Maurice Cheeks, coach of the Portland Trailblazers was fired yesterday. Now, don’t go thinking I’m one of those cool broads who keeps up on sports, I’m not really. I was, however, flipping to the crossword section of the USA Today this afternoon on a flight to Detroit and saw the story in the sports section. It caught my eye.
Not because I’m a Trailblazers fan, exactly. Not because I keep up on Portland news. And not because I keep up with what’s going on in baseball.
I’m kidding … basketball.
The reason the story caught my eye is because of Coach Cheeks himself. I’m a huge fan. Let me tell you why. If you follow sports, you may remember this story.
A couple years ago, at a Trailblazers game, Natalie Gilbert stepped to center court to sing the National Anthem. Natalie had won a contest. Natalie had an amazing voice. Natalie was 13 years old. Dressed in a black and white dress, she stepped to center court and began singing the song that she must have sung a hundred times before. Little girl. Big voice. She started perfectly. She sounded great.
Somewhere near the middle of the song, something happened. This little girl, who had earlier in practice sung perfectly, forgot the words. She halted. She stumbled. She choked and sputtered and looked to the side in a near panic.
She put her head down. Her brow furrowed and her eyes welled up. Can you imagine? I’m sure she wanted to die.
Then it happened. To her, he must have seemed an angel. To the rest of us he was Mo Cheeks. He had been, of course, on the sidelines with his team. He was now center court with Natalie. He put his arm around her and began whispering the words to her. He began singing. She nodded. She began singing too. Coach Cheeks lifted his arm and motioned to everyone else to join in. And by God, they did. Two voices became 20 and then 200 and then that entire crowd became a chorus and they all finished the song together.
He saved her.
What made him do it? What in the world made him move from that bench to center court? He doesn’t have a great singing voice, so that couldn’t be it. I’m sure he had other things on his mind that night and I can guarantee there is nothing in his job description about saving a 13 year old girl from the embarrassment of a lifetime. But all those things didn’t stop him. When asked why he did it, he said “I didn’t even know if I knew all the words, I just didn’t want her to be out there alone.”
I think that’s an example of perfect leadership. He saw a need. He responded. He got others to respond as well. And isn’t that all leadership is, really? Leading from one heart to another? Yes. I think so. We need more of that kind of leadership. Trailblazer indeed.
Maurice Cheeks was fired yesterday. I don’t know about his record as a coach. But as a human being, I think he’s unbeatable.
Thanks for the lesson, Coach Cheeks.