I spend a lot of time with coaches, mainly with college coaches, but this past week I was connected with some NBA coaches, their staff, and the professional athletes.  This was an incredible experience.  Why?  I was with these men during the days of the trade deadline.  What an experience!

As I experienced this time, I became acutely aware of the stress, pressure, and the uncertainty of the situation that these coaches and athletes deal with at this time of year. Here are just a few of the things I observed and learned.  I truly found it interesting and compelling.

One, for the whole organization.  Are we buying or selling?  Can we make a run for the playoffs or should shut it down, and hope to get higher in the draft?  As you read this, does that matter?

Well playoffs mean money.  Coaches and staff get bonuses for playoffs and for wins.  Does that matter?  Ponder this scenario.  The average salary for assistants in the NBA is around 300,000.00. In the first round, an assistant can make a bonus of 20,000.00, around 30,000.00 for the second round, and another 40,000 for the finals?  That is not chump change.  It is less for second seat assistants [those behind the bench] but they may need it more!  Would you want to try and make the playoffs knowing that?  Can you make the playoffs if you tank the rest of the season?

This scenario is also true for players.  They get bonuses for wins.  Do they want a piece of this pie?  And at what cost?  Some have enough money so that is not a pressure, but what about the guy that is number 10, 11, or 12 on that bench?

Let’s move pass the monetary and move towards the competitive side of the athlete.  The situation I was involved in saw one player who was not playing, but was part of team that was playoff bound.  He loved the team and the locker room, and was grateful to be part of the organization.  With less than an hour left in the deadline, he was traded to team that is not competitive, and will not make the playoffs.  He is also concerned that in the deal the new organization was more concerned with the draft picks involved in the trade then him, and that within a few days he will be waived, and out of the league.

On the flip side, the player swapped to the playoff contending team, flew to the new team’s city on Thursday [without moving or packing—just grabbing some clothes], and met an assistant that night at 9 pm at the team facility.  With a quick review of systems [which the team dummied down for him], he was in uniform, and played Friday night.  In that game he was given significant minutes, and was part of an important team victory.  He was playing an insignificant role at his previous team, and now he was part of high-level game, and having a strong role.  He went from the looking at the outside and is now in a great scenario.

Another player wanted to be traded due to a lack of playing time, expressed it publicly, and then did not get traded.  He then had to address the media and others about how he was still glad to be in the organization, and “hoped” he could make an impact still with additional time.

But in the midst of the basketball, I saw more importantly humanity.  People that within less than 24 hours had to make quick decisions about family, homes, travel, what to leave and what to take.  Keep the kids in school, but dad has to move away for a few months.  It made it real and made it raw for me.  These were not just athletes, they were human beings in the midst of tough, unexpected change.

Yes, professional athletes make a great pay check.  But for those of us who have ever moved, doing it with knowing it is occurring it is tough enough.  At the last minute, it is beyond a challenge.

What have I learned from this experience?  Athletes are human.  There are things that are beyond our scope of understanding unless we see it with our own eyes and experience.  All of us have different challenges in our lives and occupations.  May we be aware of this, and have a spirit of understanding.