Cheers to the All-Stars

By Lisa Pryor

As many of you know, February is All-Star time for the NBA. Every year since 1951, except for 1999 due to the lockout, NBA teams and players take a break from regular season action for 3–5 days and come together to celebrate the top 24 players from across the league.

Over the years, the event has gotten even more exciting, adding a celebrity game, three-point contest, dunk contest, skills contest, G-League All-Star game, halftime musical guests, activities for the community, and more. The game format has been different throughout the years, too—East vs. West; LeBron vs. anyone else (lol); regular game rules; Elam Ending rules; voting changes to determine who will be on the rosters; and so forth. However, one thing has always remained true: the caliber of players who play in the All-Star game.

What does it actually take to be one of the top 24 players in a league that is already the top talent in the world? For context of what I mean by top talent, according to a study conducted by the NCAA in 2020, there were roughly 540,769 high school boys basketball players in this country. Of that number, only 18,816 went on to play collegiate basketball, or 3.5%. When you look at how many of those players attended a Division I institution, the percentage drops to 1%. Out of the 18,816 players, only 1.2% make the jump to the NBA. With 30 teams that usually carry 15 players, there are only between 450 and 550 players on NBA rosters. So, what does it take to be the top 1% of the top 1%? And what does that have to do with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging?

Great questions, I’m so glad you asked!

Currently, our culture has a tendency to want instant gratification. Information comes to us instantly as we look things up on the internet. If someone wants to get in touch with us, they call our cell phone, which most people have attached to them 24/7. If we want groceries, we go to a store that is open 24 hours a day. If we have a bit more time, we order it and have it delivered to us. Want to hear a song? Pull it up on your streaming app. I won’t even get into social media 😳.

This culture is not only misleading, it is extremely deceiving. Highlight reels make it seem like people are living out a Beyoncé song and just “woke up like this.” The reality of the situation is you have to put in the work in order to be an All-Star. No one just woke up as an All-Star. And there was nothing instant about it, either.

Here is some context. Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, was voted to the NBA All-Star team in his rookie season, 1984. It wasn’t until 1988 that he won his first All-Star MVP award, and it was 8 years later that he won his second MVP. Kobe Bean Bryant was drafted into the league in 1996. In his Rookie season he participated in the skills challenge and won the Dunk Contest, but he was not voted onto the All-Star team that year. However, in his second year in the league he became the youngest NBA All-Star starter in NBA history. He did not win the MVP award until 2002, his first of four total All-Star MVP awards. The award is now named after him. Stephen Curry has been selected for 10 All-Star games, he won the MVP once, in 2022 at age 33. As of February 2024, 453 players have been selected to an All-Star roster at least once since 1951. Of these, 312 have earned multiple selections. LeBron James will play in his twentieth All Star game this year, moving him ahead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most selections in history (LeBron has three MVP awards in nineteen years).

Lisa playing in the iconic The City League in the summer of 2021.

Becoming an All-Star in anything takes time, dedication, perseverance, persistence, discipline, and most of all, patience. You have to be willing to do the hard things over and over again, delaying gratification and not becoming discouraged.

I believe the same is true with DEI work, or any heart work, really. Although it would be wonderful to participate in a training or go to a workshop and be an All-Star, the reality of the situation is that it doesn’t work that way. In sports there is so much work that goes on behind the scenes, in the wee hours of the morning and late at night, when there are no lights, no fans, no cameras, no one to tell you how great you are. Just you and the ball. Just you, your thoughts, and your conviction that you will do whatever it takes to be great. It’s a decision, a choice, a lifestyle.

Living my life in the way of equity is really no different. It’s a choice and my actions are in alignment with that choice—every single day. Don’t get me wrong, there are days in which I have a bad game, or I can’t hit a shot, or I turn the ball over on a very important play. But, I never let that stop me; it is part of the game. No one is perfect. We all have flaws and because there are billions of versions of individuals who have their own unique identities, I am bound to mess up at some point. It’s statistically guaranteed. However, I always look to the next play. We cannot dwell on our shortcomings. As Maya Angelou said, “Know better, do better.”

Lisa and DJ BK posing in front of the Larry O’Brien championship trophy promoting the All Star game in Indy.

I have had the honor and privilege of being named to All-Star teams in my playing career. It was a wonderful accomplishment, and I quickly realized that it never means this is the new normal. You have to continue to put in the work. You have to continue to show up, because if you don’t, there is always someone else out there who is doing that work. All-Star mentality is a different way of being. I wonder if this is why people say DEI work is so “exhausting.” Putting forth the effort to be great at anything is exhausting. Maybe exhausting is a badge of courage, not a flaw.

Not everyone is going to like you or be excited about the work you are doing. They may even “boo” you. Remember when I told you about Kobe Bryant winning the MVP award for the All-Star game in 2002? That game was played in his hometown of Philadelphia. He scored 31 points, had 5 rebounds and 5 assists in 30 minutes of play. The fans booed him every time he touched the ball and even when he was awarded his MVP trophy. During an in-game interview, Bryant said: “It hurt my feelings.” He went on to play his best and win that MVP award anyway. In a postgame interview, Michael Jordan had this to say about the booing: “Kobe is the type of player, he’s going to go out and play aggressive. The boos don’t stop him from playing. I’m pretty sure the boos would not stop me from playing. [It] gives him more energy to go out and play.” How will you make sure the boos don’t stop you from playing either?

One more thought: There are hundreds of players who are not participating in the All-Star Break festivities. This break is a great time for them to rest, heal, spend time with family, and regain mental and emotional strength. These things are extremely important in DEIB work, also. Sometimes it’s okay to let others take the lead while we rest. Taking care of yourself is extremely important. If not, we get injured and can’t play at all.

As we celebrate the All-Stars this weekend, take a moment to celebrate yourself. You are an All-Star, especially if you live your life in a way that is encouraging and uplifting of others. You may not get a trophy for it. You may not get any acknowledgement at all. But remember: you are still in the top 1%, and that is worth recognition. Thank you for taking the time, energy, and effort to care about others. Cheers to all the All-Stars!

Lisa coaching her University high school basketball team. Helping create new all stars!

p.s. In terms of basketball, I really love coaching players and helping them move toward their goals of becoming All-Stars. Pay it forward. Much love!

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