With the uncertainties surrounding COVID and the constant pressure to deliver under the bright lights of NBA courts, the pressure and scrutiny on players have never been greater. One way of dealing with the pressure is rising in popularity - the philosophy of Stoicism. Players like Keita Bates-Diop, Pau Gasol, and CJ McCollum have read a book about Stoicism and discovered it to be very useful.
What is Stoicism?
Stoicism originated in ancient Greece and Rome and existed as early as the 3rd century BC. In simple terms, it’s a philosophy that teaches to stay in the present and maximizes positive emotions. The awareness about mental health and investing in it as much as physical health has never been greater. Players like Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan speaking up and honestly sharing their challenges were major moments in this evolution.
A book written by Ryan Holiday about Stoicism and its principles entitled "The Obstacle Is The Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumphs" has been discovered by Pau Gasol, CJ McCollum, and Keita Bates-Diop. The latter even confessed it helped him stay in the moment and be ready for what life throws at him next. His performances serve as an indication of his improvement and progress with the help of Stoicism.
In an interview for SI in 2015, Holiday revealed what makes stoicism ideal for today's current events. “Stoicism as a philosophy is really about the mental game. It’s not a set of ethics or principles. It’s a collection of spiritual exercises designed to help people through the difficulty of life. To focus on managing emotion; specifically, non-helpful emotion.”
For Portland Trail Blazers star CJ McCollum, the book resonated because it’s something he can practice in life - on and off the court.
"See some of the obstacles and things that I was facing, not just in basketball but time management, relationships, opponents. How do you respond? How do you react? Do you allow it to affect you at home? Do you allow it to affect how you treat others? That sense of Stoicism really kind of resonated with me to where I was like, 'Wow, this is something I can practice. I can practice steadiness. I can practice accepting things I cannot change.'”
CJ McCollum, ESPN
How is it different from the Zen meditation of Phil Jackson?
One of basketball's most prominent practitioners of similar principles is Phil Jackson a.k.a. The Zen Master. Eleven NBA championships prove that Zen meditation works, and it helped him manage the pressure of winning and handling superstars’ egos. Jackson is famous for giving his players books about meditation and staying in the moment to cope with the pressures of winning at the highest level.
The difference between Stoicism and Zen meditation is that the former focuses on turning negative emotions into positive ones. At the same time, the latter leans more on going with the flow, suppressing ego, and working around the challenges instead of going against them.
Usually, when we talk about Stoicism we think of Kawhi Leonard and his never-changing emotion on and off the court. But as Holiday explained, it’s more than that.