy and the lesson that I want to pass on to them is that basketball can mirror life, and life can mirror basketball. The story of basketball, just like the story of life, is not one about me – it is about we.
By Annanya Raghavan
Annanya Raghavan is a student-athlete at Azusa Pacific University. A native of San Jose, Calif., she has been playing basketball for about 13 years. She has learned a lot through the game of basketball, but the greatest thing she has learned is what it means to go through this life selflessly.