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Forget Marie Kondo: Duke’s Zion Williamson Shows How To Spark Joy

Forget Marie Kondo: Duke's Zion Williamson Shows How To Spark Joy

For the last few weeks, the internet has been abuzz over a Netflix show called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. The premise of the show is simple—our lives are better when we’re surrounded by things that “spark joy.”

Well, pardon my French, but if you want to learn how to “spark joy”, then to hell with watching Marie Kondo.

Who you need to be watching is Duke’s Zion Williamson.

The heralded freshman forward for the Blue Devils has been the talk of college basketball for the past year. Widely regarded as the most talented player in the NCAA, Williamson seems like a lock to go as the first pick in this summer’s NBA draft.

Last summer I had the opportunity to meet Zion while I was on campus for coach Mike Krzyzewski’s “old man” basketball camp, the K Academy. I may have been the only person there that hadn’t watched his many YouTube highlights, but I instantly became a fan. While the rest of the basketball world has marveled at Williamson’s size and giftedness as an athlete (and rightfully so), I came away from my encounter with Zion captivated by something else.

His joy.

What I observed about Zion was the sheer enthusiasm he brought to the court whenever he stepped onto it. He made teammates laugh. He made spectators giggle. He even brought a smile to the face of Coach K.

If you watched Duke play this season, then you’ve seen the impact of Zion’s presence—and the hole he leaves when he’s gone.

Duke spent most of the year near the top of the NCAA rankings, compiling a 23-2 record thanks to the talents of Zion and his fellow freshmen Cam Reddish and R.J. Barrett. The hype only intensified as the Blue Devils came into their match-up against rival North Carolina on February 21.

Thirty-three seconds into the game, Zion’s shoe came apart, and so too did the Blue Devils. After spraining his knee, Zion left the game, and the Blue Devils lost badly to the Tar Heels. Duke went 3-3 over the next three weeks, seemingly adrift in Zion’s absence.

They looked lethargic, disjointed, and otherwise flat without the fresh air of Zion in their lungs. So I watched with interest as Williamson made his return to the Duke lineup for the ACC tournament on Thursday.

And the kid did not disappoint.

Not only did he show the world that his knee was fine with an explosive opening dunk, but he also showed what Duke had missed: energy, enthusiasm…and fun. He drained a three, caught alley-oops, and stole rebounds in the effortless manner of a natural star.

By the end of the game against Syracuse, Zion was 13-for-13 with 29 points, 14 rebounds, five steals and a block. The on-air duo of Dan Schulman and Jay Bilas almost ran out of superlatives as they called the game.

Duke looked like an entirely different team with Zion on the floor, and I was reminded of the power of attitude. Zion’s joy at being back with his teammates clearly fueled his efforts on the floor—the way he attacked the rim, fought for rebounds and asserted himself in key moments translated into some beautiful basketball from the entire team.

Suddenly, Duke looks like a contender once again—and all because Zion was able to “spark joy” with his teammates.

My friend Tug McGraw, a former reliever for the New York Mets, once told me, “Attitudes are infectious. The question is, is yours worth catching?” I think about that quote from time to time, especially when I see a high-performer’s excellence multiply through the power of a positive attitude.

Every team needs talented performers, but talent is maximized when paired with a great attitude.

During the Thursday night game, which Duke won, 84-72, I emailed a colleague of mine with the subject line, “Zion is looking like a beast.” After the game, I thought about that subject, and realized it should’ve read, “Zion is playing with joy.”

And then I thought, “Can I say the same thing about me?”

Do you and I pass the Marie Kondo – er, Zion Williamson – test? Do we come to work with an attitude that sparks enthusiasm and joy among our teammates? Is our attitude worth catching?

Or, if given the chance, would our team toss us into the recycling bin because we’re sapping the energy from the room?

Like so much of the sports world, I’ll be glued to the television over the next few weeks as the Madness of March unfolds. But I won’t watch the games with the same lens—I’ll be looking for the players that spark joy for their teams, the players that, like Zion Williamson, make everyone better because they have the kind of attitude that’s always worth catching.

One that sparks joy—and victory.

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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