Lessons on Success from Sports and the Epiphany that Changed the Boston Celtics Season

“We rise by lifting others.” Robert G. Ingersoll 

In my high school days, I recall a fellow student saying something peculiar, but of enormous interest. It must have been important, since I am writing about it decades later. The memory came to mind in the aftermath of the most remarkable season for Celtics fans since their glorious 2008 championship year.

“I need an epiphany.” My former classmate said.

This statement came in the context of a classroom discussion where the concept of an epiphany was mentioned.

“He needs an epiphany? Well, that is one way to look at it.” I thought. 🤔

We sit, we Wait, we Wish

Ever since, I have noticed that at times I have longed for an epiphany myself. Perhaps a seed was planted from that strange comment. To this day, these sort of thoughts occasionally enter my mind in the midst of confusion over how to best direct my energy toward my desired outcomes.

Perhaps you have experienced something similar? 

The Epiphany Seekers

Many people wish for a serendipitous and significant event that will change the course of their future.

“Please let me find what I have been longing for!” We may think.

Once it is found, true happiness will follow, somehow.

We sit, we Wait, we Wish

Maybe there is something about American culture that encourages people to search for their ‘Eureka moment.’ We hope that ‘when our ship comes in,’ or with the help of a magical epiphany, we will strike gold.

American Obsessions

People talk about Americans a lot. They talk about the most unique stereotypes that characterize American culture. Somehow, apple pie seems to have won this debate as the most common cliché. Is anyone else sick of hearing this one? Lottery tickets, casinos, guns, cowboys, Bibles, and the military, are a few other honorable mentions. 

But what about sports? There is no doubt that Americans value sports to a massive degree. As Americans, we collectively spend $55.9 billion dollars each year attending sporting events. If we include the purchase of athletic equipment, sports-themed video games, and fantasy sports leagues, the number rises to nearly $100 billion.

There is a reason for this level of interest. Much research has been done on the benefits of sports. Yes, the risk of injury exists for the athletes. The risk of wasting time and experiencing disappointment is significant for fans of teams. When I stay up and watch the Celtics lose a late night, west coast road game, this not only carries potential disappointment, it also costs me sleep.

When you think about it, this is a rather large cost. But yet, millions of fans like myself continue to pay attention.

Why Sports Matter

Anyone who has played organized sports recognizes the physical benefits that athletes experience. Some of these are simple and obvious. For example, children who play sports are less likely to become obese, more likely to experience improved cardiovascular health, and develop better physical coordination.

Competing in sports during childhood also helps with mental health and preparedness for the inevitable future disappointments that will come later in life. Children also gain valuable friendships, emotional support, a sense of community, and learn how to form realistic expectations.

Competing in sports during childhood.

Whether a participant or fan, the threat of disappointment, regret, and pain that comes from losing in the world of sports is very real. All of this effects us emotionally but through sports we learn how to lose, we learn what it takes to win, and we learn about commitment.

Perhaps most importantly, team sports teaches fans and athletes how to sacrifice in such a way that a group of competitors can strike just the right balance to achieve something greater than any individual ever could.

Sports remind us of the value that comes from learning how to serve others.

The Celtics’ Journey

The Boston Celtics ended their 2021-22 NBA season in painful defeat. However, from the beginning of the season all the way to the end, they managed to put fans like myself through an emotional roller coaster. It was a fun ride and well worth every second of energy.

If you have followed the Celtics this season, you might be aware that they started with only 18 wins in their first 39 games. At the approximate midpoint of the season it appeared that the team was destined for a disappointing finish. If things continued this way, the likelihood of missing the playoffs was high.

At this time, I checked out. I believed the team had too much talent to be playing so poorly. Disappointed in the team’s performance, I stopped staying up past 8PM to watch the games.

“If they don’t care, why should I care?” I reasoned. “I will just watch the highlights of them losing to teams they should beat in the morning.”

The Energy Shift

In the depths of the darkest days of the season, Jaylen Brown, one of the team’s best players, released a cryptic statement on Twitter. His words indicated what appeared to be an epiphany, or a statement that had the potential to be one.

“The energy is about to shift.” Jaylen declared.

Jaylen Brown's cryptic Tweet.

People took notice. In the comments, some expressed confusion.

“How?” One person quipped.

My classmate from high school, might say that in the depths of a disappointing season, the Boston Celtics were in need of an epiphany. But epiphanies do not just magically strike us when we tell ourselves we “need” one.

Achievement Unlocked

It was an epiphany, and it came at just the right time. From that point, the Celtics went on to win 33 of their remaining 43 games, ultimately finishing with the second best record in the Eastern Conference. Through a hard-fought playoffs, a new level of achievement was unlocked. Game 1 of the NBA Finals was the first time any member of the Celtics roster had earned the right to play in a Finals game.

Celtics fans like myself were ecstatic and inspired by the ability of this team to unite and achieve such an incredible milestone.

What Does it Mean?

American sports commentators and fans are known to be overly dramatic. Some might argue that the meaning I am attaching to the story of the 2021-22 Boston Celtics is unnecessary or out of touch in some way. Here I am spending my mental energy thinking about the success of a group of men who I do not even know personally.

At the very least, I am without a doubt, heavily biased against other teams. ☘️

As humans, our minds are conditioned to observe the events that occur around us with intrigue. Each person attaches meaning from many sources in diverse ways. One could argue that prioritizing my own life would be more pragmatic than raising my adrenaline and blood pressure by watching all these Celtics games. It is easy to argue that spending the nights before I have to work the next day getting heated, yelling at referees who can’t hear me, and accusing opposing players of ‘flopping‘ is poor time management.

There is a reason that millions of fans like me watch. Our time is not necessarily wasted. People love an impactful story with an unpredictable outcome. Sports provides this without any script. The story of the 2021-22 Boston Celtics involves observable growth as a collective unit.

Sometimes important reminders can come from unexpected places. The Celtics season was a reminder that groups of people can combine their individual talent and commit to achieve something greater than the sum of the group’s parts.

This has important implications beyond sports since all human beings belong to certain groups.

Epiphanies Don’t Magically Appear

Decades have passed since my high school classmate sought his epiphany. Wisdom has taught me that an epiphany strikes when it wants. If I could respond to my classmate’s comment with what I know now, I would say that epiphanies cannot be self-engineered. Instead, they are a serendipitous result of dedication and a steadfast focus on achieving a goal.

Epiphanies make for a great story, but your day-to-day life is not a story. The story comes later, when all of the pieces can be placed together and put in context. Plus, everyone else will have their own perception of your story, and it will likely differ from your own. Chasing approval from others to satisfy your own ego is a foolish goal.

In the day-to-day trenches of life, it is best to give maximum effort and leave it all out there on the court. Epiphanies will come when they come.

Who is your Success For?

Even if you have the right mix of ingredients for potential success as an individual, you still need to go earn it. Sports are a reminder that sometimes you need to take what is yours. However, you cannot do it alone.

Jaylen Brown. The  Energy Shift.

Many authors in the self-help literature overlook how success can almost always, only be reached when value is added to others. Much of personal development focuses on individual striving for achievement. A fair amount of the advice is even somewhat toxic because it is designed to induce shame in followers for their lack of achievement. This keeps the follower coming back because they feel so deficient that constant help is needed.

To compete is to test your own ability. But in life, as in team sports, it requires that we make others better. Serving others is not optional. Instead, it is necessary. It makes people come alive. No matter what we want to do, we need help from others to get there. There is no shame in doing what works for you.

If we skip the part where we add value to others, the path to success is more difficult and less rewarding. Life is far more difficult if you only live it for yourself.

Take the Lesson and Run

If groups like professional sports teams can put aside their differences and become better as a group than they are individually, then this has important ramifications for how we think about all human relationships. We are all members of groups; whether it’s a family, a team at work, or as a citizen.

As members of any group, we must remember that we can combine to be stronger together. It may not always feel like it but the actions that you take every day as an individual do contribute to the collective. Take something as intimate as the quality of life for your family to something as esoteric as the fellow citizens with whom you share a country.

Since all human beings are part of something bigger than ourselves, we all contribute to collective dynamics in some way. Team sports is as good of a reminder as any, that we are all interconnected.

Maybe success is best characterized as a gift to others.

Who will you serve?

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