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Michael Brandy, Deseret News archives
Deron Williams has a great opportunity ahead of him.

Dear Deron,

Opportunity is knocking.

It might not be in a form you appreciate right now. The call to lead rarely comes when life is good. In fact, it is in the most painful, dark moments that truly great leaders do their best work.

Or maybe that's just when we need it most desperately. Regardless, this is a blessing, if you choose to embrace it.

May I suggest that you take some advice from a man whose leadership skills changed the course of American history — Abraham Lincoln.

The 16th president led the United States through the most difficult crisis a country can face — civil war.

And while what you're confronting as the leader of the Utah Jazz is nothing remotely as tragic and agonizing as a country torn in two, how you handle the resignation of Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson could determine the fate of a franchise that means so much to the people of Utah.

It's not just the economic impact that a successful sports franchise can have on a community. It's the emotional energy a hard working, high achieving team can bring to people who won't make in a lifetime of sweat what you'll make in a year. When you don't feel like playing for yourself, your teammates or your coaches, consider them — the thousands who spend what they can to sit in seats so far from the court they can barely make out your jersey number. And they do it because they love to watch you work.

"How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg."

Stop listening to speculation. Defend yourself by proving what Jazz officials knew the day they drafted you. Keep in mind when you're frustrated that they believed in you when a lot of people didn't.

"I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday."

Learn from what happened. Whether Sloan and Johnson left because you and/or your teammates were headstrong and willful is less important than how you handle their departure. Keep in mind that determination and stubborness can look a lot alike — depending on one's perspective.

"I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends."

You have both the personality and the position to rally your teammates. Bullying and badgering, while sometimes effective in gaining compliance, are not leading. Great leaders find ways to inspire the best in those around them. They take the time to see the promise and ability in others and then they help them fulfill it.

"Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing."

You've already proven yourself one of the game's most talented players. Now you have the chance to prove you are one of its truly great players.

Another talented player once said he didn't want to be a role model. It is totally within your right to turn down this opportunity.

You can choose to be just another talented basketball player. You may make a lot of money, win a lot of games and earn a lot of individual accolades. Your influence will be among those who love the sport — regardless of the character of the athletes involved.

Or you can choose to be something more to your team, to this community and, ultimately, to those who know and love you best. Your life can be defined by how you used basketball to enhance the lives of others. Or it can be about how you used the game to enrich yourself.

And finally, there is the ultimate prize in sports. Any competitive person will admit they want it — a championship — above all else. We don't know if you'll be the man who will do for this franchise, this community — and yourself — what many great Jazz players have so far been unable to do.

But Lincoln said one more thing that applies to any team trying to accomplish anything significant.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."

e-mail: adonaldson@desnews

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