MEMPHIS – Winning and losing are precarious partners. Each needs the other in order to exist, in order to define one another. It’s impossible to understand how great winning feels without having ever experienced losing.
I’ve thought a lot about winning lately, especially in the context of sports. My son is five years old, and recently began playing in his first youth sports leagues. A few weeks ago, he scored his first goal in a soccer match – a thunderbolt from 20 yards out, like he was Zlatan or someone. Considering most kids in the league (including him) have trouble just completing simple five-yard passes, I have no idea how he unleashed that shot, but seeing that ball bounce into the goal was one of the most fulfilling sports moments I’ve ever witnessed. I wanted to celebrate; he just wanted to play with Pokémon cards.
That game ultimately ended in a tie, and I have no idea what the team’s won-loss record is at this point in the season. To be honest, for these kids it’s more about understanding what it means to compete, how to not give up when they’re behind, to play hard and play well, to be willing to lean on each other.
And then there are games where we desperately care who wins and who loses, like in the NBA 2K League, where I’m the GM and coach of Grizz Gaming. I went into the season-opening ‘The Tipoff’ tournament hoping to use our four group games to try and gauge where we stood. We were lovingly placed into what all of the broadcasters referred to as the Group of Death, where we would have to go up against four awesome teams, including the top two players selected in the Draft.
In our first game, we fell behind early to Boston before mounting a late comeback, eventually making it a 9-point game with a few minutes left before losing by a dozen. In our next game Friday afternoon against Miami, our game-tying three-pointer swished through the net just one-tenth of a second too late. After that dispiriting loss, we had to play two more games that day, and we couldn’t find any footing, losing to Indiana and Dallas.
After we lost our fourth game of the tournament, I went back to my hotel room and laid in bed and stared at the ceiling for a few hours, kicking around all the ways I could have done a better job preparing and coaching our team. Spending time in professional sports locker rooms, I’ve been in plenty of postgame situations where a team had just lost a close one. Yet due to the light atmosphere, an uniformed observer would likely have no idea what just happened. Athletes and coaches constantly talk about having a short memory, whether you win or lose. I need to learn how to do a better job of doing that.
I spent the return flight home from New York to Memphis listening to this incredible, new Leon Bridges album, which is suitably equal parts uplifting and downcast. After getting home to hug my family and spend time with them, the next few days were spent watching film and figuring out how we can best compete against Indiana in our regular-season opener on Saturday. You can either give up or get up. And I’m going to get up, every day, and do work.
In just a couple of days, we are going right back to NYC to try this thing all over again. I am proud of my team for going out and giving their best effort in the tournament. But this is not youth sports. Wins matter.
Winning may not be everything, and it may not be the only thing, either.
But it sure is something.
We’ll see you there, soon enough.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.