04 October 2023

The importance of not skipping steps

Line art by Gamini Abeykoon

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is the 227th article in the new series that began in December 2022. Links to previous articles are given below] 

 Victor Wembanyama, the No 1 draft pick in the NBA, acquired by the San Antonio Spurs, has been widely touted as a ‘generational big man.’  Standing over seven feet with a wingspan of eight feet, ‘Wemby’ has been described as a highly skilled ball handler and passer who is capable of shooting from nearly anywhere on the court.

Will Leitch, a contributing editor for the New York Magazine didn’t hold back on his praise for the 19 year old Frenchman:  ‘He is a center who plays like a point guard; he is a mix of sort of Magic Johnson, Steph Curry and Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with all that kind of comes with that.’

Perhaps a bit of all the above-mentioned greats, but Wembley is clearly not their sum. Not yet anyway. The boy knows where he is and what he wants to be. He says he is modelling his game after those of Giannis Antekounmpo and Kevin Durant, two of the most dominant players in the league. In other words, he acknowledges that he is a work in progress.

The ‘stars’ have seen the potential, nevertheless. Consider what Giannis had to say:

‘We have never seen someone like that before. I think it’s a good challenge for everybody in the league. We gotta get ready for this kid. He has a chance to be one of the best to ever play this game.’

‘The league’s really in trouble when he (Wembley) comes in,’ that’s Durant’s opinion. 

And yet, it is unlikely that he will turn around the Spurs’ fortunes in his first year, at least if we were to go by the impact of other top draft picks who were similarly hyped and did in fact achieve greatness. 

In 1987, after a forgettable season, the Spurs won the draft lottery and selected David Robinson, a 7’ 1” ‘generational big man.’ Ten years later, again after a terrible season, they acquired Tim Duncan, another generational big man. They are both Hall of Famers and won five championships for the Spurs.

It took time. The obvious reason is that in order to grab the Number 1 draft pick, teams have to have done terribly in the previous season. This means that they don't have rosters packed with stars.  It takes time to gather the complementary personnel. Years.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovic wasn’t going overboard about expectations: ‘It's about not skipping steps, which I say often. It's A to B to C to D on a variety of levels.’

Wise words. Applicable outside the basketball court as well. He didn’t talk about such things, naturally, but many generational talents have been brought down over the years due to injuries. Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans, for example. ‘Pop’ has been in the league long enough to know that insulation from injury is a necessary but insufficient precondition for ‘talent’ to grow into ‘greatness.’

There’s the A to B to C to D that is unavoidable. Wemby has uttered those same words (I don’t want to skip any steps). It means he’s listening. Too often though, both players and fans expect magic to materialise overnight. They forget there are no shortcuts. They forget that you can’t jump from A to D and that the only way to get to D is to begin by focusing on how to get from A to B. 

Steps. One at a time. Wemby knows he needs to add weight and adjust to the NBA (which is very different to the French league where he showcased his immense talent before being drafted by the Spurs). He knows that there are many ‘From A to B to C to D’ trajectories; the ‘variety of levels’ that Pop spoke of.  

He has mentioned that the late Kobe Bryant is a role model. Well, Kobe had some words for young people who wanted to be better: ‘Visit GOAT Mountain,’ he said, GOAT as in ‘Greatest of All Time.’

Whenever he couldn’t get around something, Kobe said, he would go to the greats (yes, that debate is never concluded and therefore there are many GOAT candidates). Kobe covered all the bases, He went to all the mountains, he said. That’s Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, Jerry West, Oscar Robinson and Bill Russell.

That was one of the ways in which Kobe Bryant went from A to B to C to D.  At all levels he could think of. He tripped along the way. He picked himself up, he worked harder, made adjustments and that’s how he became extraordinary.

Wemby is fortunate that he has Pop as coach and mentor.  It’s a simple and yet profound lesson, so easy to say and so hard to learn and affirm. Victor Wembanyama is young. He seems humble, even as he clearly knows that he has developed a rare skill set. The W’s will come eventually, as long as steps are not missed, for missed steps could result in falls and injuries hard to recover from. 


Other articles in this series: 

No free passes to the Land of Integrity

Hector Kobbekaduwa is not a building, statue, street or stamp

Rajagala and the Parable of the Panner

Let's show love to Starbucks employees!

You've got mail?

Octavio Paz and Arthur C Clarke in the stratosphere 

Enduring solidarities 

Coco 'Quotes' Gauff!

9/11 and the calm metal instrument of Salvador Allende's voice 

What a memory-keeper foregoes 

Whitman, Neruda and things that wait in all things

Thilina Kaluthotage's eyes keep watch

Those made of love will fly

Profit: the peragamankaru of major wars

Helplessness and innocence

The parameters of entirety

In loving memory of Carrie Lee (1956-2020)

Mobsters on and off the screen

Transfixing and freeing dawns

We're here because we're here because we're here

Life signatures

Sha'Carri Richardson versus and with Sha'Carri Richardson  

A canvas for a mind-brush

Sybil Wettasinghe's shoes

Love is...

A stroll with Pragg and Arjun along a boulevard in Baku

Meditation on tree-art

Daya Sahabandu ran out of partners but must have smiled to the end

Gentle intrusions 

Sleeping well

The unleashing of inspiration

Write, for Pete's sake

Autumn Leaves Safeness

 Sapan and voices that erase borders

Problem elephants and problem humans

Songs from the vaekanda

The 'inhuman' elephant in a human zoo

Ivan Art: Ivanthi Fernando's efforts to align meaning

Arwa Turra, heart-stitcher

Let's help Jagana Krishnakumar rebuild our ancestral home

True national anthems

Do you have a friend in Pennsylvania (or anywhere?)

A gateway to illumination in West Virginia

Through strange fissures into magical orchards

There's sea glass love few will see 

Re-residencing Lakdasa Wikkramasinha

Poisoning poets and shredding books of verse

The responsible will not be broken

Home worlds

Ownership and tenuriality of the Wissahickon

Did you notice the 'tiny, tiny wayside flowers'?

Gifts, gifting and their rubbishing

History is new(s)

Journalism inadvertently learned

Reflections on the young poetic heart

Wordaholic, trynasty and other portmanteaus

The 'Loku Aiya' of all 'Paththara Mallis'

Subverting the indecency of the mind

Character theft and the perennial question 'who am I?'


A degree in people

Faces dripping with time

Saji Coomaraswamy and rewards that matter

Revolutionary unburdening

Seeing, unseeing and seeing again

Alex Carey and the (small) matter of legacy

The Edelweiss of Mirissa 

The insomnial dreams of Kapila Kumara Kalinga 

The clothes we wear and the clothes that wear us (down) 

Every mountain, every rock, is sacred 

Manufacturing passivity and obedience 

Precept and practice 

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged, unlimited 

In praise of courage, determination and insanity 

The relative values of life and death 

Feet that walk 

Sarinda's eyes 

Poetry and poets will not be buried 

Sunny Dayananda 

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990) 

What makes Oxygen breathable?  

Sorrowing and delighting the world 

The greatest fallacy  

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi 

Beyond praise and blame 

Letters that cut and heal the heart 

Vanished and vanishing trails 


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya 

The soft rain of neighbourliness  

The Gold Medals of being 

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri 

All those we've loved before 

Reflections on waves and markings 

A chorus of National Anthems 

Saying what and how 

'Say when' 

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra 

The loves of our lives 

The right time, the right person 

The silent equivalent of a thousand words 

Crazy cousins are besties for life 

Unities, free and endearing 

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!" 

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis 

The revolution is the song 

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins 

The day I won a Pulitzer 


Ella Deloria's silences 

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness 

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable  


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan 

Enlightening geometries 

Let's meet at 'The Commons' 

It all begins with a dot 

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation 

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone 

On sweeping close to one's feet 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts... 

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm 

Who really wrote 'Mother'? 

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing 

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed 

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember 

On loving, always 

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal 

When you turn 80... 

It is good to be conscious of nudities  

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday  

There's a one in a million and a one in ten 

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California 

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature 

Pathways missed 

Architectures of the demolished 

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts 

Who the heck do you think I am? 

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha' 

The Mangala Sabhava 

So how are things in Sri Lanka? 

The most beautiful father 

Palmam qui meruit ferat 

The sweetest three-letter poem 

Buddhangala Kamatahan 

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello 

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership 

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked 

Pure-Rathna, a class act 

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna 

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other 

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles 

Matters of honor and dignity 

Yet another Mother's Day 

A cockroach named 'Don't' 

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth 

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara 

Sweeping the clutter away 

Some play music, others listen 

Completing unfinished texts 

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn 

I am at Jaga Food, where are you? 

On separating the missing from the disappeared 

Moments without tenses 

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have) 

The world is made of waves 


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller 

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya' 

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist 

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses 

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced 

Some stories are written on the covers themselves 

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature 

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time  

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie 

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists? 

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords 

The books of disquiet 

A song of terraced paddy fields 

Of ants, bridges and possibilities 

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva  

World's End 

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse 

Street corner stories 

Who did not listen, who's not listening still? 

The book of layering 

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain 

The world is made for re-colouring 

The gift and yoke of bastardy 

The 'English Smile' 

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5 

Visual cartographers and cartography 

Ithaca from a long ago and right now 

Lessons written in invisible ink 

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness' 

A tea-maker story seldom told 

On academic activism 

The interchangeability of light and darkness 

Back to TRADITIONAL rice 

Sisterhood: moments, just moments 

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging 

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha 

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows 

Sirith, like pirith, persist 

Fragrances that will not be bottled  

Colours and textures of living heritage 

Countries of the past, present and future 

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched 

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains 

The ways of the lotus 

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace 

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville 

Live and tell the tale as you will 

Between struggle and cooperation 

Of love and other intangibles 

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions 

The universe of smallness 

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers 

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills 

Serendipitous amber rules the world 

Continents of the heart
The allegory of the slow road