Thank you Henry Abbott, thank you Truehoop. Phil Jackson had this to say on Wednesday, when asked whether playing NBA basketball is fun:
“I think joy is in the competition, and if you are a player that relishes competition, I think this is what you consider to be fun, even though it may not be ha ha fun, it’s engagement. It’s immersion. It’s focus. All those things that draw the best out of your attention and your capabilities energy wise.”
This idea of “immersion” really grabs me. We’ve probably all experienced this at some point: we lose ourselves in the task at hand; time evaporates; the world pleasantly falls away. And we’ve also, in the past twenty years of watching Phil Jackson-coached teams, gotten pretty used to seeing this phenomenon at play on the basketball court. We know what it looks like. The ball flows freely. The players’ faces take on a cool intensity. Their movements become both calmer and more dynamic and the game suddenly looks easy. As far as I’m concerned, these things–engagement, immersion, focus, joy–come pretty close to defining the best sense of both “work” and “play,” which, as anybody whose ever seriously practiced art or sports or music can tell you, aren’t all that far apart.
They also do a pretty good job describing the struggles of our Timberwolves over the past year. The Wolves’ lack of talent and athleticism were certainly on display every time they took the floor, but there was also something more going on. There were these fleeting moments of “getting it,” in which the Wolves actually looked immersed, actually looked focused and at ease and even joyful in playing basketball. It was the brevity and inconsistency of these enlightened states that really caused us Wolves fans to rend our garments. These moments of immersion would descend without warning and then just as suddenly flit away leaving the old indecisive actions and panicked expressions that we’re all way too used to. Turns out, it takes a certain level of expertise to really work or really play.