This Is What It Takes to Be a Game Changer

Pro ballers are so effortlessly athletic that it’s easy to forget that their on-court brilliance is the hard-earned result of a lifetime of give-it-all-you-got work. Even then, when we do consider the grind, it’s generally framed in physical terms, like the number of hours spent in the gym, pick-up sessions played over the weekend, or make-believe championship games hypothesized on the driveway (where you always hit the buzzer-beater, of course).

In doing so, the mental and the emotional side gets overlooked—those moments of self-doubt, second-guessing, and dream questioning that precede collegiate hype, draft day, and lucrative pro contracts. The highlight reel of success is always rolling for the general public, but the misfires and setbacks are left on the cutting room floor.

And that’s not limited to just sports, either. Professions of all stripes require cultivating a mental resilience and adaptability to complement natural talent, savvy, and smarts. So although you might not be able to do a windmill jam (or touch rim), these life lessons from hardcourt stars and Express Game Changers Victor Oladipo, John Collins, Jamal Murray, Trae Young, and Mo Bamba are an easy layup to success in any life endeavor (seriously, though—we can’t touch rim either).

1. Cultivate Competitive Energy—and Harness It to Your Advantage

Victor
I’ve grown over the years, obviously, and started working on my mind. The biggest thing I focus on is to take a deep breath, and I turn into a different person. When I calm myself down, it’s like a transformation stage.”

John
“Before I step onto the court, and after, is like two different people. It’s almost like I go into an animalistic state, with a lot of instincts and reactions, whereas off the court I’m more relaxed and whatnot. Once I step on the court it’s like a trance—I’ve been there so many times, I can just snap back into it and start playing.”

 

Trae
“Before games, I think about how I need to prepare myself to go out and play. I don’t want to think about too many things, because I don’t want to let it distract me from the game. I think about what I have to do to succeed. I never get too hyped or too low. I just stay level-headed. I listen to music and relax and think about my opponent.”
 

 Jamal
“When I was growing up, I used to play basketball two or three times a day—in the morning, after school, and then eat, chill, and play some video games, and then maybe go back at night with my dad. Now, it’s different because we play so many games, but it shouldn’t matter if I have a game. I just go back in the gym and put up a couple of shots and have that same kind of passion as I did growing up.”

2. Positivity and Passion

Jamal
“I get the best performance out of my teammates by demanding the best of myself. Challenging them, waking them up—if that takes me scoring on them and talking a little trash; if that takes buckling down defensively and not letting them score and getting in their heads, I’m going to do what I have to do. I’m very verbal on the court; what I need to work on is being verbal off the court. Trying to get my team motivated during the game is what I excel at.”

Mo
“In Summer League, it wasn’t really our set team, we didn’t really know each other, but there was a sense of camaraderie. That’s another component about basketball that I like—there’s that sense of camaraderie, even if you don’t know the guy standing next to you.”

 

John
“I try to put a loss as far away in my brain as I can. This year, I have another 82 games to try to recover my image. After the first game’s over, I have 81 more. In the NBA, there are so many games and so many opportunities to recover, so that’s what I focus on—getting past the loss and focusing on the next game.”
 

Victor
“It’s only a setback if you set yourself back. I don’t fathom losing. Losing is an illusion. You don’t really lose—you learn, and then the next time, you correct it so you can be better and make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’m big on positivity. If you give off positivity, positive things will come of it.”

Trae
“I stick to what I know. I stick to what got me to the position I’m in. Watching a lot of film and getting back to work. You’re not going to win them all, so you need to know how to bounce back and be able to take losses and learn from them.”

3. Learn, Reflect, Adapt (and Repeat)

Victor
“You come from high school or from college, where you win all the time, and when you come to the NBA, it’s hard your first year. You’re not going to get all the love you got when you were younger. All these guys have families to feed, a point to prove, and a place they’re trying to get to, and you’re in their way. You need to have an even keel, be able to take the highs with the highs, and the lows with the lows, and realize what the main focus is. If you do that, you’ll succeed.”

Trae
“Anybody can do it. It’s all about how hard you work and how hard you really want it at the end of the day. For example, I’m not a seven-footer with a seven-five wingspan. I’m six-two, a regular guy, I just took basketball seriously. That’s how I got here so anybody can do it.”

 

Jamal
“I think it comes down to confidence. If you practice every day—if you practice your shot, your game, whatever you’re working on‚ if you believe in it, then that’s what you should do. You shouldn’t practice it and not believe in it, especially if it’s something that you want to do. Believe in whatever you practice.”

Mo
“Just keep shooting. Keep shooting for your dreams. Put in the work to turn it into reality.”