Many dream of hitting the winning shot as time expires. Or of hitting the game-winning home run in the bottom of the 9th inning. And when someone actually does, it quickly becomes iconic.
Rewind to 2013. Game 6 of the NBA finals. The San Antonio Spurs lead the series 3 games to 2. They are currently leading by 3 points with 19 seconds to go in the game. They just have to survive 19 seconds and they are the champions. The Miami Heat inbound the ball to Dwane Wade who dribbles down and passes the ball to Lebron James. Lebron, one of, if not the greatest player ever, catches the ball, shoots…. and misses. But the play continues. Chris Bosh comes down with the rebound and notices Ray Allen quickly running backward to the corner of the court. Bosh feeds Ray Allen, who in a single motion catches the ball, sets his feet just beyond the 3 point arch but just in bounds. Jumps, and while falling out of bounds releases the ball. In the immortal words of Mike Breen: “BANG! TIE GAME WITH 5 SECONDS TO GO.”
That shot effectively broke the spirit of the Spurs, who went on to lose in overtime and then lose again in Game 7. Ray Allen saved the season, saved the championship, and saved the experiment that was the “Heatles.” To truly appreciate the moment, watch this short clip here:
But that play wasn’t set up when the ball was inbounded with 19 seconds left. It wasn’t even set up in the pre-game planning. That play was set up over years and years of practice. You see, Ray Allen would go down as one of the greatest 3-point shooters, not because of “God-given” talent, which he considered “an insult”, but because he practiced. A lot. Ray was famous for his pre-game ritual. He would shoot a specific number of 3-pointers every day, regardless of what else was going on around him on the court. He would shoot 3’s while the cheerleading team was warming up, he would even shoot 3’s in the dark if he had to:
He earned the nickname of “Everyday Ray” because he had the same, meticulous routine everyday.
Most of us are not professional basketball players. But all of us are professional in something. And Ray’s story is applicable to all professionals in that he focused on the fundamentals. And he focused on getting them right every time. No motion was too small, no drill was too meaningless. He had a relentless drive to perfect his craft. He won games and championships before they were even played because of how he practiced. How he focused on doing the little things right. Consistently.
As professionals in whatever career choice we’ve made, these same principles apply. If you want to “win” (whatever “winning” means to you), focus on getting the fundamentals right. It may seem remedial, it may seem “basic”, but the more you focus on getting the fundamentals of your profession right, the more you’ll see doors open for you. Consistency with the fundamentals will get you further than being flashy. And it may not always be fun. But if you want to show up when the lights are on, sometimes you have to shoot 3’s in the dark.