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Winning Like Dirk and Rory

Posted by Bill Lee on June 23, 2011 at 02:13 PM

We've just been treated to the sweet site of two superb athletes come back, big time, from the depths of sporting despair. In golfer Rory McIlroy's case, he blew a four stroke lead  at the Masters last April by shooting an 80 in the final round (a 43, I believe, on the last nine holes -- I've shot a 43 before!) Last week he bounced right back, big time, to win the US Open going away with a record score.

NBA star Dirk Nowitski is the leader of the Dallas Mavericks, who blew a big lead in the NBA finals in 2006--2 game up and just minutes away from winning their 3d--when the Miami Heat stormed back, won the 3d game and then three more in a row to humiliate the Mavs. Two weeks ago, the Mavs soundly beat the same team--this time enhanced by LeBron James and Chris Bosh, to win it all. Sweet redemption.

Success is always sweet. But success  on the heels of disatrous failure is even sweeter. A few things that both athletes share in common help explain their resiliance.

1. They have a passion for their game.

Rory used to go to sleep holding a 4 iron to cement the grip into his mind. Basketball wasn't Dirk's first sport (it was tennis, of all things--imagine seeing an athletic 7-footer across the net from you). But you get the feeling that if he wasn't playing in the NBA, he'd be happily banging away in a city league somewhere.

2. They value mentors.

Dirk has a mentor that's been with him since he moved to the states as a 19 year old from Germany, who puts him through grueling drills and exercises, and also helps keep his head on straight. After a few years getting banged around by NBA level players, the young German was ready to quit and go home. His mentor told him, "No, we don't do that." After his Master's meltdown, Rory sought out Jack Nicklaus, who's won more major tournaments than anyone, and asked him, "How do you close out a major?" And then took his lessons learned to heart.

3. They show up.

The glamour, excitement and fame both athletes enjoy are a small part of the job description. Developing the superb skills that both posses requires showing up for hours of practice, practice, practice. And then the next day, doing it again. And again.  Dirk's work ethic is legendary in Dallas, where I live. Why do they put themselves through this? See #1 above.

4. They never settle.

I've watched Dirk play for 13 seasons now, and he continues to noticeably improve his game every year. He seems always to be working on new offensive moves, some of which require intricate footwork that he works on until he can pull off, under pressure, with a tough and equally (if not more so) athletic opponent in his face. He's been an All Star several times, a league MVP, and now a finals MVP and NBA champion. But you can bet he'll be back in the gym doing the gym rat thing day after day so he take his game up to a new level again next year. I hope Rory takes the same approach to his game and career.

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