Transmuting This Suffering

Wednesday, I was pulling up Heat-Bucks Game 5 on DVR, when I accidentally caught a momentary glimpse of a haggard and dejected Coach Budenholzer* answering a question about a timeout. Ominous … but I pressed on watching, (a) hoping my intuition was incorrect and (b) wanting to see for myself the suspense and carnage. I’m glad I had some inkling that this game would be unpleasant, because it ended up being the most harrowing sports collapse I ever suffered through.

Two days later, I’m relieved the Bucks rollercoaster is over for a few months. Their championship was one of the greatest sports joys I’ve experienced and even their 58 wins this season were quite enjoyable. But the playoff flameouts and repeated losses to good teams have been depressing or infuriating.

While suffering is a fundamental part of life, Buddhism teaches that it is caused by attachment or desire, and renouncing this attachment releases the suffering, to the extent possible. If these Bucks, to which we pin our hopes to, are no longer in the picture, we can move on with our summers and free up some needed time and energy.

Buddhism also teaches to meditate on whatever provokes resentment. So with nods to some great fountains of wisdom like the Tao te Ching, Art of War, and I Ching, what can the Bucks’ disaster and specifically, Coach Bud’s failures, teach us in leading others and our own lives?

A. Yin personalities need to be complemented with yang personalities

The Bucks players and coaches are a bunch of really high-character, subdued "yin" (passive) personalities - while the upside is working well in a group, the downside can be timidity and lack of spark. When the Bucks were getting punched in the mouth repeatedly, all I saw were blank, checked out looks - deer in the headlights. It would have been nice for someone to exhibit some "yang" (active) fire stoking some fight or emotion, give a hard foul, even instigate or do something else ill-advised. When’s the last time a Buck got a technical foul? Bobby Portis could have been that instigator, but not if he’s defanged playing 14 minutes with zero points. Same with Jae Crowder although he looked washed when he did play. This is where PJ Tucker was sorely missed, not for any statistical output, but an agitator not to be messed with.

Different personalities complement one another but need to be empowered to do so.

B. No soldier is useless

The Bucks were touted for their depth and yet only 8 guys sniffed the court. Glued to the bench was Jevon Carter who played 81 games (starting 39) averaging 22.3 minutes, playing pressure defense (and shooting .421 from deep.) Meanwhile the Heat got 32 points from their point guard position and the team as a whole faced very little resistance defensively. Yes, Carter struggled in the series, but why not throw him out there for all out full court pressure to break momentum?

Similar to point A, keep an open mind of how to implement every talent at one’s disposal - unlike Jevon’s energy stuffed in mothballs when it could have helped give a jolt.

C. There is no shame in temporary strategic retreat

In Game 4, Coach Bud failed to call a timeout to stop the bleeding as the Heat rode a wave of momentum to seize the game and a 3-1 series lead. The Bucks then squandered last possession of regulation of Game 5, and with it a chance for a shot to win the game, by not calling a timeout to advance the ball. 5 minutes later, the Bucks advanced the ball against a set defense and proceeded to play hot potato until the clock expired without a shot. Bud frequently speaks of "trusting the guys" but you also need to trust yourself in your role to inspire and organize, putting the guys in best positions to thrive. Just a chance to ground and breathe some perspective would have helped.

The best thing you can for those you trust and love is to empower them, instead of seeing them drown and assume they’ll save themselves.

D. One can succeed or fail, but the worst is not even trying

Back to the topic of squandered possessions - if you don’t even attempt a shot, you don’t even have a chance at succeeding. It won’t be easy any time soon for Grayson to forget not pulling up for that 12 footer.

When you know what you need to accomplish your goals, give it your best when you have a chance - don’t make excuses or hesitate.

E. There is no shame in changing a strategy that fails to yield

Bud’s initial strategy was sound - put presumed All-Defensive First Teamer Jrue on Heat’s stud Butler to shut him down one on one, thereby keeping their "others" at bay. For some reason, it did not work. Not at first and certainly not by the end when Butler dropped *48* ppg in the last two games. There did not seem to be any blitzing or double team even though the Heat were playing fringe NBA-ers like Highsmith and Zeller. You have to recognize when a strategy isn’t working and not repeat it. Failing to do so is the definition of insanity… and failure.

It’s like eating a bunch of dairy even though you’re showing all the symptoms of lactose intolerance. If you cruise the bars for years trying to meet the right one, you might be barking up the wrong tree.

F. When in a rut, do something different.

This is similar to the above. Practicing and selectively using "gimmicks" like zone defense, full court press (Jevon, you awake?) faceguarding, or box-and-one, add necessary variety to tedious switching man-to-man defense, if perhaps it can provide even temporary success breaking the rhythm of the other team

It is like going for a jog when you’re feeling depressed watching TV all day. It can shake the monotony and provide a spark.

G. At the same time, keep to your strengths

The Bucks are bigger than the Heat at every position and included a post maestro with a soft touch in Brook who also shot over 40% from 3 for the series. He shot 7-11 in Game 5 after shooting 13-23 in Game 4 for 36 points. Jrue and Khris shot 14-35 in Game 5. Defensively he should have guarded the rim or in-bounder on the Butler lob play.

Identify your strengths and exploit them … or wonder what might have been.

Sports can be a valuable fountain for analogy and wisdom. But let’s not languish in disappointment. The core guys already climbed the summit of professional achievement and have a ring to show for their efforts. They, and everyone on the roster, make millions and probably live fulfilling lives. They’re disappointed but ok. And if we end up watching less TV and read less blogs now that the Bucks are out, we have more hours in the day to make our lives more fulfilling as well.

*It has later come to light that Coach Bud lost his brother before Game 4, making this series loss pale in comparison, and perhaps putting his performance in a more human context.

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