While addressing students during Butler University's commencement on Saturday in Indianapolis, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens referenced his first season in the NBA as a lesson in overcoming adversity.
"I just participated and was part of a season that didn’t go very well," said Stevens. "And it was really interesting because my day-to-day approach didn’t change, because of what I learned at Butler. Don’t let your attitude be controlled by the circumstance. ... You are going to have great days, great days with great success, huge wins, and those could be your biggest challenges moving forward. Because how you handle that might be more of a character revelation more than anything else.
"But also, you're going to have some really tough days. And you’re going to have things that challenge you greater than you think you can overcome. I’ll tell you this: The times of biggest adversity, at least with the groups that I’ve been a part of, have also been the times that the trampoline is the bounciest. And it’s going to be what you look back on and reflect on, that you’re so proud of that you persevered through those lower moments."
Listening to Stevens' speech with a Celtics ear, we were left with two immediate thoughts:
• After the Celtics stunned the Miami Heat on Jeff Green's buzzer beater in early November, Stevens noted how his wife, Tracy, texted him after the game and said, "Congratulations, you beat the Heat. Now you have to beat human nature." You'll remember Stevens' unexpressive look after Green's winner. At what would be the highest of highs during Boston's 2013-14 campaign, Stevens tried to keep his team grounded and focused on building off the win rather than getting swept up in the moment. In the month that followed, Boston played some of its best basketball of the season (that win highlighted a season-best four-game win streak, albeit with a lengthy losing streak to follow).
• As daunting as the 2013-14 season was with the Celtics enduring 57 losses -- more defeats than Stevens tasted in his entire six-year stint as head coach at Butler -- you get the sense that it'll make any success the team enjoys moving forward all the more sweeter having endured this process. Stevens referenced the trampoline with the idea of soaring higher after touching the lowest of lows.
During his speech, Stevens, who received an honorary doctorate from the university, also discussed the notion of "grit" and the need to work to improve at your craft.
"When you get out of here today, I want you to take six minutes and look on YouTube and just type in the word, 'Grit,'" said Stevens. "And it talks about how persevering through any circumstance to achieve what you want to do, is not only possible, but very likely. And it’s done by Angela Duckworth, who is a University of Penn professor, and it’s an incredibly motivating thing to me and I hope it will be to you."
Added Stevens: "You gotta work. You gotta grind. There’s going to be tough times. I sit back and I was talking ... today about the theory of 10,000 hours, and you can’t truly be great at something until you work for 10,000 hours on that. I think you can do be pretty darn good at it before that, don’t get me wrong, but the one thing that you’ve got to do is figure out what’s important and just practice that deliberately every day. This is less of advice and just more of what I learned, and some of the things I didn’t do a great job of. I struggled at times to balance all of the things that were going on, instead of focusing on what was important to get the task accomplished. That’s a hard thing to do, but as you get older, you do get a little better at that."
Stevens made a couple other references that Celtics fans will take note of. Late in his speech he described the need to, "Get the right people on the bus, and then get them in the right seats." That's a familiar theme from Boston's 2013-14 season when both Stevens and Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge noted how the team was trying to find which players on the roster were on the team's bus towards the future. Stevens also referenced a desire to be around "energy givers" and so it's not hard to see why someone like D-League call-up Chris Johnson endeared himself so quickly to Stevens after earning his roster spot this season.