One of the iconic sports moments of the early 2000s — not just in Philadelphia sports, but nationwide — is the famous “Practice” press conference which Allen Iverson gave in 2002 when he played for the Philadelphia 76ers. Short version of the video here.
The issue at the time was Iverson’s repeated failure to arrive at practice on time, if at all. Head coach Larry Brown made an issue of it in a press conference and then Iverson was forced to address it.
These many years later it is still entertaining to watch. In Philadelphia and beyond, sports fans — and non-sports fans — often mimic Iverson’s pronunciation of “practice,” when making an off-hand reference to the spectacle of the press conference as a way of making a larger point of some kind.
The thing about it, even all these years later, is that Iverson didn’t understand what other great players — the cream of the crop such as Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant —clearly got. It really was about practice after all.
Iverson, who won the NBA MVP award in 2001, was a phenomenally talented player who was poised to set the NBA on fire, while writing his name in the annals of NBA history alongside players like Bird, Magic, Jordan and Kobe.
But it never happened. Those other greats, and countless players like them, trained extremely hard to get to a place where once the actual game began, they were ready to take over.
Iverson, sadly, kept relying on his ability to fight hard; play with all his heart; and improvise in the moment to win.
But in those days, when i watched the Sixers play, it was pretty obvious that the team struggled to find true cohesion and chemistry. Yes, the team had some success. But, Iverson’s passion and talent couldn’t bridge the gap between occasional success and greatness.
Iverson relied on his ability to be great in the moment. But he rarely practiced to be not only great in the moment, but able to make his whole team great in the moment.
This is where the writing of Dallas Willard enters the conversation. Seriously.
In Chapter 1 of Spirit of the Disciplines, Willard writes about the “Secret of the Easy Yoke.”
Willard describes young athletes who idolize a star player in a particular sport. He says that the young athletes all try to behave — when they are playing in a game — exactly as the star player does. But this will never work.
The reason is simple. Willard says:
The star performer himself didn’t achieve his excellence by trying to behave in a certain way only during the game. Instead, he chose an overall life of preparation of mind and body, pouring all his energies into that total preparation, to provide a foundation in the body’s automatic responses and strength for his conscious efforts during the game.
This applies to my life. i cannot expect to be able to resist temptation or make a wise choice if i am expecting to do so “on the spot,” as i rely on my passion to be a true follower of Jesus who pursues purity and freedom.
It simply cannot happen.
More from Willard:
It is part of the misguided and whimsical condition of humankind that we so devoutly believe in the power of effort-at-the-moment-of-action alone to accomplish what we want and completely ignore the need for character change in our lives as a whole. The general human failing is to want what is right and important, but at the same time not to commit to the kind of life that will produce the action we know to be right and the condition we want to enjoy.
In other words, it’s about practice.
If i am going to live a life free from porn, where i am pursuing the right things, i need to train so that in the moment of temptation i am prepared to resist well. i need to train the way Paul talked about in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
In the passage, Paul describes runners who compete in races and he says that they exercise self-control in all things. Paul said, about himself, that he ran in such a way as “not without aim” and he disciplinesd his body and made it his slave.
In other words, he trained. He practiced.
Many men who deal with porn and lust addiction imagine themselves, once they agree that they need to fight those things, being strong in the critical moments. They want to “win” those moments.
But so many of them, based on the conversations i have with them, don’t commit to living a life in the “non-critical” moments that builds the strength and quality that makes the difference when the key moments arrive.
We cannot come through in the clutch without training.
Yes, we’re in here talking ’bout practice.