Basketball Conference Finals OR How the actions of one person can fire up the other team and lead them to win

Last weekend I watched both games 7 of the NBA conference finals. I have no particular affinity for the NBA (I prefer the Madness in March associated with the NCAA) but I figured with 2 game 7s it might be interesting to watch. I was not wrong.

On Sunday night Cleveland was hosted by Boston in a rematch of a game 7 from 2010. One of only 2 game 7s that LeBron James had lost.

This game had all the makings of what you would want a game 7 to be. A young upstart rookie (Tatum) with something to prove. A veteran (James), also with something to prove.

What really stuck our for me, for this game, was what happened at the 6:45 mark in the fourth quarter. Tatum dunked on LeBron (posterized is the term ESPN used) to put the score at 71-69 Cleveland. What happened next though, I think, is why the Cavs won the game.

Tatum proceeded to bump his chest up against the back of LeBron’s shoulder, like a small child might run up to a big kid when he did something amazing to be like, “Look at me ... I’m a big kid too!”

LeBron just stood there and looked at Tatum with incredulity. The announcers seemed to enjoy the specticle more than they should have. But LeBron just stood there, the Boston crowd cheering wildly at what their young rookie had just done. To dunk over LeBron, arguably one of the greatest, in a game 7? This is the thing that legends are made of.

But while the crowd and the announcers saw James look like he was a mere mortal ... what I saw was the game turning around. The look on James’ face wasn’t one of ‘damn ... that kid just dunked on me. It was, “Damn ... now I’m going to get mine and I have a punk to show how this game is really played.”

From that point on the Cavs outscored the Celtics 16-10 ... not a huge margin, but a margin enough to win. What the score doesn’t show is the look of determination on LeBron’s face as he carried his team to the NBA Finals. Not because he scored all 16 points (he only scored 7) but because he checked his ego at the door and worked to make his team better than the other team. In short, he was the better team mate than Tatum in those last minutes and that’s why the Cavs are in the Finals and the Celtics aren’t.

Tatum’s reaction to dunking on LeBron is understandable. Hell, if I had done something like that when I was his age, I would have pumped my chest up too.

But it the patience and reservedness (that perhaps come with age) that make you a great player or team member. You don’t really want to rile up a great player because that’s the only reason they need to whoop your butt.

Perhaps Tatum will learn this lesson. Perhaps he won’t.

Because you see, acting like a a little kid isn’t just the right of a rookie.

James Harden pulled some immature shenanigans too in his team’s loss to the Warriors. At one point, with the Rockets up 59-53 with 6:13 in the 3rd, Harden when for a layup and was knocked down ... accidentally in my opinion.

When a player from the Warriors tried to help him up he just sat there and then flailed his arms until one of his teammates can to help him up. Big man there Harden.

By the end of the 3rd quarter the Rockets were down 76-69. By the end of the game they’ve lost 101-92.

You see, when it comes down to it a great teammate will do what’s best for the team, and not do what’s best for their ego. It doesn’t seem to matter, old or young, rookie or veteran, not having the ability to control your emotions at key points in a game (or in life) can be more costly than you realize.

Sometimes it’s game 7 of the NBA Conference finals, sometimes it’s just a pick up game with some friends at the park, but in either case, being a good teammate requires checking your ego at the door and working to be the best team mate you can be, not being the best player on the court.

To put it another way, being the smartest person in the room doesn’t make you the most influential person in the room, and when it comes down to moving ahead, being influential trumps being smart.