Am I motivated by personal accolades or team accomplishments?
Am I willing to sacrifice personal glory for the greater good?
When the two are in conflict, which will I choose?
These are questions that every athlete and any team player must answer at critical moments of competition.
These questions faced Andre Iguodala last year when his rookie coach asked him to accept a lesser role on the team and come off the bench instead of starting.
His acceptance of the move ultimately contributed to the Warriors dominance of the past two seasons, highlighted by winning the NBA Championship in 2015 and continuing with them breaking the record for the best regular season in NBA history at 73-9.
Iguodala also made history becoming the first player to ever win a NBA Finals MVP after not starting a game in the regular season.
From Olympic Gold to Riding the Pine
To fully appreciate Iguodala’s sacrifice, we need to understand the full context. Previous to last year, as a player he had already distinguished himself as an All-Star, gold medalist, and an elite All-NBA Defender.
He joined the Golden State Warriors as an experienced winner and a proven leader.
So when Coach Steve Kerr asked him to come off the bench for the first time in his career and play limited minutes, you can picture his shock.
Can you imagine being demoted by a new coach in the prime of your career?
As a proud athlete and champion, Iggy readily admits that was a very hard moment. The request to come off the bench is met by many players with anger, frustration and demands to be traded or leave the team.
But Iggy accepted it, and flourished. How? What perspective allows for such humility?
For the entire regular season, 82 games, he dutifully played his role and the Warriors enjoyed the most wins in the team’s history.
For the first 18 games of the playoffs it was more of the same until Coach Kerr inserted Iggy into the starting lineup in Game 3 of the Finals to guard against one of the most dominant players in the game, LeBron James.
Because he didn’t pout or complain, Iggy was ready.
He had kept himself prepared for the opportunity to guard one of the best player’s in the history of the NBA and rose to the occasion. His play in the finals is what tipped the balance in the favor of Golden State and contributed to their championship.
So after coming off the bench for 100 straight games, he started the last three of them in the Finals and won the Finals MVP. Unbelievable!
You First or Me First?
Iggy’s response to his smaller role reflects this saying found in the Bible.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
As athletes, it’s easy to have a “me first” mentality. The very confidence in an athlete’s own performance can become self-centered arrogance.
The desire for people to see the hard work put in can result in an ambition that builds up the individual and tears others down.
Our world reinforces this type of pride and selfishness. The stars distinguished by their individual performances get the press and the adoration of fans. The role players easily get overlooked.
Everyone remembers Jordan, but who remembers his back-up? Far fewer celebrate the role players without whom Jordan would not have won those six titles.
The wisdom of this Biblical passage to “do nothing out of selfish ambition … but value others above yourselves” is two-fold.
First, it challenges us to avoid making moves thinking about ourselves and not others. In other words, to stop doing “me first”. We’ve all seen that before, the person more interested in scoring than winning the game.
We’ve seen the teammate who would rather sulk for getting benched than cheer from the bench for others or the one who divides the team to get people on their ‘side’.
The second step of the game plan is to “value others above yourselves”. Instead of saying to ourselves “Me first!”, we can say to those around us: “You first!”
The whole mentality of the Warriors team was impacted by Iggy’s selflessness and team first mentality. His teammates saw his sacrifice and willingly followed suit.
As a result, the team is known for a unique style of play in which everyone contributes and wins.
How would your team, your family or your community be different if everyone said to each other “you first” instead of “me first”?
Practicing What He Preaches (or WWJD)
It’s no coincidence that God himself has a “you first” mentality. The rest of the passage above reads:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Think about that. Jesus said “You first!” when he willingly sacrificed his life for you and me. His resurrection granted him much more than an NBA Finals MVP, but the redemption of those who believe in him and the name “that is above every name.”
Humility is better than pride, and team accomplishments are greater than individual ambition. The great ones know it and live accordingly.
What is one way you can make a “you first” choice instead of defaulting to the much easier “me first”?
Andre Iguodala’s sacrifice helped launch the Warriors to basketball immortality as champions. He went back to the bench the following season, and the Warriors went back to the Finals as well.
From the bench to the throne. That’s often the only way to get there.