Saturday, June 4, 2016

Parsing Opportunity’s Knock

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The NBA’s Western Conference finals, an epic showdown between the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder, was stuffed with intrigue and oozing sex appeal. 

Golden State entered seeking a second consecutive championship and, after a record-setting 73-win regular season, an impressive closing argument for their case as the best team, like, ever.  Within the context of the Warriors’ team, Stephen Curry, the unanimous MVP, looked to add to his burgeoning resume and Klay Thompson, his criminally underrated backcourt mate, was seeking his own spot on a star-studded stage.   

In the other corner, the Thunder, having suffered season-sabotaging injuries to stars Russell Westbrook, Prince George’s County native Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka in recent years, was finally healthy - and it showed.  Westbrook, a breathtaking athlete, solidified his place among the game’s elite and Durant’s desperation for his first title was a tribute to competitive athletics.  Collectively, the Thunder, after being relegated to second-class Western Conference citizenry behind the regal San Antonio Spurs and champion Warriors, played like an insulted bunch starved for appropriate acclaim.

As of the due date for this piece, six games had been played to a 3-3 stalemate.  Every affair was a non-stop high-wire act.  Three-point shots rained from the heavens.  The pace was relentless.  Westbrook sliced to the basket with video game speed and abandon.  Warriors forward Draymond Green let his raw emotions roam – for good or ill.  The teams were two heavyweight fighters throwing haymakers in the middle of the ring.  Blood and sweat was everywhere.  There were epic collisions at the rim, kicks to the groin (literally) and bodies were all over the floor – all while the scoreboard registered with pinball machine glee.  It was just…exhilarating.

With that introduction, it would be ridiculous to suggest that the series’ most compelling storyline had nothing to do with the basketball played between the lines, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  Unless LeBron James, Michael Jordan or athletes of similar ilk lay eyes on this article, it’s unlikely any reader can relate to the unconscious shooting of Curry and Thompson, the silky-smooth, 6’11” Durant or dunking over seven-footers in traffic like Westbrook.  What is transferrable to the average-sized, modestly athletic mass of humanity is the journey that landed the two suits – Golden State head coach Steve Kerr and his Oklahoma City counterpart, Billy Donovan – on their respective sidelines.     

A career playbook for the ambitious would undoubtedly include the following entries: be dedicated and trustworthy; work hard; develop a diverse skill-set; exude a positive attitude; establish a strong reputation; create opportunities for advancement and seize them.  It would difficult to argue against any of these bedrocks of success; however, Kerr and Donovan’s pilgrimage to the NBA head coaching ranks adds an interesting caveat to the eager acceptance of opportunities.

See, Kerr and Donovan, neither of whom had previous NBA coaching experience, actually rejected other first-time NBA gigs before accepting their current jobs.  In May 2014, Kerr reneged on an alleged verbal commitment to coach the New York Knicks and reunite with Phil Jackson, his former head coach and current Knicks President, when Golden State offered up its head coaching position. 

Donovan took an even more methodical path to the NBA.  After winning back-to-back national championships as head coach at the University of Florida, Donovan accepted the head coaching position with the Orlando Magic in 2007.  He backed out days later and returned to Florida where he coached until accepting the Oklahoma City job last spring. 

The interesting point is neither Kerr nor Donovan blindly jumped on their first chance to ascend their profession’s summit – just to say they made it.  Instead, they critiqued all aspects of the opportunity – the timing, pay, organization, home city and roster talent – and rebuffed would-be suitors, confident that other doors would open and at peace if they didn’t. 

Their gamble paid off.  It is impossible to know what the Knicks job would have meant for Kerr’s career or the Magic job for Donovan’s, but suffice to say, both have found NBA success.  And isn’t success - more than pay, fancy titles and speed to goal achievement – the point?