Like many of the Thunder faithful, with rapt attention I watched Billy Donovan's first official press conference as the new head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder Friday afternoon. Naturally, the questions covered a wide range of topics, such as his first impressions of Oklahoma City and his offensive and defensive coaching strategies.
I was looking for something deeper and got it when Donovan was asked to clarify Thunder GM Sam Presti's statement about Donovan's "emotional intelligence." I liked Billy Donovan's response.
I liked it a lot.
First, Donovan briefly touched on the misconception that Presti phrasing of emotional intelligence was referring to Donovan's sideline emotions. Donovan described himself as a passionate coach rather than an emotional one. Then, Coach Donovan delved into Presti's truer meaning by going into great detail about his understanding of the word 'commitment.'
Thunder Coach Billy Donovan's definition of the 3 levels of commitment
"Here's what I think, when your in a highly competitive situation, you hear the word commitment used. Ok? And I just believe this in my heart to be true.There's three types of commitment.The first commitment is a verbal commitment, someone says they're going to do something. Well anyone can, that's the easiest commitment.The next commitment is a physical commitment, you know? When your physically committed to doing something.And then the third commitment is an emotional commitment and that's when you actually give of yourself to somebody else. That you are actually emotionally connected to somebody else and emotionally take responsibility to help others...to help somebody else develop and grow."
Coach Donovan explained how those levels of commitment relate to team success
"I think there needs to be an emotional connectivity for the team to reach its fullest potential. They've gotta be emotionally connected, because you can make a verbal and physical commitment but it takes more than that. And I would say that some of the players I had and the best teams I've been around, and I know the NBA is different than college, but I think team wise there are a lot of similarities at any level...they were emotionally invested into each other. That there was a deep rooted connection and an emotional investment and I think that is something that is very very important."
Billy Donovan is absolutely correct.
I've seen how far a team can go when its players are committed on all three levels that Donovan described. Anybody that has ever witnessed or been part of a team that reached its full potential, whether that team won a championship or not, has seen this phenomenon.
I first witnessed Billy Donovan's philosophy of commitment when, as a high school senior our football team was picked to finish dead last in the conference. The expectation wasn't even an unreasonable one. The team had only won one game the prior season, and the last Division 1 prospect the school produced graduated two seasons prior.
My own high school football career had ended by then, but I grew up either playing beside or against every senior on that team. I knew that whatever they lacked in raw talent, they made up with heart, and when that pick came out in the local paper on the morning of the first game of the season, the boys made a pact with one another to make that sportswriter eat his words.
These kids had already made the "verbal commitment" when two-a-day practices began. They completed the second level, the "physical commitment," by the first game of the season.
Many players felt they had already made the "emotional commitment" as well, but found that article to be so humiliating that it raised their resolve to an even higher level of intimacy in their collegiality to pursue a common goal. They weren't simply committed any more; they were now emotionally invested in one another and the "team."
When that group of boys made the emotional commitment to placing the needs of the whole over their individual desires, they became a team of young men, and that team of young men did great things that season because they did it... together.
The 1976 Moore Lions not only won the Boomer Conference that season, but it took the eventual state champion Del City Eagles to stop them in the semi-finals in their quest to win it all.
The exact level of where this Oklahoma City Thunder team's commitment resides is unknown. Scott Brooks was publicly adored by his players, so it stands to reason that his dismissal will have an impact on the team's core emotional commitment level Donovan said was "very very important" to being a successful team.
Billy Donovan's number one priority, in his own words then, is to restore and build upon the emotional commitment that the team has experienced in the past. I'm not a betting man, but I feel very strongly that process started the exact second the reporters left the conference room.
Donovan left no doubt Friday in regard to his own personal level of commitment, but the challenge will be to translate and transfer that deep commitment to each member of the Thunder team.
If Coach Billy Donovan can achieve that third level of emotional commitment he spoke of so passionately today with this talented Thunder squad, and mix it with some sound coaching technique, competitive fire, and a little luck, the Thunder will be a force to be reckoned with.
"Commitment is an act, not a word." - Sartre