Last week, on the other side of the world, a NBA basketball player shot 50 points in a playoff game. With both teams tied on 115 points and 11 seconds remaining, Damian Lillard, point guard for the Portland Trail Blazers, dribbled the ball over the half court line. His much taller defensive opponent immediately began to guard him 15 feet outside the three-point line. There was enough time to fake, drive around his player and go to the hoop for a layup or pass off along the way to a team mate to make a winning shot.
Whappened next was beyond belief. Beyond belief for the opposing team, beyond belief for the commentators and beyond belief for the fans in both teams. Damian glanced across the court at his team mates positioned strategically around the perimeter and they looked back at him with eyes that said, “I believe in you.” In his heart Damian knew that even if he missed the final shot of the game, his team mates regard for him was not at risk.
This is the ultimate psychology of winning in teams. When everyone believes in you, they give you permission to believe in yourself in ways that defy the wildest odds and win as a team. With 3 seconds left, Damien pivoted forward, then to the side, then stepped backwards and scored a near half court three-point shot on the buzzer. Portland won the series.
At the age of 23, against wild odds, I won a state basketball championship, as a member of a rep team. As I reflect now on how we performed in that championship game, I remembered we played at a much higher level that I would have expected. The fact that we won was beyond belief to the opposing side, who were individually much more talented than us. Yet talent is not always a good substitute for belief. At times, the other team seemed to be competing with each other. Their coach often yelled at them angrily when we scored or they did not. By contrast, our coach Frankie Welch, who I knew a little, believed in every one of us. In the hours before the semi-final and the final, Frank pulled me aside twice. As a new player to his rep team, Frank said two things. “John, I believe in you.” And then a little later he said, “I know you are going to make a big difference out there tonight.” And I did!
When others believe in you, they give you permission to believe in yourself in ways that defy the odds and win as a team.