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Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hard Wood Warrior

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Basically, you can’t be too loose on a basketball court. Or a pitcher’s mound, or a tennis court. It’s egotism, inappropriate anger, and fear of failure that rigidify your muscles and wreck your timing. What you’ve got to do is teach yourself to live completely and utterly inside the game and the moment; also to care passionately about winning without caring at all. Or something like that. Coach Phil Jackson of the Chicago Bulls, NBA champions in three consecutive seasons between 1991 and 1993, calls the attitude ”mindfulness,” a winning philosophy he’s pieced together out of his parents’ Pentecostal Christianity, Zen Buddhism, and the teachings of the Lakota Sioux. (He comes from North Dakota.) Of course, it also helps to have Michael Jordan on your team — as Jackson readily admits. Indeed, it was the challenge of blending Jordan’s extraordinary talents with those of his teammates — who were prone to standing around watching Michael try to win games single-handedly, then sitting around sulking about it later — that helped Jackson develop his theories. How odd a coach is Jackson? So odd that he reads Kipling to his team before play-off games. So odd that he gives professional jocks books by authors like Langston Hughes, Cormac McCarthy, and Jack Kerouac. So odd that he’s taken the unheard-of step of writing an entire book about NBA basketball without mentioning race. And a deft, consistently diverting little book it is. As long as you’re a fan. B+