JAY WILLIAMS, HOST:
Welcome to THE LIMITS. I'm Jay Williams. If you are a sports fan, we've all felt those magical, iconic moments, like when Kawhi Leonard pulled up for a series-winning jumper against the 76ers back in the year 2019.
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KEVIN HARLAN: It's off to Leonard, defended by Simmons. Is this the dagger?
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HARLAN: Oh, Toronto has won.
WILLIAMS: You see, the ball hits the rim four times before finding its way through the net. That one still will resonate forever in our collective memories. I'm also thinking of soccer star Megan Rapinoe. Off the pitch, she's become a leader on political and gender equity issues. But during her long career, she's shown true dominance as a player.
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UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: She's going for gold, and scores. The Olympico (ph) again at the Olympic Games by Megan Rapinoe. The U.S. leads 1-0.
WILLIAMS: I know how it feels to be in the zone. When I played basketball for Duke, I won awards, and I broke records. And ultimately, I led my team to a national championship. But to everybody watching on the screen, it seemed easy. But honestly, I knew all the hard work that I put into it. And I knew the pressure that came along with each step of the way. Peak physical conditioning, it can only take you so far. Elevating how you think and how you see the game is a completely different level that truly only the greats can achieve. So on the pod this season, I wanted to talk to a few athletes and one coach about how they actually thrive. Here are some of my unaired gems from my conversations with Megan Rapinoe, Michael Krzyzewski, better known as Coach K, and Magic Johnson. First up, Megan Rapinoe. Her partner, Sue Bird, just finished her final season with the Seattle Storm. And as Megan gets older, she's thinking about retirement, too.
MEGAN RAPINOE: I think we're both, you know, so excited to do other things. I mean, I think, you know, kind of like I was saying before about the sort of 360 demand that is sports, it is really like a physical, spiritual and emotional demand on your body and on your mind and your heart. So I think we're both looking forward to, like, that freedom of, yeah, maybe we, like, do weekend trips. Like people, normal people do all kinds of fun things all the time. They, like, plan their lives around weekends. They, like, take long weekends. I'm like, what is that? My off day's like Tuesday and Thursday. It's, like, so random. So I think just - I honestly want to take like a year and just figure it out and not do too much. I'm sure I'll be doing some stuff. And we'll have, you know, hopefully a lot of opportunities. But I'm looking forward to being able to really actually pick and choose where we want to spend our time kind of for the first time ever.
WILLIAMS: As athletes continue to get older, they're always thinking about ways they can adapt their games and still be great, especially as that sport wears on their body. And as Megan tells us, it's all about getting creative with your mind.
I felt moments when I played that I became one with the game. Like, I can't tell you what the hell happened during the game. After it's over, I just - I got lost in it. And for me, it's really weird. But I had to find something, Megan, to make me angry. If it was - I don't like the way that guy's chewing his gum. Now, this may be insecure, but I don't care. Whatever got me to this point, right? I don't like the way this guy's jersey looks. Or this guy made this comment about me in a newspaper two years ago. Whatever it was, I used it to drive me to get me to an optimal space in my mind where I could compete. What gets you - like, what is the type of flow or channeling of energy that gets you to that sweet spot when you compete?
RAPINOE: I think, for me, it's the - I love the creative part of sports. I feel like that's not something that's talked about all the time. But like, especially as I've gotten older, 'cause I think sometimes when you're younger, you're just like, I'm just doing it, you know, and I'm just going out there, giving it my all. Especially as I've gotten older, it's like, where can I manipulate the game? You know, especially as I've lost a step, it's like, where can I manipulate the game? How can I outsmart you? Do I think you think you're better than me just because I've lost a step, and now I'm like, oh, now I'm really going to outsmart you? And then, like, that's been a great joy for me. And that's going to be so (inaudible) for, like, my own personal self.
And then I think also, just like as a team, I love the idea that you never really - you never play perfect, obviously. And you never, like, really do exactly what you want to do. There's always more. And there's always, like, those little things, whether you win championships or you compete for championships or you're just playing a normal game, it's like, that sort of, like - especially in a team environment, how do we get everybody, you know, sort of working together and bringing their own creativity for the betterment of the team? I love, like, those little tweaks. And then, yeah, eventually it, like, comes down to this, like, head-to-head matchup, and it's - I totally agree. I'm like, your socks look dumb. I can't believe you wear them like that. I can't believe you kick the ball like that. Like, that's offensive to the game, so it's just, like...
WILLIAMS: It's so petty, but it's a necessity, you know?
RAPINOE: It's a necessity. Yeah. And it's like - yeah, you got to just, like, find those little things. And I think, you know, also playing a ton of games and, you know - it's, like - it's hard to get up for games sometimes, especially if it's not, like, the biggest games. And then the more big games you play in, whether it's championships or World Cups or whatever it may be, the harder the just kind of, like, normal games become to get up for. So then it's like, yeah, then you're doing all the little things, or you're trying to work on something in your game, or, you know, somebody said something at some point, or you just feel there's a vibe in the air about you as a player or something like that. And then it's like, yeah, you're constantly just, like, looking for these little ways that you can find kind of, like, little wins within the game. And I feel like that's kind of where the flow state comes from, is just, like, these little moments where you're tapped in, like, so deep and that's your only focus, that you get to, like, find these little pockets in the game that other people can't find.
WILLIAMS: Megan, what is your cheat code for keeping mentally strong in a marathon of a career? How does one stay mentally strong?
RAPINOE: I would say, I mean, particularly in the age of social media, which is wild, like, keep your circle close. And I mean that in the way that - it's like, right now, if I want to go on Twitter, like, someone's telling me I'm amazing. Someone tells me I'm anti-American. Somebody tells me I'm terrible. Someone doesn't care - whatever. You get everything. But, like, that's not really real. So when I say keep your circle tight, I mean, like, keep the people that you trust, that are going to give it to you real. Like, when you're doing well, they will be there to tell you that. When you mess up, they will be there to tell you that, and sort of all the kind of moments in between.
I think that's very important, particularly for young people, to have, like, a sense of reality because social media is not reality. And just because we live in this, you know, ever-expanding global world with everything at our fingertips, that's not really real. Like, just because you can, you know, have 2 million followers - like, I don't know 2 million people, you know? I don't know all these people. Like, probably a third of them are bots anyways. So it's like, keep your reality your reality. And I feel like that's what keeps me very grounded through all of this. I learned it not extremely the hard way during kneeling, but a little bit. Like, right in the beginning I was like, oh my God, this is crazy. And then it was like, OK, hone in, keep that tight.
I feel like cultivating your gut feeling as well - whether you want to call it intuition or gut or confidence, whatever it is - like, I think that is a muscle, and that is a skill that you can work on and cultivate and grow and have that. I think we have that naturally. Like, sometimes you just know, you know? Kind of that, like, mind-body connection I think is really important.
And then honestly I would say just don't take yourself too seriously. Just, like, do the best you can. If you can, you know, sleep at night and you feel, you know, good in what you're saying and the stances that you're taking or whatever it may be, I think that's the most important. Like, it's life. We get one. I'm not a religious person at all. I feel like we get one life, and in the grand scheme of things, it's very short. So don't sweat the small stuff, and have a laugh every now and then.
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WILLIAMS: There is no doubt that Megan Rapinoe is one of the all-time greats in soccer. But let's go back to my sport, basketball, for a second, and one of the current stars in the NBA today - Stephen Curry, a guy who can score from anywhere at any given time on the court. When he's cooking - trust me, I've seen it in person - it's impossible to stop him. After the break, my mentor, Coach K, talks about the genius of Stephen Curry.
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WILLIAMS: Michael Krzyzewski is best known for his historic run at Duke and for coaching the U.S. Olympic team. Be honest with you, it feels really weird calling him by his full government name. He's always Coach K to me, and he always will be. During my time playing for him at Duke, he helped me not only become a better, smarter basketball player, but a better overall human being. When I had him on the pod, we reminisced about how we worked through our differences on and off the court. Listen to this.
You know, one of the challenges I've always had is how to deal with confrontation, which, for me, confrontation was more how to deal with myself. Right?
MICHAEL KRZYZEWSKI: No, no. It's a great point.
WILLIAMS: And I think going through that, you know, even if you've - I just bring it up because I think it was one of the first times I really have it where I don't even know what the heck I said, Coach? I know Reggie Love talked about it in a book that came out, but that moment that you and I had at the Virginia game where you literally called me out about thinking about what was coming up playing in the NBA. And I remember, you know, that moment.
KRZYZEWSKI: Right, right.
WILLIAMS: I had been thinking about that because I allowed outside people to make me think about that instead of focusing about what we had to focus on. But I didn't know how to articulate that.
KRZYZEWSKI: Right. Well, the other thing with that is you're still a young guy, man. Like, you know, and you could get distracted from having complete focus in that moment because that Virginia game wasn't - even though it's big, it's not as big as what's going to happen or you can skip some steps and want to be in that - the tournament right away. Or, you know, I mean, it's - a lot of that is youth. And so when I - you weren't the first guy I've ever said anything like that to. And it was kind of to rock you, you know, like, and get you even, like, angry at me or whatever, but to get you back. It was kind of like putting those shock absorbers right on your chest, but instead, putting them on your head and then see what happens with that. And, you know, for me, sometimes you say or do some outlandish things to shock, you know, not to embarrass, to get it back to normal. And then you go through a process of recovery during that time. But in other words, you can't just sit back and let it happen. And, you know, so - but that was - like, that's a - for me, a very small thing. But that doesn't - that's not the basis of our relationship.
WILLIAMS: Coach K really embodies that title. He's mentored so many players that have came through Duke over the years. And he's coached some of the greatest athletes on the planet. See, his key, his secret to success is helping players get out of their own way. And it gets him to buy into something way bigger than themselves. In 2008, 2012 and 2016, he brought home gold medals for the U.S. Olympic team featuring current and future Hall of Famers like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul. And when he came on my pod, he let me into the world of Steph Curry, the greatest shooter that game of basketball has ever seen.
KRZYZEWSKI: The Warriors, I mean, they're all good, but they love when Steph is an alien, right? I mean, he's an alien, man. He's...
WILLIAMS: Six-two doing that. Thank you for saying that, Coach, because I try to tell people here how challenging it is to do what he's doing at 6'2". It's unheard of against this type of talent that we see on the court.
KRZYZEWSKI: He's one of the great players of all time. And, you know, I had an opportunity to coach him twice in two world championships in Istanbul in 2010 and in Madrid in 2014. And I'd learned from watching these guys, Kobe, LeBron, how they trained, you know, what they show on videos and all that isn't necessarily what they do all the time. And one time where - I don't know if I was in Balboa, Spain, or Barcelona, and we had like a little, you know, having a workout. But then they're doing their individual stuff. And Steph is like in a imaginary box, you know. And he's trying to do all - like, he's trying to do all kind of movements. And I said, what are you doing? And he said, Coach, I'm a good athlete. I'm not a great athlete. I'm going to be guarded by the best athletes in the world. I have the quickest release of anybody, and I believe I can shoot. I have to create different windows. I have to create a few different - a lot of different movements to get, you know, instead of the, you know, everyone say, let's practice the shot fake. That's not going to work.
He's got to - so little things that he did and he practiced those things. It's unbelievably interesting. And so when I watch him, I mean, how does he get open? And I go, Draymond Green and these guys help him. But he's in that moment to create the window or whenever he has the window, whether - how about when they went up 20 something and he comes down and shoots one from 38 feet, right? So that was his window that time. And it was - if you watch him, it's not - it's a little bit different shot and whatever. So he is really smart about him. You know what I mean? He doesn't try to be anyone else. You know, when we had Kyrie, you know, Kyrie would - he's still the best layup maker. And he'd be in front, and he'd look at the backboard and different boxes and try spins and whatever. I said, holy mackerel.
WILLIAMS: To me, success is all about creative practice. It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. Practicing creative ways that aren't the norm is part of the equation to mastering your craft. One master of his craft is no other than Magic Johnson, who I was lucky enough to have on my pod earlier this year. If you haven't heard that episode, you better stop what you're doing and go listen to it right now. I asked Magic about his rivalry with Larry Bird. It seemed like their competition was about way more than just basketball. Just imagine it, two GOATs going at it for years, constantly egged on by fans and the media, starting all the way back to college. They first went head-to-head in the 1979 NCAA Championship Game, Larry representing Indiana State and Magic leading Michigan State. That game, which Magic won, is still to this day the most-watched college basketball game in the history of the sport. I asked Magic how it felt to be part of such a historic, monumental game in the history of our sport.
You and Larry are kind of interconnected. You guys have followed each other the entire career. Did you know at that moment of time the significance of that moment?
MAGIC JOHNSON: Jay, I would be lying to you and everybody else who'd listen to us today if I say yes. I would have to say no. You know, you're two young men who are trying to win a national championship, something that you know oh so well, doing it yourself. And you're just preparing for this great, dominant college basketball player and player of the year in Larry Bird. And so I did not know this would be the No. 1 watched college basketball game of all time. I just wanted to beat Indiana State and Larry Bird. That happened.
But I knew this, Jay. I knew how great he was, and I told all my friends. The summer before that, we played on the World Invitational team together. All the top college players play on that team together. And, man, listen. I saw him dominate the best college players who had bigger names than him, right? And then he played like me. He could make the no-look passes. And he set his teammates up to be successful. And I'm sitting up here saying, man, this dude mirror me the way he can pass. And so I knew something special was going to happen. But, Jay, I never thought he would win 33 games in a row in college basketball. And I tell people, that's unbelievable. I don't care who you're playing.
See, your competitor can make you better. So being linked to Larry Bird all these years since 1979, Larry Bird made me a better basketball player, and I think I made him a better basketball player because I had to keep up with him. I knew he was shooting thousands of shots. I had to shoot thousands of shots a day. So that game, it was great for me because the things that I wanted to do in basketball in college, which was lead Michigan State to a national championship, I got a chance to do it. And how many times do the two best basketball players in college basketball get a chance to meet?
WILLIAMS: Rarely. It rarely happens.
JOHNSON: It was great for college basketball, great for both of us. And then who would have ever thought we would end up with the two biggest franchises in the NBA the year after? (Laughter) I mean, it just - it couldn't have been written any better.
WILLIAMS: Well, Magic, let's go into that because, you know, during those times, I was a little kid, and my dad often talked about you. And growing up in a predominantly Black community, everybody was a Laker fan because it was like the Lakers represented us.
WILLIAMS: Right? And people would say things like, oh, they play more Black.
WILLIAMS: And I would hear people say about Boston, well, you know, Boston plays more white.
WILLIAMS: How did you deal with that in your earlier stages of being a Laker and being a Black celebrity and going against the - you know, the white superstar?
JOHNSON: Larry Bird was a great, great basketball player. I never said, oh, he's a great white player. No. He was a great basketball player. And he dominated white players and Black players (laughter). So it didn't matter, you know? So when I went into that game, I understood, Jay, now that we're - I'm with the Lakers; he with the Celtics. I knew I could not turn the ball over. I knew that we had to play almost our best game because people don't understand this about Larry Bird. You give him a chance to win that game, he gon' win the game. He gon' make the shot or get fouled and put himself and his team in a position to win, man. And so I understood that. And I understood that a lot of African Americans, a lot of Black people was on my back, you know, standing on my shoulders in terms of, hey, man, we need you to win. I understood that.
And so that's why I was so devastated, not just for the racial side of it but just because I'm a competitor, in '84, when we played them the first time. Probably my darkest moment as an NBA player and as a basketball player, period, Jay - when I didn't perform well for the first time in history of Earvin Johnson, I did not perform well in a championship moment. To turn the ball over in key moments, to let the clock run out and them winning in overtime, beating us - I cried all summer, man. And I had to admit to myself I wasn't as good as I thought I was. And that's hard for an athlete - right? - to take self-evaluation and really say, hey, I'm not as good as I thought I was. I got to go and get better. And sure enough, I did, and I was able to. God put us in a position to play them again in '85.
But I will say this. It almost had to happen that he ended up with the Celtics, being white, me ending up in Hollywood, being Black, but with my personality. If we had to swap, it wouldn't have worked.
WILLIAMS: Agreed, yeah.
JOHNSON: But it worked because of his blue-collar mentality, my personality and my game. And we met for the championship so many times. Even before Larry Bird went to Boston and Magic Johnson was with the Lakers, they had met - what? - seven times, eight times, before we both got there. So we changed basketball for the good. That was the first time they finally showed the finals in prime time. They were tape delayed before. So amazing. I'm linked to this guy forever. And I'm happy because, again, we were able to do great things together, and that's why we're good friends today.
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WILLIAMS: I can't thank Magic, Megan and Coach K enough for coming on my pod and sharing all their success stories. They are all truly the GOATs of their respective sports. It was an honor. We'll be back next week with another episode of THE LIMITS. And as always, remember - stay positive, and let's keep it moving.
THE LIMITS is produced by Devan Schwartz, Mano Sundaresan, Max Freedman and Leena Sanzgiri. Video production by Kaz Fantone, Langston Sessoms, Christina Shaman, Iman Young and Nick Michael. Our executive producers are Karen Kinney, Veralyn Williams and Yolanda Sangweni. Our senior VP of programming and audience development is Anya Grundmann. Music by Ramtin Arablouei. Special thanks to Christina Hardy, Rhudy Correa and Charla Riggi.
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