It always takes me some time to wind down mentally from a season and see it for what it is. Flashbacks occur at odd times, like when I'm in line at Starbucks or answering emails; the action of a moment or scenario will seemingly project itself onto the big screen in my head. I'm usually the main or supporting actor, but at times I watch myself in the film as a viewer would. It could be a moment on the court, a conversation I had with a teammate or coach before practice, on the bus or in the airport; sometimes it's just a flicker of an instant, a snapshot of what I saw from an angle on or off the court--a close-up of an opponent's face or a fan I met at after a game. I can still recall and feel the emotions of a given time, a last-second shot win or loss for example, if I let the memory resonate long enough.
The questions that haunt me are how do all these memories fit together and what's the final picture when I stand back to look at it?
The autopilot short films playing are good indicators of truth since they seem to come from a deeper level of recall rather than from my own conscious state. Leery of my memory when the season concludes, I know the power of emotions and their ability to distort the truth of what actually occurred in proper context. These days my habit is to put off any critical analysis until at least a month has passed, in hopes of creating enough emotional distance to take a more objective look at the performance of myself and the team.
A quote I recently read in InSideOut Coach by Joe Ehrmann has given me a good starting point for reflection on this past season:
"Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable." - John Wooden
The meaning is self-explanatory. What really matters is if you believe it to be true.
At least now I do. That wasn't always the case. Like many young athletes I heard the mantra that "to give 100% effort is all that matters" repeated to me more times than I care to know. But honestly, that's not what was modeled to me by a host of adults, including parents, coaches, and athletic administrators, most of the time during my 20 years as an active participant in sports. I bought into the standard of winning as the end all measure of success at an early age and looking back on my career, from elementary school onward, I can pick out occasions when this concept was taught and reinforced.
Winning minimizes mistakes and losses the way love covers a multitude of sins. All that is emphasized from a championship season is the grand finale with everything else, warts and all remembered in the glow of a favorable light. Finish less than victorious and your errors, character flaws and physical blunders shall be magnified for all to see like an ad space in Times Square.
In InSideOut Coach, Ehrmann does an incredible job of weaving his personal narrative from athlete to coach and road of enlightenment, in his call for coaches to understand the incredible power they have in which to influence the lives of young people through the platform of sports. The crux of his book however focuses on helping coaches and parents get back on track by becoming transformational versus transactional coaches, with the ultimate goal of leading young people to reach for and fulfill their human potential--a process he labels InSideOut.
I've been inspired by Ehrmann's points on the coaching end of things, no doubt, and gained deeper understanding into the psyche that lies behind the harmful behavior I've witnessed, felt, and displayed in my tenure as an athlete. Grateful too am I that someone has been able to identify and communicate the intricacies, intangibles, and powerful role of sports, in addition to calling us all back to the greater good of leveraging the immense transformative faculty that sports possess. An unintended consequence I've walked away with though, is the continued desire to be what I think Erhmann would be proud of, an InSideOut Athlete. I've been on this path for some time now, actively seeking to implement all that I am learning in other facets of my life into my sports career and vice versa. His message, however, has convinced me that I must put more effort into discovering the meaning of what I do as an athlete and why I do it.
Trying to reconcile all that has transpired this summer, I recognize some moments as gifts of joy, while other parts still do not sit well at all--especially losing. The picture is still fuzzy but I do know something of what this season has been--a great, valuable life lesson that will only make me a better person, despite whatever setbacks, disappointments and losses I encountered along the way.
I haven't found the true meaning of my basketball existence yet or where this season fits into it, but I've got a feeling I'm on the right path.-NP
"Can we stop coddling women in sports? Are we now so fearful of being labeled sexist that we can't objectively assess the efforts of female athletes? Had a men's team turned in a similar performance, papers and pundits nationwide would have had a field day assailing the players, criticizing the coach, and demanding widespread changes to a men's national team that flat out choked. Yet the common reaction to this ladies' loss were simply expressions of empathy for the defeat of the unfortunate darlings and pride in their oh-so-heroic effort." -- Bryant Gumble
When I embarked on my career as a professional athlete (in 2004), I knew I was lucky. Aspiring to a particular career and achieving that goal is one thing, but there's something extra, be it astounding, amazing, incredible--pick a term here--when that dream of being an athlete becomes a reality.
As fans (and I consider myself one) we get excited about the guts and glory that athletes represent, indeed are, in their persona. It's not just the perfect, ideal bodies we enthuse about but the consideration we give to the athletic prowess demonstrated through these somewhat heavenly human forms. But it doesn't stop there, there is another faculty we hold in high regard, cherish in fact, of what athletes and sports showcase: that which is the highest, quintessential form of the human spirit.
You know the cliches: dedication, competitiveness, perseverance, mental toughness, sacrifice, teamwork. And what would sports be without the pureness of those intangibles we hold so dear, of fairness and etiquette, truth and honor, loyalty and sportsmanship, respect for the game? These are the things that separate sports from other human affairs in this world, and therefore, are in turn the things that burn our britches, so to speak, when they are trampled upon; when something diverts the spotlight away from the game, be it ego, cheating, or any other "bad behavior."
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we love stories of redemption, hope, and triumph because they brighten the spotlight on the game and the opportunities created through the challenge of sports; inspiring and teaching us life lessons all the time. Whether one is a fan, spectator, weekend warrior, or professional, the value of play, growth, and healing through the involvement of sports is a tremendous gift.
Last week I was sorely disappointed when I heard and read a great deal of remarks in the media, regarding the media coverage surrounding the U.S. Women's Soccer team and their second place finish at the World Cup. Bryant Gumbel's statements garnered much attention, but there were many who followed suit that if women's sports are to be taken seriously and viewed on the grounds as legitimately professional, then female athletes should be treated exactly as male athletes would be by the media; in this instance being severely criticized for blowing a lead and losing instead of being exalted for their "heroic effort" despite the loss.
I'm most certainly an advocate for women's equality and can appreciate the logic of this opinion, but I think the positive spin on this narrative is about something else entirely. I believe the media coverage reflected not gender bias, but actually transcended it because the media focus stayed true to the game. The U.S. Women exhibited all those things we love about sports from their individual characterizations as gritty, talented, never-give-up, passionate athletes to their team identity as a cohesive, unified, have-each other's back, no-matter-what group.
But they lost.
It's something we all know about, have had to endure and get over at some point in our lives--the sting of a loss, the humiliation, and disappointment. Sometimes we don't deserve it, sometimes it's just not our day, sometimes no matter how hard we try, how much we prepare, we still mess up, we make mistakes; and sometimes luck just plain falls to the other guy.
Does this mean, however, that a loss trumps all things, i.e., what this team has accomplished, who they are, and how hard they fought to compete? Are we a country whose competitive nature leaves no room anymore for effort? And can we no longer appreciate the beauty of competition, performed in all its glory because our team didn't win?
Now, I'm not naive to the fact that pessimism has embedded itself into our nation's psyche when it comes to professional sports. We've been hit by more than enough negative examples of behavior that violate the righteous code of sports conduct. My hope, however, is that we have not become so tainted that we are unable to recognize a brilliant example of what we love, indeed crave to see exhibited not just in sports, in this case the fundamental concepts of team and teamwork, but in all aspects of our culture.
Call me an optimist, if you will, but our first instincts were right. Let's stop second-guessing ourselves and direct our attention back to "the game" and continue to remember what it is we truly love about sports. One of the many invaluable lessons I've learned over the years is that whether you win or lose, it's about how you play the game.
Thank you U.S. Women's Soccer Team for being a wonderful example of that.-NP
When I think of home, the first thing that comes to mind is family. And friends. And neighbors. And all the people that I love and enjoy spending time with. I think of being surrounded by those people I know, and the objects and physical layout of things I know so well too--my bed, the couch I love to stretch out on, the shape of the kitchen--even the unique sounds I've registered in my mind as "this house." This familiarity engulfs me, as I can picture the streets and neighborhood from all angles in an instant.
But let's be honest: Home is more than a structure or location. If my family were not there, my house would be exactly that, a house - and not a home. If all my friends moved out of town, there would be an emptiness in my heart, think of all the times we spent time together and my hometown would somehow be less "home." A place full of memories is a place I might like to visit, but not a place where I want to reside.
With that said, everybody knows that the Liberty has made the move to Newark, NJ and will call the Prudential Center "home" for the next three seasons. I have been asked repeatedly, along with the rest of my teammates and members of the organization, how it feels to be playing there and not at MSG. Occasionally vocalized, but more often implied, is that albeit a nice place to play, it's not really "home," is it?
Feeling as strongly as I do about what I regard as the meaning of home, I felt the need to share my thoughts on the issue.
Continuing in the same vein of honesty, I have to say that, yes, changes have accompanied the move. First of all, it is a new route; autopilot does not kick in when we travel to and from the Prudential Center the way it did when we drove to and from MSG. The distance from our locker room to the court is much longer than it was at MSG, prompting us to leave about 45 seconds to a minute sooner for team warm-ups than we did in the past. And not being familiar with the area, most of us have yet to find our favorite pre-game and post-game spots. I, for one, have not been to one of the many fabulous Portuguese restaurants I keep hearing about in Newark's Ironbound area.
These and other changes, however, are nothing more than normal figurative aspects of moving from one neighborhood to another, and not as drastic as moving across town or state lines.
Because the Liberty is a family that includes the Team, Staff, MSG organization, and all of you Fans. The Team may have moved out of the house for a while, but it wasn't just us--the whole family moved, all our belongings included. Come preseason time in May, we were still unpacking boxes, trying to get comfortable with the layout of our new home. But two games in, I'm confident that we have settled in and are enjoying our new digs. The furniture is in place and family photos have been hung on the walls.
The exterior of the Prudential Center still takes some getting used to, but when I walk in I feel right at home. Weatherspoon Court is laid out with those unmistakable mesh strings, arranged in a circular fashion, hanging off those oh-so-familiar orange structures set opposite one another. I see Kym Hampton, & our mascot Maddie, and our team photographer Dave Saffran, along with all the other familiar faces from MSG. I hear the well-known sounds of whatever guest DJ is in house, spinning tracks during pre-game and the routine playing of the L-I-B-E-R-T-Y anthem. Most importantly, what I see and what I feel though, are all of you, the Fans.
Some of you I know, but on the whole, I recognize all of you. It's not just the jerseys or team gear that stand out. I feel your heartfelt commitment to our team. There is nothing like your energy, especially with so many of you carrying the Liberty Torch since 1997! My teammates and I know that our home fan base is with us from warm-up to tip-off, through all four quarters, from the beginning to the end of the season.
The Liberty family may have had a change of address, but there is no doubt that we have transformed the Prudential Center into a home. The Rock is now our Rock. The Liberty history and memories produced at MSG will most certainly remain, but for now, the only place I want to play is in on our home court.
After all, home is where the New York Liberty heart is!-NP
Nicole Powell (second from right) with some of the 2004 WNBA draft class.
Seven years ago, the adventurous career of being a professional basketball player kicked off for 38 rookies as they were chosen in the WNBA draft.
The year was 2004.
Some didnít make a roster that year, but the the majority did and even more impressive is the fact that 13 Ď04ers were on teams this past season, eight of which were starters. A great feat given the unique challenges this career path presents from navigating the injury minefield, to surviving all the changes counting coaches, trades, and organizations that either pick up and move or fold. Itís more than just survival of the fittest, itís equal parts luck.
But through it all, Ď04ers have stuck and now, in addition to our long list of accomplishments, including 17 All-Star appearances (thanks in large part to D.T.ís yearly contribution), itís official -- you can call us ďvets.Ē
What doesnít seem like so long ago in people years is really quite some time in pro years. Think of it in the ratio of dog years, 1:7.Okay, maybe Iím exaggerating, itís more like 1:5, or 1:4, but you get my point. In a career that is so physically demanding, including year-round play, and in a sport that accumulates talent exponentially, having eight years of service in the league is comparable to at least 15 years ďon the job.Ē
As I learn more about how to play this game from coaches and teammates each season, Iíve also learned lessons from my body. tís taught me to fear the cross-country flight, especially heading east, since it absolutely, under no condition, will recover from jet lag as fast as it did the year before; stretching after practice is a must and to skip the cold whirlpool is never a wise decision.
Yes, itís official, weíre not as young as we used to be, but it is with honor that we take our place alongside the rest of the leagueís veterans.
Best of luck 2011, wishing you many years of success!
Warming Up in Poland
A sport that started in the fall and endured a winter now sees light, instead of dark flooding through its gymnasium windows, and every game played is suddenly the biggest game of the year.
In both the U.S. and in Europe, itís basketball bliss for fans and coaches alike, who feel every beat in the final cadence of their teamís season, longing to know exactly how it will end.
In the U.S. high school state champions are crowned and the entire nationís attention is glued to the live soap opera that is March Madness. Even the NBA gets in on the act as teams make a push to shore up playoff positions.
But in Europe you wonít find much talk about the latest NCAA tourney upset. What youíll find is fan dialogue centered on the latest statistics and match-ups between the vying clubs in their nationís league.
For basketball enthusiasts in Poland, spring ball is all about the wrap-up of the Polska Liga Koszykowki Kobiet (PLKK). Already into the semifinals, four teams (including my own Wisla Can-Pack) have the honor of duking it out for a chance to play in a best-of-five series for the championship.
No matter where I find myself playing--basketball is basketball--and this time of year is exciting as ever.
Warming up before the game I forget the fact that Iím living in a former soviet bloc nation, nearly 6,000 miles from home; that I donít speak the language, and not being completely familiar with the rules of the road, must continually fight off a feeling of trepidation whenever I get behind the wheel. In that moment, all I know is that Iím at center stage in an arena full of fans, gearing up for the biggest game of the year, and that the butterflies in my stomach subside as I sing along to the classic, warm-up anthem, ďShow Me LoveĒ by Robin S.
I always look forward to springtime and the ďnew seasonĒ it brings with it, but what I love most is that it refreshes the basketball jones in all of us.