On March 14, 2003, I returned to Philadelphia to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of my greatest professional triumph to date. The 76ers were playing the Portland Trailblazers that night, and at halftime of the game, the Sixers were honoring their 1983 NBA Championship team, the last of the city's four major sports teams to win a title.
What a glorious night! I was the general manager of the Sixers in ‘83, and it was wonderful to see all the coaches and players and to relive that season for a few moments. First, there was a reception before the game for the team, and we all got to catch up: Coach Billy Cunningham and Julius Erving and Moses Malone and Bobby Jones and everyone who made the championship possible. There were so many hugs and hellos and fond memories, I walked around the room with a silly little smile on my face. I was just so happy to see everyone. At halftime of the game, they dimmed the lights of the First Union Center and introduced each of us one by one.
The building was filled with people, and they stood and cheered for us until all anyone could hear was just one long, loud sound. It was a powerful, emotional event, and it touched all of us.
Then, just as the night was ending, a tiny moment took place that I'll remember forever. The team was finishing a bus ride from the arena to our hotel, and as the bus pulled up, Clint Richardson turned toward me. Clint was the third guard on the '83 Sixers, behind point guard Mo Cheeks and shooting guard Andrew Toney, but he was essential to our success. He was a terrific defensive player, and he gave us a boost on offense every time he entered a game. Plus, he's a sweet person, still wide-eyed and almost innocent after all this time.
"I'm sure glad we won," he said to me. "They wouldn't have had this event if we hadn't, you know."
Now, I'm sure that, at first reading, Clint's words that night seem obvious and even childlike. However, he touched on a pretty profound concept.
Winning is important in life, and giving everything you have in the pursuit of winning is a noble, sometimes necessary goal. Only by putting all of yourself into that pursuit, and then succeeding, can you truly taste how sweet life can be. Clint was right. They wouldn't have held that event for us if we hadn't won, because second place is never as sweet as first.
And Jackie Robinson knew that truth well.
"It kills me to lose," he once said. "If I'm a troublemaker--and I don't think that my temper makes me one--then it's because I can't stand losing."
©2005. All rights reserved. Pat Williams with Mike Sielski, Foreword: Allan "Bud" Selig, Commissioner of Baseball. Reprinted from How to Be Like Jackie Robinson: Life Lessons from Baseball's Greatest Hero. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.