December 1991. 815am. I sit at my office desk, working on practice plans for the Christmas break. Classes are not in session, as students are writing mid year exams.
I answer the phone, note the familiar voice on the other end the line. “Coach, it’s me. I slept in. I might be late for my Chem test.”
This is not the way I want to start the morning. At team meetings throughout the fall, I have stressed repeatedly the importance of little details, those that will support our pursuit of a BC AAA basketball title.
I now have a dilemma. At our school, exams, and by extension exam results, are sacrosanct. Latecomers are not admitted to the exam hall. Students must be at their assigned desks by 830am latest. In #1 uniform. A high-profile athlete denied entry will, without doubt, be a talking point. Not in a good way.
I weigh up possible options. I might be able to borrow a car, race to his house, pick him up and have him back in time.
Yet, I quickly reject this plan. I know I cannot afford to give a star player preferential treatment. We have clearly outlined team expectations. Punctuality is one of them. And so I make my decision.
“Sorry, this mess is on you. RUN!!”
And I hang up.
The clock ticks towards 9am. More in hope than expectation, I venture down to the hall and peer inside. Invigilators patrol up and down, between the rows of desks. A low hum, from the overhead fan, and the turning of pages in exam booklets are the only other sounds that invade an eerie silence.
I look around and there he is. Head down. A tad disheveled. Immersed in chemical equations, reactions and compounds, scribbling furiously.
At lunchtime he stops by. He is apologetic. “My fault” he tells me. “You were right not to bail me out”. He accepts that, of all the players in the team, he especially must display the correct standards and habits, must be accountable in every way. Make no excuses.
And then we share a laugh. He mocks himself, outlining his frantic gallop through the suburbs of Victoria to reach school in time. Running in black Oxfords, grey flannels, white shirt and tie, school blazer. Backpack firmly in place. Covering the two miles in just under 12 minutes!!
He leaves the office. I sit back in my chair and consider the events of the day. Lucky the coach whose star player accepts responsibility for his actions and makes immediate amends.
Three months later, we do win the BC AAA championship. A certain point guard plays brilliantly and is named the tournament MVP.
Fast forward. It is now early September 2020. My phone blows up, texts pouring in with news about the NBA's Brooklyn Nets. Ownership believes that, on the heels of a dazzling 18-year Hall of Fame career, the newly appointed head coach has the pedigree, the necessary mana, to energize an underachieving franchise.
In one way at least, the tables have turned. Now he is the boss, responsible for setting policy and formulating guiding principles. Now it is he who will want and need strong leaders who model the behaviours that drive success.
I doubt he will have to insist players run through Queens or Manhattan, in suit and tie, in order to get to practice on time. Yet, I guarantee he will get key messages across in other ways.
Exciting times await. Go well Steve Nash.