Toronto Raptors: How Adversity Wins a Championship

Behind the Team Who Achieved the Impossible

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Source: Official Toronto Raptors Twitter (twitter.com/@raptors)

Meet the Team

Kyle Lowry grew up in north Philadelphia. His father left the family when he was young, forcing his mother to raise two kids alone. In a piece for the The Players Tribune, Lowry wrote:

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Do you want to be a $3 million player, $2 million player for the rest of your career and become a minimum player or do you want to be a $10 million player or more? Talent says you are that type of player, but the attitude and the way you carry yourself says the other. You can be so much better.

His talk with Ujiri, and the birth of his first son, changed his attitude. He resigned with the Raptors and led them to this season’s victory.

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None of your friends have parents that are doctors or established businessmen. Nobody is in the NBA. Nobody is a famous rapper. I’ve got friends whose parents work three jobs. They don’t know where their next meal is going to come from. When you’ve got a bunch of people living in poverty like that, bad things happen.

Auburn High School, where he attended, was rough. One student wore a bulletproof vest after being shot in the leg; Someone was stabbed to death during school hours across the street.

“I got tired of hearing all the stories about ‘this guy should’ve made it, but he had 10 kids.’ Or, ‘this guy could’ve gone to the NBA, but he started selling drugs.’ I didn’t want there to be a ‘but…’ attached to my story. I didn’t want to be another statistic.” — Fred VanVleet

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Basketball helps me take my mind off things, picking me up every day when I’m feeling down

…I try to play as hard as I can each night. That’s what my father wanted me to do.

Famous for not being on social media, ambivalent towards luxury sports cars, and, in general, avoiding the limelight, Leonard lets his performance on the court speak for himself.

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“We were all hurting. I talked to my brothers and they told me staying in the U.S. was the right thing to do, that focusing on basketball would have made my father happy. But it was hard.”

In 2016, he was drafted to the NBA, forgoing his final two years of college eligibility. He was picked up by the Raptors with the 27th overall pick in Round 1.

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“If I didn’t wake up to go run, I wouldn’t be here right now. During those runs, while everyone else was sleeping, I knew I had to do something different from the rest to have a different future. People would make fun of me and tell me it was worthless. But in my mind, I always had a vision and a goal.”

Like his other teammates, he understood the value of perspective:

“It’s all about never forgetting where you come from. Every day I give thanks to God for the life he has given me, and I reflect on everything I have gone through —that is the key to living a balanced life. Enjoy what you have, but be aware that the most important things in life can’t be bought.”

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Underdogs are Elite Performers

This isn’t to say that the Raptors are the only basketball stars to experience adversity. After all, LeBron James was raised by a single mom in Akron, Ohio who, unable to take care of James and was on welfare, allowed him to move in with another family who was able to provide him with a stable upbringing and introduce him to basketball when he was nine years old.

They have perspective

In the words of VanVleet, “I’m not supposed to be here. Being that I am, I have nothing to lose.

They focus on one step at a time

When it’s too daunting to think about the overall goal take it day by day, minute by minute. “The moment is the moment, and we’re still staying in it,” said Leonard in a post-game interview, “We’re not too up, we’re not too down. We’re just ‘One game, hey, we lost it. Now we’ve got to move on to the next one.’

They remain patient and humble

You can’t control the refs or who you’ll play against but you can control on your health, your skills, and your attitude. “Just stay in the same routine and just focus on what’s in front of me,” said Leonard, “Obviously, human beings, we do think in the future. Been thinking in the future since the beginning of the season, just trying to get to this point. You just got to stay current and stay in your routine, be patient and not rush anything.”

Productivity, craftsmanship, and the pursuit of excellence at work. Writing now at jennifertchan.substack.com.

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