Words of Wisdom From a Former NBA Coach

Note: I originally published this essay on my personal website. Head over there for additional essays and my contact information.

Once you get to know me, it becomes pretty clear that I enjoy sports. This isn’t because I played many sports when I was younger or that I still enjoy watching them (hello Chicago White Sox, Michigan Wolverines, and Roger Federer).

I believe that sport is life distilled to its purest form. Failure and success smack you in the face. Effort alone does not automatically lead to a happy outcome. And a cohesive team is more powerful than a group of all-star individuals.

Because we can learn so much from sports, I was excited to speak with Kevin Eastman in the latest episode of my podcast The Power Of Bold.

Kevin Eastman’s Words of Wisdom

Kevin has dedicated his professional life to the sport he loves — basketball.

As a player and a coach, he has reached some of the highest levels in the game. Kevin is a former NBA assistant coach for the Boston Celtics and LA Clippers and the former vice president of basketball operations at the Clippers. Known for his development skills, Kevin was also Nike’s national director of Nike Basketball Skills Academies, which allowed him to work with some of the most promising athletes in the country (including a young basketball player named LeBron James).

Kevin recently published a book titled Why The Best Are The Best, which relays his insights (both in and out of coaching) on how we can achieve excellence in our lives.

You can listen to my interview with Kevin on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, or Stitcher.

Kevin offered some excellent words of wisdom, ranging from his daily habits to his interactions with basketball royalty. Here are the three most important insights that I gathered from our conversation.

Human Nature is Your Greatest Competitor

Throughout his coaching career, Kevin Eastman squared off against some of the most legendary basketball players. Arguably his greatest coaching job occurred in 2008 when he worked with Doc Rivers to lead the Boston Celtics to an NBA championship. Their opponent was the Los Angeles Lakers.

At the time, the Lakers were led by Phil Jackson, one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time. The Lakers’ best player? Kobe Bryant, who is one of the best to have ever played the game.

You would think that Kevin would name the 2008 Lakers as the toughest opponent he has faced in his coaching career. Yet this isn’t the case.

In fact, Kevin says that the toughest opponent — not only in sports but in life — is human nature. And human nature? Its two best players are success and failure.

To become the best, we can’t obsess over how to overtake our peers or competitors. Instead, we must look inward. We must become introspective and take a sharp look at both our successes and our failures.

Kevin repeatedly told me that his mind works on continuous evaluation mode. He even created something called a “WILT” notebook (“WILT” standing for “What I Learned Today”), where he physically writes down what he learns every day. The WILT notebook not only includes things he has learned from books or articles that he reads, but it also includes reflections from his failures.

It’s much easier to focus on our successes and turn a blind eye to our failures. Yet Kevin believes that there are two ways to look at failure: we can look at it as devastation or education.

We can have failure bring us down and keep us in a dark place. Or we can reflect on failure and use it to propel us toward our goals.

The bottom line is this: we must embrace deliberative, rational reflection of both our successes and failures. Whether you use a WILT journal, the Bullet Journal, or something else, it is in your best interest to carve out reflection time. Evaluate what is working, what isn’t working, how you can grow from your failures, and whether you are on track toward your goals.

Flip Fear on Its Head

One of the main themes of my podcast is fighting fear to take calculated risks. Because of this, I knew I had to ask Kevin about how he confronted fear in his basketball career.

Leading up to 2004, Kevin Eastman had been gaining valuable experience in the college basketball world. He was the head coach of the men’s basketball teams at UNC-Wilmington and Washington State University. He became athletic director at Randolph-Macon College and took a major role at Nike Basketball’s Skills Academies. That said, Doc Rivers of the Boston Celtics presented Kevin with a unique opportunity to become an assistant coach.

As Kevin describes in his book, he was excited, yet apprehensive. On one hand, this was a chance to work as an NBA coach — the pinnacle of his profession. But on the other hand, he feared that he may not be good enough to coach in the NBA.

Kevin ultimately took the job. The rest is history. Yet it is helpful to analyze how he overcame his fears in becoming an NBA coach.

One helpful tactic is that Kevin changed his perspective. As he told me, most of us fear the consequence of something called failure. However, many of us ignore something else.

Kevin says we would surprise ourselves if we put equal fear into the consequence of never trying.

This is a subtle, yet important distinction. We often focus on the fear of failing when trying something new. Much less often do we fear what would happen if we were to ultimately succeed, yet never try. Arguably, that should be a larger fear than the fear of taking the leap in the first place. By adopting this mindset, it made it easier for him to take a chance and try to make it in the NBA.

Taking the leap is just one part of it, though. He had what he calls “rookie thoughts.” He asked himself “Am I good enough? Can I do this?” Along with this, he knew that working with hall-of-famers meant that they would expect hall-of-fame coaching out him.

Kevin went into the Celtics job with the mindset that he would try and learn as much as he could.

To succeed, he set personal challenges. He recognized that the largest hurdle he had to overcome centered on himself and his own insecurities. While he was tested (and at points failed), he continued to get better and better.

We can adopt the same attitude with our goals. Yes, it can be scary to take some risk (however calculated) or a leap of faith. That said, consider what would happen if you don’t take this risk and you would have eventually succeeded. You can use this fear to galvanize future action. From there, set internal mini-challenges, learn as much as you can, and improve every single day.

A Critical Five-Letter Word

In his new book, Kevin Eastman offers some words of wisdom on why the best are the best. These words of wisdom are summarized in a list of 25 distinct words.

The first (and most important) word that he shares with his readers is truth.

In his career, Kevin has observed that the greatest basketball players embrace truth. They aren’t afraid to accept the truth — no matter how harsh — and use those observations in order to improve their game.

One of the players that immediately embraced this attitude was LeBron James. In 2003, when Kevin was national director of Nike Basketball Skills Academies, Nike was pitching LeBron to wear Nike products in his new NBA career. As part of the pitch, Nike asked Kevin to join LeBron in a quick workout in the gym. In the workout, Kevin challenged LeBron. At times, both Kevin and LeBron were, as Kevin describes, “intense with our wording.”

At the end of the workout, Kevin went up to LeBron and said: “You know, LeBron, I didn’t mean to get on you that hard.” LeBron then looked Kevin in the eye and said “Coach, look. I didn’t take it as hard. I took it as kind of the truth. I needed to work on that. I just need to know everything I need to know to get better.

LeBron, even at the young age of 19, knew that the truth would lead him to greatness. The truth was going to be LeBron’s compass, leading him to where he wanted to be. He would use the truth to get a little bit better, each and every day.

Now, it sounds simple: embrace the truth. It is much easier said than done due to the psychological effects at play.

The truth can be extremely uncomfortable. Sometimes, it’s easier to simply avoid.

So how do we overcome these psychological barriers? While there is no magic formula, Kevin recommends that we give ourselves truth audits. Take a sheet of paper, draw a line in the middle, and separate out what you are good at and what you’re not good at. You can even ask a trusted friend or family member to give you some feedback. Do it several times per year and make it a point to work on improving your weaknesses.

This may or may not work for you. The bottom line, however, is to become a person that is comfortable with hearing the truth. From there, you can use the insights that you learn to take corrective action.

Becoming the Best

Regardless of your interest in basketball, Kevin Eastman offers some great words of wisdom on how we can become the best in our field. For the complete list of Kevin’s 25 words that encapsulate greatness, I would suggest you check out his book. Whether you read the book or not, focus on learning from your failures, learning to lip fear on its head, staying true to yourself, and mastering the fundamentals.

You will be off to a great start.

Thanks for reading! Once again, you can access Kevin Eastman’s complete interview on The Power Of Bold by visiting our page on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, or Stitcher. If you’d like to read a full transcript of the episode, you can access the episode’s show notes here.


Originally published at www.adampascarella.com on November 8, 2018.