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Passion Fuels Greatness

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One of the most obvious qualities of players who achieve great and long lasting success is their unbridled passion for the game. Magic Johnson had it. Larry Bird had it. Michael Jordan had it and Kevin Durant definitely seems to have it.

Those guys didn't play for the money or for the fame and even though they had a burning desire to win championships, they didn't really play for those either. They played simply because they love the game.

If they weren't playing in some of the greatest arenas in the country they would have played in a park or open gym somewhere. Jordan even had it written into his Bulls contract that he could play pickup games any time and any where he wanted, even in the middle of the ongoing season.

You don't have to be a professional athlete to demonstrate that same level of love and passion for the game.

In fact, I'm convinced that the most passionate basketball players aren't in the NBA. In a 2001 Sporting News article called "Passion Play: Athletes Describe Their Love for Playing Sports," Marshall University's Shawn Finney had this to say:

"When I was a junior in high school, I was out mowing the grass and the lawnmower blade broke off and hit my leg. I went running towards the house and my dad comes out and my mom's in a little bit of a panic. They scoop me up and rush me to the hospital and all I'm saying is "I'm not going to get to play basketball. I'm not going to get to play basketball." My mom says, "You'll get to play basketball. You'll get to play basketball." And I tell her, "Yeah, but not tonight."

Why is passion so important? Because without it, you won't be able to keep the main thing the main thing. Instead of asking "Who's got next?" you're going to ask, "What do I get if I play?" If you are playing solely because you want a trophy, or new gear, or recognition then you probably don't have the passion it takes to be great.

How do you measure passion? Author John Maxwell, in his book Put Your Dream to the Test, has a Passion Scale to help readers gauge their level of passion in any particular area.

10. My passion is so hot that it sets other people on fire
9. I can't imagine my life without my dream.
8. I willingly sacrifice other important things for it.
7. I am fired up by it and preoccupied by it.
6. I enjoy it as one of my many interests.
5. I can take it or leave it.
4. I prefer not to think about it.
3. I go out of my way to avoid it.
2. I've put it on a list of least favorite things.
1. I would rather have a root canal without anesthesia.

As a coach, it's fairly easy to measure the passion that my team members may or may not have. I know that come Saturday night everyone wants to play well, to be somewhat of a star.

The gym is packed with family and friends. The local newspaper and radio reporters are there, the band is playing, and the atmosphere is electric. It's easy to be passionate about the game in those circumstances.

But the truly passionate players are the "stars" on Monday when the gym is empty and quiet, and lonely and they are still playing or working out. No band, no reporters, no fans - no problem!

Those are the guys that are truly passionate about the game. The interesting thing though is that after nearly 30 years of coaching I have noticed that the "stars" on Monday usually end up being the "stars" on Saturday!

Of course, there are those who play (and coach) without unbridled passion but I will never understand why.

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