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What I Learned as a Latter-day Saint Pro Basketball Player About Finding Success and the Hero in Each of Us

Playing under bright lights in front of noisy crowds, dunking the basketball, chasing down loose balls, defending world-class athletes, knocking down threes, and getting paid in the process is a dream only a few can comprehend. It was a thrill.

However, my wife and I had predetermined that when our oldest son, Ryder, turned 8, I’d retire from playing basketball and settle down to a normal role as father and husband. This was our goal all along, and my career ended the fall of 2011. My last competitive game as a pro came as a member of Khimki in Moscow, Russia.

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What did I learn from all these experiences? From Little League to Mountain View High School in Orem, from Utah Valley State College to BYU, from the Atlanta Hawks to my career in the European basketball leagues in Spain and Russia—what did it all teach me?

One answer I could give is I learned how to work hard.

Playing sports taught me to set goals, how to reach goals, and—when I failed—how to deal with failing. I learned how to develop a strong mentality—a winner’s mentality—and how to deal with others. I learned to push myself and reach my potential. Basketball taught me I could push harder than I ever imagined. I reached levels of mental and physical performance I never thought I could, and much of that is due to the diligent work and faith of my coaches and trainers who expected a lot of me and believed in me.

In Europe, I played with many outstanding athletes who later found themselves on NBA rosters. These include Jose Calderon (Toronto Raptors), Luis Scola (Houston Rockets), Andres Nocioni (Philadelphia 76ers), and Tiago Splitter (San Antonio Spurs).

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Playing with these great athletes was the experience of a lifetime. But there is another answer I could give if asked what I learned from all my years of playing basketball.

I could say that I learned that basketball doesn’t really matter. That being in the NBA, being amongst the best, most talented players in the world doesn’t really matter. The most important thing that should matter to everyone is that you believe in Jesus Christ and follow Him. 

Success in life isn’t based on if you played in the NBA or the NFL or if you’re the richest guy on the block or the smartest guy in class. It doesn’t matter. I totally believe that. Jesus taught, “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). What really matters is what you do with what you have been given.

Basketball? It’s fun and games. Life’s challenges? Now, those are real.

We inevitably will face challenges in completing goals and dreams. Anyone who has started a diet or an exercise program can attest to the commitment level that exists in the beginning. You start off full of energy, bound and determined to lose weight, get buff, whatever. But then one day, you’re tired, or a good show is on TV, or you just don’t feel like it, or maybe there’s an open bag of Doritos sitting there calling your name. Whatever the goal, every worthy objective will have its accompanying challenges—it’s then that we find out how truly committed we are.

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President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

There are forces all around us that would deter us from that effort. The world is constantly crowding in on us. From all sides we feel the pressure to soften our stance, to give in here a little and there a little.
We must never lose sight of our objective. We must ever keep before us the goal which the Lord has set for us [and the goals we have set for ourselves]. . . .
We must stand firm. We must hold back the world. If we do so, the Almighty will be our strength and our protector, our guide and our revelator. We shall have the comfort of knowing that we are doing what He would have us do. Others may not agree with us, but I am confident that they will respect us. We will not be left alone. . . .
I believe that others will rally around us if we will do so. We can stand for truth and goodness, and we will not stand alone. Moreover, we shall have the unseen forces of heaven to assist us.

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I am convinced, beyond a doubt, there is a hero that lies within every one of us, a person that can make a difference in this world every day in countless ways. Many of us hide that power. We need to find it.

You can make a difference to yourself and others if you believe in yourself and your cause and try with everything you have been given.

A ball can’t go in the hoop without a shooter. You can never win without entering the game.

Is it in you?

Yes. It is in us all.

Lead image from Shutterstock

The Next Few Years Will Change Your LifeIn his book, Travis Hansen speaks candidly and openly to teens, offering counsel, encouragement, and direction using his own life experiences from both on and off the court. Included in the book is a goal-setting workbook that encourages us to answer vital and personal questions, create a plan, set our goals, and find the hero within each of us. Read more about overcoming mistakes and avoiding addictions as well as how to set goals and build faith in the Savior in The Next Few Years Will Change Your Life, available at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.

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