On July 3 the Boston Celtics made the most surprising and unexpected move of the offseason. Brad Stevens had become the 17th head coach in team history and I remember perfectly what my initial reaction was: “Who the hell is Brad Stevens and why is Brett Brown not the new coach of the Celtics?”
Oh yeah, those were the times. But now, more than 4 months later, I have one of the greatest man crushes in history with Brad Stevens. Yes he is young, and yes he has zero experience, but also yes he’s brilliant, and yes he’s a basketball junkie.
I got into the hire when I realized Stevens was the former Butler head coach and I remembered that 2010 NCAA final game against Duke. I liked the hire then, but I could not imagine that I would like it this much right now. I did not know much about the guy other than he was young and considered one of the best young coaches in college.
Then I also read what Danny had to say about him in the press release: “Brad and I share a lot of the same values,” Ainge said. “Though he is young, I see Brad as a great leader who leads with impeccable character and a strong work ethic. His teams always play hard and execute on both ends of the court. Brad is a coach who has already enjoyed lots of success, and I look forward to working with him towards Banner 18.” For someone who had Doc Rivers as their previous head coach to be ranting like this about a 36 year old, that meant a lot to me at the time.
Right now, it could not be any clearer in my mind why I love Stevens: his philosophy. Can I call it Steveanism?
To understand Steveanism it has to be divided into three categories: Brad Stevens the person, a process, and relationships. These are the three broad themes that will lead us to understand why Brad Stevens has been so likeable in his months here even before coaching a single real game.
Stevens the person has a story as interesting as it gets. He always played basketball but never was the best at it. He knew it, just as he knew that his passion was not in playing but in coaching.
Stevens graduated with a major in Economics from DePaw University. Before graduating he was working as an intern on pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, and upon graduation was offered a full-time job there. Even as he worked in Eli, basketball still belonged in his life. He was a volunteer assistant at Carmel High School in Indianapolis while also playing in a league with others from Eli Lilly. This was 1999.
But then, in 2000, he was offered a volunteer assistant coaching job with Butler in Thad Matta’s staff. Eli Lilly offered the financial security, but Butler offered him a door to his dream job. Stevens took a leap of faith and went where his love was, coaching.
The rest is history, but what truly is important here is that Brad Stevens did what he loved. Many times, we’re scared of doing so, and I bet most of us would never have done what Stevens did if we were in his shoes. This speaks volume of who the Celtics head coach is as a human being.
All of that was context, but his first words as a coach of the Boston Celtics were the most encouraging information about him we could get. “Obviously it’s an honor and a privilege to be here. I certainly will have a lot of thanks to dole out,” Stevens said. “I am absolutely humbled, to be sitting in this room and looking around me with the banners that hang.” His character and personality were shown right there in the first 30 seconds we actually got to know him. It was pretty much the best we could hear. Until of course, this: “I’m not one of these guys that is crazy enough to think that I’m here because of me.” At that point, I was in love.
Danny did not stop himself in complementing his hire either. “He is a man of great integrity and character,” Ainge said. And when talking about differences between failures like Pitino/Calipari and Stevens, Ainge said, “He obviously wouldn’t say this about himself, but a difference is his humility. We are investing in him as a person.” That last line was essential and it shows of what the Celtics are truly made of and why they manage to be so successful. Everyone is a person first, then a coach, a player, an owner, a general manager, a ball-boy, or anything else. But a person first, and Stevens before being a great coach, is a tremendous person.
After evaluating who Brad Stevens is, we find the second pillar of Steveanism: ‘The Process’. We have repeatedly heard him say how he is not concerned with the results but with the process that takes to the results.
How can this even be possible? Well, by thinking that if the process is done how it is supposed to, with respect, and with effort, then the results will simply come by. “It’s not just about what you want, it’s about what you do everyday,” Stevens says, and that’s the perfect way to summarize how the process is and always will be more important than the outcome.
There is always a path to follow. The tracks are there, but there’s always the option to go away from those tracks, too. You can step into the forest, get easily lost, and stay in darkness forever. But if you follow the tracks of the path that has been set, at the end of a long walk you’ll find daylight.
Establishing and then following a process will result in preparation. “It’s about who executes the way that they want to play.” That preparation is the one that will win games and, eventually, championships. In Boston, you can’t be settling with nothing short of championships. Stevens understands that.
“Everybody in here has the goal of winning championships; that is the goal. That has always been the goal and that will always be the goal. But it takes a process to get there.”
So, just as he understands that all that Celtics fans want is Banner 18, and 19, and 20, and more, we will need to understand Brad Stevens’ approach to that. That approach is what I call the second pillar of Steveniasm, ‘The Process’, and Stevens defines it like this: “True passion not just for getting there but also how to get there and the building process to get there.”
Understanding ‘The Process’ may be simple, but embracing it, no matter how hard it possibly gets, will be a difficult job for fans and everyone around the Celtics organization. Therefore, Stevens calls for passion, not just for the rings and banners, but for how those are accomplished.
Steveanism will hopefully get the Celtics to better grounds than those in which they currently lay. This won’t be able to happen, though, without the third and last pillar: ‘Relationships.’
Today’s modern world is constructed in its entirety around relationships. How can I relate to someone else? How is my ability to interact with other people? That generally dictates how a person will live in this world. One is not alone here; we share the world with billions of people, so one can’t act like no one else exists. Acknowledging the other and coexisting with him is essential.
In basketball terms and with more simplicity: team work.
The team isn’t made by just 15 guys, but by every single member of the Boston Celtics organization. Everyone, from the front office, to the coaching staff, to the players needs to be together for the machine to work.
“What I would look for in any working environment are people that are all on the same page.”
It will all be about being together, working together, and sweating together for Stevens. “This whole place has been built on a team-first mindset,” Stevens said when referring to the Celtics organization. He has no plans of changing that. Instead he is thinking of reinforcing it because according to him “who is the most focused team, who is the most together team, that can make a difference.”
Stevens’ focus won’t be just basketball, it will be everyone who makes playing basketball possible. He will strive for making every single person feel comfortable where they are. Not only that, but while making them comfortable make them better at their craft too: “I’ll genuinely care about not only our collective success but their individual success.”
Still, the whole is more than the individuals. Individuals can’t forget why they are all there. As they improve, they are making an entire franchise improve, taking it to other levels. The individuals are tangible, but the intangible organization of the Boston Celtics will always be above any member of it.
Stevens also understands that. “We’ll try to give everything we have for the collective good.” That collective good will make everyone feel better, despite any individual stuff that might be going on. When people see the results, that’s when they will understand what they are truly working for.
The Boston Celtics are under Steveanism. Danny Ainge gave Brad Stevens a 6 year deal which only proves the franchise is committed to him. They are committed because they trust him. They trust him as a coach, as a motivator, and as a person.
Throughout his life, Stevens has found a way to do things and to work, his way. He has found success where he’s gone because he has applied his philosophy. He not only preaches, he practices.
If the Celtics truly are committed to Stevens, they will be committed to Steveanism. They will strive to work in favor of the philosophy of their coach; that philosophy, that in the end, has always been deep inside the Boston Celtics.