Tough vs. Strong

Jared and I were having a discussion recently and the topic of toughness arose.  We talked about the idea that even the smallest guy on the basketball court can often be the toughest.  I decided to just write a little of what it really means because it is an area that the Mid Michigan Lakers need to improve in.

Merriam Webster defines tough as “characterized by severity or uncompromising determination” and “marked by and absence of softness or sentimentality.”  Nowhere in those two definitions did I find the word strong.  It did not describe size, shape, or muscle tone.  But what it did hit on is a mental ability to flush out the surrounding circumstances and press on no matter what happens in any situation.  It speaks to a lack of being negatively affected by every little adversary and caught up in one’s emotions. 

That same dictionary defines strong as “having or marked by great physical power” or “having great resources (as of wealth or talent).”  As you can easily see, these definitions lead us to understand that strength can be obtained with or without mental fortitude.  Strength is about what you have at your disposal (power, money, influence), while toughness is a description of what’s inside you.  In other words, strong may be what you are, but tough should be who you are and thereby more important.

Lakers, these are the types of things that happen to us during the course of games, that is, the opposite of tough.  We get knocked down and stay there for minutes.  We miss a shot and sulk coming back up the floor.  We make a mistake and look over at the bench instead of making up for it on the other end.  We get hit on the hand and hold that hand as if it was broken the next six trips down the court, or until you get the ball in your hands again (which ever comes first).  I am not saying some of the things don’t cause us physical pain.  Certainly it hurts to get knocked down on a hard floor, catch a stray elbow, or absorb a shoulder to the chest.  But how much tougher would we look if each time that happened we popped up off of the floor as fast as we could and smiled through gritted teeth?  How would the opponent feel if they came at us as hard as they possibly could and we acted as if nothing happened?  What boost would it be to your teammates to see you deflect the hurt you may feel to show that true determination?  How much longer would your coach be apt to leave you in the game if you covered each mistake by making to good plays on the opposite end of the court?  How much better would it look to a scout or college coach if you hustled back after each missed shot, pass, or dunk?

There were two examples that stood out in my mind of toughness in last night’s NBA contest between the Heat and Celtics.  Rajon Rondo was the smallest guy on the floor in almost every situation, but yet still had a dominating performance.  On one play on particular, Lebron (6’9″ 270 lbs.) posted the smaller Rondo (6’1″ 186 lbs.) late in the game.  Instead of conceding to Lebron’s physical strength, Rondo held, reached, wrapped his body around, and pestered Lebron into a jump ball situation.  Yes, he fouled him, but it likely wasn’t called because of the sheer effort he showed in fighting for that ball while being nearly outweighed by 100 lbs.  Similarly, what nay have closed the game for the Heat may have been Dwyane Wade’s drive and finish through the Celtic’s “enforcer” Kevin Garnett.  KG pushed and pulled him the best he could, but Wade finished at the rim anyway and took the foul.  The great thing is he jumped right up off the floor, said nothing, but glared at KG to let him know that foul had no ill effect at all on him.  Had he said something, he may have been assessed a technical foul, but his actions said all he needed to say.

The opposite of those examples would be for Rondo right after that jump ball he caused and they reclaimed possession of the ball, he drove into the lane for a reverse layup.  He was hit on the forehead by Wade, but no ref blew a whistle for a foul.  Rondo laid out on the floor as if he was shot and had not just gotten away with fouling on the other end himself.  The result was 5 vs. 4 for Miami and Udonis Haslem getting an easy dunk.  Wade had a two play brain fart when he gave up an open 3-pointer to  his man and threw his hands up in disgust, then threw an errant pass leading to a steal and basket for Rondo on the very next play.  He compounded his initial error by trying to do too much and made another.  That 5 points was enough to give Boston the lead and momentum at the time.

The point here is that it makes no difference how big, fast, strong, or tall you are when it comes to your tenacity and toughness.  Be a tough-minded player on the court at all times.  Believe me, your offense will struggle at times.  You may struggle defensively against a guy who is very skilled or just having a career game (Rondo).  Your jump shot may not be falling for you in a game.   You will make a bad pass or decision at various points in a game.  However, there is ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE for not being tough!  If you are injured, by all means stay down until help arrives.  If you are hurt, get up!  I have seen guys with torn ACL’s get up and jog off of the floor after the injury just because they didn’t want the other team to have the satisfaction of believing they hurt him.  That much toughness is extremely rare, especially today, but if you take an elbow try not to act like you have 8 broken ribs when all you are is bruised.  Cover your own and your teammates’ mistakes in the game and they will then cover yours.  It is at that point, you can really be called a true “team.”

— By Marcellus C. Miller

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