Broke and in search for a new beginning, Swen Nater’s parents made the decision to leave Holland and start over in America. Unfortunately, not everybody was invited to make the trip. His parents made the grueling decision to only take his baby brother-leaving Swen and his sister behind to live in an orphanage. Out of the 60 orphaned children, Swen’s parents were the only ones still living. After 3 long years, Swen and his sister finally reunited with his family in America. Towering over kids his age, Swen tried out for his high school basketball team. Not only did he not make the team, but he was told to never come back. At 6”10” tall, Swen literally was the big man on the Cypress Community College campus. As he lumbered to class one day, his towering frame caught the eye of the college’s basketball coach-Swen instantly made the roster. With his high school coach’s defamatory words still ringing in his ears, Swen set out to prove the nay- sayers wrong. Arriving before others and staying on the court while everyone else hit the showers, Swen diligently worked out the kinks in his game.
Needing a brush up scrimmage, the mighty UCLA Bruins called upon the tiny Cypress Community College Chargers-they got more than they bargained for. To the amazement of those in attendance, Swen Nater dominated the game from one end of the court to the other. One coach sitting high in the rafters took notice; his name was John Wooden.
As with most scholarships, came a promise. Coach Wooden promised Nater that with the awarding of a scholarship, Swen would receive very little playing time-if at all. The only reason Swen Nater received a scholarship was to develop the skills of someone else. His only assignment was to show up to practice each day to make [future NBA great] center Bill Walton better. All practice and no play, Nater often grew despondent; at times he wanted to quit and walk away from the game forever, but Coach Wooden helped Swen become a big picture thinker. “It’s amazing what a team can accomplish when no one cares who receives the credit,” Wooden proverbially said. Accepting his role, Nater admitted, “Walton will never reach his potential unless I reach mine.” Among other awards, Walton went on to become a two-time NBA champion, League and Finals MVP, and was named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players in history. Even though he never started a collegiate game, Swen Nater went on to play 12 years professionally for the ABA, NBA, and the Italian League. He was the ABA Rookie of the Year and is the only player to have led the ABA and NBA in rebounding. Not bad for an orphaned backup.
Even though he was a high school All-American, no college was pursuing him so his father took the initiative and sent his son’s game highlights to 60 colleges. Michigan gambled and signed him to be a backup quarterback. With average at best stats, NFL scouts said the senior was too slow, couldn’t avoid the rush, and had a weak arm. One hundred and ninety-nine picks later, the New England Patriots signed Tom Brady- casting him to the all too familiar role of backup quarterback. Brady kept plugging-a true student of the game, he practiced and prepared as if he were the starter by adopting a first in, last out mindset. “Don’t let other people tell you what you are capable of. As long as you believe in yourself and work hard to whatever you set your mind to, you just keep plugging away. It may not be to your time table, but you can get it done,” said Brady. In Week 2 of the 2001 season the starting quarterback went down. Brady got his shot and never looked back. Brady’s running resume reads, 8 Pro Bowl selections, 3 Super Bowl rings as well as 2 Super Bowl MVP’s. Not bad for a slow, weak-armed, backup QB.
Arriving home after a basketball camp featuring the best high school players in the country, a demoralized 17-year-old Shaquille O’Neal questioned his dream of playing in the NBA. Hearing his fears, his mother encouraged him to simply try harder-to which the young Shaq told her, “I can’t do that right now-maybe later.” His mother spoke 5 words that forever changed the course of his life…
“Later doesn’t always come to everybody.” Leaders have to think later; doers have to think now.
As a leader, you have to look at your people as they should be and not as they are. Your people need a spark of belief to ignite the bonfire of their potential. Your people are choking on the fumes of society, family members and so-called friends telling them of what they are not- it is up to your leadership to provide oxygenated belief in them of what they are truly capable of. When the world steps out in disbelief, they need you to step in with a word of encouragement. When their past is tearing them down, they need your vision of their future to build them back up. It takes a spark to ignite a fire. Set your people on fire with encouragement and watch the world gather to see the blaze of their potential.
As a doer, you must take action and do- NOW. If you’re not willing to add the logs of effort, you’ll never catch the flames of results. Don’t ever let your current title determine your final position in life. When you’re left absent to hope, advised to never return, or abolished to the belief that you are too anything-too slow, too weak, too broke-you just keep plugging. Doers get discovered; losers get left behind.
Musician Eminem said, “If you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted, one moment, would you let it slip away?” Don’t ever let the moments of life slip by. Leaders have no position-always be a spark of encouragement to others; even a few encouraging words may avert another’s disaster. As a doer you should never dock-in spite of the tumultuous seas of adversity; in lieu of dead ends, road blocks, and road closures of life-no matter their current positioning of being benched, sidelined, or second teamed, the work never stops because doers know the path of opportunity and belief will eventually cross. If you faint not…
Maximize your moments because later doesn’t always come to everybody. I’ll see you next time on the blacktop.