Lang’s World: Pounding The Rock

Back in 2005, when I was an editor at SLAM Magazine, I spent a week down in San Antonio working on a Spurs cover story. Everyone knew the Spurs were one of the great franchises in the NBA, having won titles in three of the last seven seasons, but I wanted to know how they got there and what they were doing to stay there.


As it turned out, it wasn’t any big mystery. The first time I walked into the Spurs’ locker room, you couldn’t miss the quote Gregg Popovich had plastered all over the place. Printed in several different languages and hanging on the walls was “The Stonecutter’s Credo,” from Jacob Riis. The quote is simple: “When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”


The next day at Spurs practice, I asked Popovich why that particular quote resonated with him. After a brief moment of hazing, Pop gave me a terrific answer. “You know,” Pop told me, “I read that quote maybe ten years ago someplace. Jacob Riis was a reformer back in New York City with all the immigrants and everything, dealing with all the poverty and the lousy situations they all had. He fought City Hall to try to make all that better, and it was a quote from him. I just thought it fit, because all those trite, silly saying always made me laugh. Like, ‘Winners always do this’ and ‘Losers always do that’ and whatever the hell it is. You know, ‘There’s no I in team.’ They’re so old and trite that it’s just silly. But this quote seemed to just make sense. It had an intellectual quality to it, where I thought if the players really looked at it, it’s not just basketball, it’s life. You’ve read it so you know what it means. I think that quote is what it’s all about. If there is a system here, that’s the system.”


When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.

Jacob Riis


“We don’t talk about how many games we’re going to win,” he continued, “winning a division, winning a championship, none of that stuff. No goals, none like that. Our goal is to get better every day, to practice every day, to treat the game with respect, and if we can come out every practice and every game, learning something that we did well or that we did poorly, we can go from there. But I think wins take care of themselves. That persistence in that quote says it all.”


This weekend in New York City, I found myself pasting The Stonecutter’s Credo into the Grizz Gaming group chat. On Thursday night, we’d lost to Lakers Gaming, 56-52. Which meant that in our previous three games, dating back to the season-opening THE TIPOFF tournament, we’d lost three games by a combined total of 7 points, including two losses on the final shots of the game. And then on Friday night we had a lead against Kings Guard Gaming before letting them run away in the second half.


Authentic African reacts to a play


So this is where we are now: After three regular season games, Grizz Gaming’s record currently stands at 0-3. Yes, the games have all been close, and sure, we’ve done a particularly good job defensively, and we’ve worked really hard and practiced a ton. But we’re still 0-3, and they don’t hand out participation trophies in the 2K League. We can say that with a bounce here or an animation there we could easily be 3-0, and maybe we should be better than 0-3, but as Dwight Schrute once said, “If onlys and justs were candy and nuts, then every day would be Erntedankfest.”


What makes it even more frustrating is that there is no big issue to fix. Instead there are several smaller things that we need to improve upon, and we will make those adjustments and continue to get better. Wins will eventually happen, almost as a byproduct, but in the meantime we shouldn’t work about the wins, and should instead focus on just getting better each and every day.


Putting in that kind of work isn’t fun, and it requires a single-mindedness that can drive you mad – working without seeing tangible results is never fun. But considering we don’t have another game until May 2, right now we don’t have any choice but to get in the lab and work, work, work.


In other words, like the stonecutter, right now we have to put our heads down and continue to pound that rock. I don’t know when, but eventually that thing is going to crack.


Good thing this is Memphis, where we are pretty good at grinding.


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.

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