But those lucky enough, and wealthy enough, to sit near the Celtics bench this season will hear something quite different coming out of the team huddles. During the first days of training camp in Italy, the team has chosen the word “ubuntu” to finish its post-practice moment with coach Doc Rivers.
I have written several articles on the importance of chemistry. Teams that have great chemistry like the Spurs and Pistons win championships. Teams that don't have great chemistry, even with multiple stars on the team, such as the Lakers with Malone, Payton, Kobe, and Shaq or the Rockets with Drexler, Barkley and Hakeem, don't win championships. The team that won the last championship in Boston had great chemistry and did things as a team to promote comraderie. In Peter May's book, The Last Banner, he tells us that the players on that team took a common bond not to drink beer until after the season. It may seem silly, but things like that tend to draw a team together.
That brings us to this current Celtics team. First, we saw the unity of the 3 stars on this team. Pierce and Allen flew in to be there for KG's press conference. Then, all 3 came back to Boston early to work out together and get to know each other's games. They have made a point of appearing for interviews and pictures as a unit. They have made the point that they are unified with one goal, and that is winning a championship.
Yesterday we got the news that Pierce, Rondo and Perk had shaved their heads to show unity among the starters. The 1986 team gave up drinking beer as a sign of unity and solidarity as a team going for a championship. Doc said that it doesn't matter what they look like and that is true, but what is important is the singularity of mind on that unit and being willing to band together.
Today, the Herald ran a story about the team's new motto - ubuntu. The word 'Ubuntu' originates from one of the Bantu dialects of Africa, and is pronounced as uu-Boon-too. Bishop Desmond Tutu defined ubuntu like this:
A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.
This is an excellent motto for this team to stress team unity. The statement "does not feel threatened that others are able and good" should remind the 3 stars on this team (or as Donny Marshall called them on Sports Tonight, the 3 studs) that ego should not get in the way of team play. They are all playing for the greater whole and it doesn't matter who scores the most or who gets the headlines, all that matters is the win and that will take team chemistry.
In his blog today, Big Baby talks about ubuntu and how he has already put it into effect.
I had to help Jackie Manuel eat oyster salad. The rookies had to eat that, and when he was having trouble finishing, they asked me if I was going to help my teammate out. You read about Ubuntu in Thursday’s Herald and how that’s our philosophy — each man on the team helping each other. So I had to help my fellow rookie. Ubuntu, that’s the saying of the year for us. They were like, are you going to help him. And I was like, yeah, I’m going to help my man.
Poor guy, first there was the octopus and now he has to help his teammate eat oyster salad. For one thing, this can't be helping him in his quest to keep his weight down. But the fact that he was willing to do something disgusting to him to help a teammate shows that he is taking this motto to heart.
Perk had this to say about the new motto:
It’s just our team motto this year. It’s what we’re living by - ubuntu. We stick together. That’s basically what I think it means, just bringing everyone together, everybody sticking together through thick and thin. I think it brings team unity. It’s very unique. I think if we live by it, we’ll be all right.”
Ray Allen had this to say about it:
“It’s a unique way of trying to unite everybody and make people understand that through all of our differences, we’ve got to have a similarity,” he said. “We have to come out here and play basketball every day, but we have to do it together. We’re starting our season now, and this is what we want to have as our foundation.”
Paul Pierce had this to say:
“I look at this team, and I think everybody believes in that phrase, because no matter who gets the glory, it means we all get the glory. For Kevin Garnett to get the MVP or Ray Allen to get the MVP or (Rajon) Rondo to make an All-Star team, I know I’ve got a part in that. I’m going to feel that. That’s what’s going to make us successful. If everybody feels that way about it and doesn’t care who gets the glory - because we all get the glory at the end - it’s going to be something special. If we can carry that throughout the whole year and not get down on one another and we keep it like that, we’re going to go a long way.”
Chemistry is going to be a very important to the success of this team and every time I read something like the fact that the starters have all shaved their heads to show unity, or the fact that their motto is now ubuntu, I see that this team is building chemistry and they are working as a team. There have been many asking if there will be enough basketballs for the 3 stars on this team and if they can work together, but ubuntu guarantees that they can and will work together. Like the Three Musketeers, it is one for all and all for one. And it will take that attitude all season for this team to be successful.