The secret of basketball isn’t related to basketball

With Saturday afternoon’s 74-72 victory over Montana State University Billings, the UAA women’s basketball team completed their historic 2014-15 regular season, going 27-1, 17-1 in conference play — setting the program record for fewest losses in a season.

Following Saturday’s game, the Seawolves were presented with the 2015 Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular season title. But these ‘Wolves have their eyes on something greater, something that will be awarded in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, this years site of NCAA Div. II women’s basketball championships.

Although I have not watched this squad across the entire season, it didn’t take me long to notice there was something different about this team. I expected them to have talent, but I don’t think talent is the sole reason they won 27 of 28 games this season. How can it be? Players have off-games, get hurt, live lives outside basketball, have different work ethics. All these factors can affect the performance of individual players and teams. Given this, it would almost be impossible for the Seawolves to have done what they did with talent alone. But there is another ingredient. There is something else here.

Several years ago I read partway through “The Book of Basketball” by ESPN sportswriter by Bill Simmons. It is a colorful read written by an even more colorful personality. It is full of NBA history, as well as the players and teams who helped define it.

One of the chapters is titled “The Secret,” in which Simmons recounts a conversation he once had with Hall-of-Famer Isiah Thomas about what “the secret” is to basketball.

Simmons writes, “I set up the question and asked him. Isiah smiled. I could tell he was impressed. He took a dramatic pause. You could say he even milked the moment.’The secret of basketball,’ he told me, ‘is that it’s not about basketball.’ That makes no sense, right? How can that possibly make sense?”

Thomas observed that the teams who always seemed in the hunt for an NBA championship during his career, Boston and Los Angeles in particular, won games not just on talent alone. They were teams that got along with each other, understood their roles and cared more about the team winning, rather than one or two players getting the limelight.

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What do you know? Basketball isn’t just assists and rebounds. It is also about sacrifice selflessness, loving one another and pretending as if everyone on the team is the star player.

That is what I see in the Seawolves this season. And that is why they’re winning like the Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s.