The NBA regular season is 82 games spanned over the course of late-October to mid-April. That’s 3,936 minutes of official minutes on the hardwood. Outside of that, there are countless hours spent in practice, watching film and preparing for those games.
Many people think that making the playoffs is the result of the hard work put in by 13 active players on each of the 16 teams’ rosters. However, much more goes into it than that. The front office, coaches, trainers and our families all play such a huge role in this point. The dedication and hard work of so many people went into our 60-22 season that is not shown during games. You don’t set a franchise record and have your first No. 1 seeding since 1993-94 without a sense of family both on and off the court.
Team dinners, card games and practical jokes — these times between games may seem like simple downtime, but it’s much more. It’s during this time that you build a bond that plays an essential role in on-court success. You find out what role each person plays. The vocal leaders, the veterans who lead by example, even the practical jokers — everyone has a role.
We first started connecting on this level midway through last season when Al Horford went down with a torn pectoral muscle. At the time, Al was putting up a career-high 18 PPG along with 8 RPG. You don’t replace those kind of numbers by just having one guy step up. We knew we needed to become closer. It really had to be all about the team. That year we pushed to become the 8th seed in the playoffs and eventually lost in a hard-fought seven-game series against the No. 1 seed Indiana Pacers.
It wasn’t like a simple switch was flipped on October 29th of last year that caused us to have such a successful season. The building blocks were put in place a while before that. The same could be said for my individual career. The foundation of me becoming an NBA veteran and All-Star started long before I was ever selected in the 2006 NBA Draft.
My mother, Bettye Millsap, showed me the true meaning of hard work as she cared for four boys and worked tirelessly to make ends meet as a single parent. There were times she didn’t know where our next meal was coming from but still managed to come to every game and push us to excel while holding down three jobs, being a member of her church and keeping family first. She is a shining example of the bigger idea of “team.” All four of us have gone on to play basketball at a high level with careers in college, overseas and the NBA. More importantly, we’ve all become upstanding members of society who continue to try to live by the morals instilled in us during our upbringing.
My uncle, DeAngelo Simmons, served as the male role model we needed in our lives. In addition to that, there were many more teachers, coaches and friends — both in Monroe, Louisiana and Denver, Colorado — who had a bigger impact on my life than they’ll ever know. DeAngelo was the one that told me “good character, good sportsmanship, integrity, hard work, competing at your potential – that’s what makes a man.” That is still my mantra and the example I try to be for those in my life. Because of them I’ve started my foundation to give back to another generation of youth, and to my community. Because of them I fully believe in the adage “there’s no ‘I’ in team.”
Every year, millions of fans tune into the NBA playoffs. Their favorite players seem like larger-than-life figures whose hard work has helped them reach the pinnacle of their sport. However, no one has gotten to that point on their own. Last May, when the 2013-14 regular season MVP, Kevin Durant, told a crowded room of media and his peers that his mother was “the real MVP,” it resonated with so many of us because it was true.
No matter how many accolades you rack up, how many commas are in that contract you signed, or how adored you are by fans, you had plenty of help along the way. The excitement of the playoffs is important for our team, but I also think it’s crucial to use this time to reflect and give thanks to those who’ve helped us.
I’m not a fan of the spotlight and honestly never have been. Head down, work hard, more ‘walk the walk’ than ‘talk the talk.’ However, if it means giving voice to those who deserve a bit of this spotlight called the playoffs, giving thanks and bettering my team, community and family then the time is now. I challenge my NBA brethren to use this time and spotlight to focus on the bigger picture. To remember that the team we belong to is much more – it’s about our families and being grounded to know the importance of them first and foremost, it’s about our communities and supporting them in ways that not only help but reshape and give opportunity to others to become the very best, it’s about taking a stand when our voice can help.
Yes, we all have the ultimate goal of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in June, and we owe it to our teams to do anything in our power to get there. But at the end of my life, I hope my legacy will be much bigger than just that trophy. As the pressure of the NBA playoffs heats up, it’s important to ask: Who’s your team? What’s your legacy? What are you doing it all for?