Finding joy: Mudita and the mindset that changed Alabama men’s basketball

The fortunes of the Alabama men’s basketball team changed this season after players started embracing the philosophy of mudita. (Photo by Bennett Silvyn/Cronkite News)

GLENDALE – Successful programs often have a secret that pushes them through adversity, and the Alabama men’s basketball team is no different. But it took a slow start to the season for the Crimson Tide to discover it.


“(It’s) a really like a big thing for me … and I feel like I’ve tried to embrace that idea no matter what the game entails,” freshman sharpshooting Sam Walters said.

Mudita is a Buddhist tradition that means taking joy in the accomplishment of others while embracing four sublime attitudes: kindness, love, compassion and equanimity. Simply, it means being joyful no matter what the circumstance is.

Alabama was in need of it.

Last season, the Crimson Tide earned a No. 1 seed in the Men’s NCAA Tournament following their 29-5 regular season and an SEC Tournament championship. After they were upset by No. 5 seed San Diego State in the Sweet 16, coach Nate Oats and Co. were determined to get their dominance back.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

After starting the season 6-5, they fell from a No. 24 preseason ranking to unranked. With team morale at an all-time low, something needed to change, and that change needed to happen quickly.

Thats when Oats reached out to Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy, who had talked to various groups around campus about mudita, but never to the men’s basketball team.

They bought in.

“Ever since we first heard of it when conference play started, it really stuck with us. … We heard the word and that changed our season around,” guard Mark Sears said. “You could see it on our face(s), cheering for others when they’re succeeding even (if) we’re not succeeding. It changed us around. It really helped us win this Final Four.”

Practicing and reaching mudita comes within a person’s heart and everyone has a different experience. Alabama players have found value in the pursuit.

Guard Aaron Estrada believes it has not only benefited him but those around him.

“I think that mudita was the best thing that happened for this team, honestly, just because we have so many pieces on our team, and it’s hard to be consistent at this level without any support,” he said. “Just knowing that you have your brothers behind you and everybody in our program behind you, I think it just helps on a mental level and ultimately that helps you just play better down the stretch.”

The mudita vibe was in full effect during Alabama’s Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups in Los Angeles.

Freshman forward Jarin Stevenson had a coming out party by serving as the spark plug the Crimson Tide needed in their win over Clemson. However, the freshman went through some struggles early on in the game, but with the unconditional support of teammates, was able to bounce back and propel a victory.

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“With my two air-ball threes, my guys had my back,” he said. “They wanted me to keep shooting. Every time I went to the bench, the guys are high-fiving me and having my back and cheering me on. And every time I was on the bench we locked each other’s arms and clapped and chant(ed) defense and stuff like that. I felt like (mudita) was there today.”

Things as small as motivating a teammate to keep shooting and staying engaged on the sideline when not in the game have allowed Alabama to reach a new height during their Men’s Final Four run.

Not only do the players practice it, but so do the coaches. They follow mudita so much that Oats said that the team even got shirts with the word on it for everyone to remember what they stand for.

These days, mudita stands for “winning.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Addison Kalmbach expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. Kalmbach has interned in broadcast operations at FOX Sports and as a digital reporter with PHOENIX Magazine and Detroit City FC. He also has done freelance work for R1S1 Sports.

Bennett Silvyn BEH-nit SIL-vin
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Bennett Silvyn expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business, marketing and sports management. Silvyn has interned in marketing and social media for the Arizona Sports and Entertainment Commission, as a reporter for Arizona Foothills Magazine, in sponsorships for the Arizona Rattlers and in social and digital media for FC Tucson. Silvyn has also reported for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network and The State Press.