Positivity and Perseverance with Pat Croce
Podcast #101 — Aired August 7, 2016

On this special episode of BetterWorldians Radio, Pat Croce discusses how perseverance and positivity helped him go from a career as a physical therapist, to part owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and best-selling author. Croce will also discuss his recent foray into mindfulness and how the practice has changed his life for the better by living in the present moment.

 

 

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Pat Croce
Best-selling author, motivational speaker,

Through his business savvy, dynamic personality, and emphasis on customer service, Pat Croce created Sports Physical Therapists, a sports medicine empire of 40 centers in 11 states. Following the sale of his company, Croce focused his entrepreneurial spirit and indestructible positive attitude on the purchase of the NBA’s last place team, the Philadelphia 76ers in 1996. During his 5-year tenure as President, the team rose from worst to first in the NBA standings and broke franchise records. He is Chairman of Pat Croce & Company that has controlling interests in numerous restaurants and museums, one of which is the internationally-acclaimed St Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum. Croce is a New York Times best-selling author and nationally-renowned motivational speaker. Croce is a commentator for the Summer Olympic Games on NBC for the sport of Taekwondo.

Episode Transcript

Raymond Hansell
Hi. Welcome to BetterWorldians Radio. BetterWorldians Radio is a weekly broadcast whose mission is to uplift and inspire you to make the world a better place. I'm Ray Hansell, joined today by my co-host, MarySue Hansell. BetterWorldians Radio is brought to you by Better World Foundation and is co-hosted by the family team that created the popular social game on Facebook called 'A Better World.'. It rewards players for doing good deeds, while helping to raise money and awareness for charities. Today, over 40 million good deeds have been done in A Better World by more than 4 million people, in over 100 countries around the world. These good deeds include expressions of gratitude, acts of kindness, sending notes to real-world sick kids, just to name a few. Now this week on BetterWorldians Radio we welcome Pat Croce. Through his business savvy, dynamic personality and emphasis on customer service, Pat created sports physical therapists, a sports medicine empire with 40 centres in 11 states. following the sale of his company, Pat focused his entrepreneurial spirit and his indestructible positive attitude on the purchase of the NBA's last placed team, the Philadelphia 76ers in 1996. During his five year tenure as president the team rose from worst to first in the NBA standings and broke franchise records. He is the chairman today at Pat Croce & Company, who has controlling interests in numerous restaurants and museums, one of which is the internationally acclaimed St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum. Pat is a New York Times best selling author and national renowned motivational speaker. Hi Pat, thanks for joining us today on BetterWorldians Radio.

Pat Croce
Hello Ray and thanks for having me on the show.

Raymond Hansell
You're very welcome. for our listeners who don't know you - and there's a few out there probably that may not know your whole story - I'd like you to begin by telling the people how your choice of becoming a physical therapist and athletic trainer ultimately lead you to become part-owner and president of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Pat Croce
I know it sounds kind of crazy but I was a volunteer at a hospital. My mom was a nurse and I was interested in physical fitness, I was interested slightly in medicine trough her nursing experience and I I volunteered at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby, Philadelphia. When I was a Sophomore in college, at the time I was a Phys. Ed Major but I didn't want to be a Phys. Ed teacher. I thought that physical therapy was pretty cool because it combined the task of fitness with medicine and eventually I got accepted to University of Pittsburgh but I didn't want to just be a physical therapist. I also wanted to use the prowess of an athletic trainer: the nutrition, the taping because it was like sheep and wolves; the two factions got all excited with each other. One was in training rooms of professional athletes and collegial teams and high schools; the other one was just hospitals. So I got both: a degree in Physical Therapy and a certification on public trainer, and that melded into what you now know as sports medicine. I created the first free-standing sports medicine center in a hospital in 1979 at Haverford Community Hospital . That left a mark. I had the opportunity to work with the Philadelphia Flyers there and in 1984 I left and I created just a little privately owned sports medicine center. But at the time, I not only was I doing the Flyers, I was doing the commissioning coach for the 76ers. So the Flyers and the 76ers at the same time that I started building up one center, two centers, three centers. I learnt to delegate very effectively but still keep my finger on the pulse of customer service and making sure that every patient that came through, we not only treated the body, we worked on the mind. Because if they didn't believe what we said, how are they going to get better? And you know, pain's a funny factor. When you have pain, whether it's back pain or knee pain or shoulder pain, you want to believe that you're going to get better but there's always that little hesitation at the back of your mind, that 'what if'. And we've got to remove that 'what if' and that's really what started me in the whole physical therapy world.

Raymond Hansell
That's amazing, that's a great story. Now it seems that- I've read your book just the other day. I've read it years before but it reminded me of a lot of your experiences. The common thread for our listeners to hear is this aspect of positive outlook and positive attitude in life. Where does that come from, for you?

Pat Croce
I have to say, Ray, that positive attitude, the PMA came from my mother's DNA. My mom was always a very positive person. I'm half-Irish and half-Italian. I'd like to say I'm a viable mix of Garrett and Garway [?] (00:05:20). My dad was the Italian, my real name is Pascale Croce. He was all about discipline, he was a really tough Italian father, very tough. She was almost like a sister, Irishmen who always believed in the rose garden, the rose-coloured glasses, so she said, 'Patty, you can do this.' and I believed her, I truly believed that. When I said I was going to go off to do something, my dad would look at me cross-eyed and my mother was ,'You can do that.'. I believe in that' can-do' attitude and I've got to tell you, Ray, it was along those lines - I think it was in 1979 or 80...I can't remember but it was Zig Ziglar's 'See You at the Top' and this book to me was like the Bible of positive affirmation. It demonstrated to me the validity of a positive attitude. 'I was right! This does work!'. You know, people would say, 'Someone's going to knock you off that high horse.'. I was never one to say I'm better than someone else, I just wanted to let you know that I was there, and I believed in the goals and the dreams that I had, I don't care how impossible you believed they were.

Raymond Hansell
Yeah, that's amazing. And that journey here in Philadelphia has been continued by the folks down at the UoP who headed up the Positive Psychology Movement, Martin 'Marty' Seligman. We've had quite a few positive psychologists who've worked with us and talked on our show, played our game and what have you. So, it's been an interesting journey, the parallel web. Also, we had been, in our business, also followed Tony Robbins and Zig Ziglar and quite a few other people who were making their mark in the self-help motivational world. So we're very familiar with that and we thank you for being our guest on the show because you really represent a lot of what we stand for. How do you think that outlook that we talked about helps people to be successful in business and life?

Pat Croce
I think it's a combination of a positive outlook - now please, don't think you're Pollyanna- you just can't have a positive attitude and think you're going to conquer the world and fulfill your dreams. You still have to have the other piece, of a purpose and a plan and patience and persistence and passion. So, it's not just about about positive attitude but I do believe that you will get more done with a positive attitude than you will with a negative attitude. I'm a big believer now, on the spiritual pitch that I'm on, that it's not a positive attitude but it's -and I don't know this , Ray- but it's really applying and investing your being in whatever you're doing. Not just doing it as a means to an end but each means is an end, so that you're doing everything with a positive approach, with your entire being, letting in the universe, letting in God, let the consciousness all come through you in a very positive way so that your vibrational energy is at its peak. And that tends to be contagious and you get the energy of an entire room, or a team or a business or a company, your church congregation, whatever it might be. But I'm a big believer in that. It's just that I've gotten to learn about the mind more now. I was using it on remote control before. I realized what I was doing was the right way, it's just that I didn't know the entire way.

Raymond Hansell
It created context to the whole picture. Talk about your experience with the 76ers and how that positive outlook really impacted the team.

Pat Croce
Well, even before the team, it's even trying to get the team. So, here I am saying that I want to buy the Philadelphia 76ers. Now, the former owner, Harold Katz, he knew me because I was a physical therapist for the team and here I am - I had my sports medicine centers but I'm still working the Sixers and one day I go up to him and ask him. The team was awful, it was in last place, it was losing. And I said, 'Howard, sell me 10% of the team.' , all enthused, culture and team esprit, and I will bring in a positive attitude and let's get them formed and back again.' And he said,'Well, Pat, I'm going to sell them all or nothing.'. 'Oh, right.'. I didn't care if it was all or nothing, I didn't hear 'no'. Two days later I called him again. I said,' Harold, you wouldn't sell the team to me or own the team with me. Sell the entire team to me.'. And that was the beginning of another 'no'. But it was, 'No, not yet.' so I just kept going and my persistence paralysed his resistance and I just kept going until we did get the option for the team and brought Katz to the table through a mutual friend, Ron Rubin, and the snowball just continued. But my goal was to run the team. I wanted to run- I have small ownership but I got the five year deal to run this team, the worst team in the league. Everyone said, 'Why? No one even comes to the games. They didn't even go to the games when the team was champion in '83, '84.'. 'That doesn't matter. Watch.' Luckily, I won the lottery in '96 and picked Alan Anderson and brought in coach Brown in the next year. The universe unfolded perfectly as it always does with hard work and a positive attitude and sticking to the plan. We went from worst to first. We sold the place out, sold more jerseys than any other team because of Aron's prowess on the court. It just was a fabulous, fabulous journey.

Raymond Hansell
It was an amazing run. Actually we had tickets even back when the team wasn't too good and we used to give them to some of our pupils as prizes. Some people would look at us and go, 'This is a prize?'. 'Yes, it's meant to be a prize, it's meant to be a prize.'. So we were big believers and we loved the team. The whole era of Larry Brown and Alan Anderson who made the whole thing, by the way. It was an amazing story. Tell us about your book 'I Feel Great and You Will Too' that chronicles a lot of these journeys. Tell the listeners what the response has been to that book so far.

Pat Croce
When that book came out I took a Euro tour in 2000 and it was- I'd been doing motivational speeches for a while and I can lift you off the floor. I'm not Tony Robbins, I do a little different approach and I love Tony, but mine was just a little different approach because I used myself in a self-deprecating manner, my defeats, my journeys and hurdles, but at the same time, I touch you: your funny bone; your heartstrings; your mental blockage- pull it away to make it a positive angle in wherever you take in life. And I could make you feel- leave, whether it's an auditorium or a stadium or whatever - walking on air. But it will last for a day or two, so the book was so you have some treatise to rely on that you can go in and there's the call-outs and you know, it's a fun rags-to-riches filled with threads of yin and yang. The point was, if I can do it, anyone can do it. Truly. If I can do it- I was born on the streets of North Philly in a row-home. I mean, if I can do it, anyone can do it. That was the goal. Now, 'Leave or Get off the Pot' which was the next book, was more a leadership-driven book but the book 'I Feel Great' became a NY Times best-selling book. And that was before we even made it to the finals. I should have waited another year, then you'd have an even better ending, right?

Raymond Hansell
It was great. You can tell by reading through the book and getting to the conclusion that this journey is going to continue. So, even though you don't know the outcome, or you weren't aware of the outcome, you were sort of, 'I can't wait to see what happens next.'.

Pat Croce
Let me just touch on that one, let me interject. I just want to say- and I don't want to interrupt you as the interviewer- but one word you said there, which is really, really important for your listeners, is 'journey'. And that was the point, if you read it to the end: it was the journey, not the destination. It is the journey, it's the present moment that's so important. That's where life is. There is no other moment. There's only the journey. day by day, moment by moment, that's where you have life and that's where you have to instil that positive attitude, to instil your being into each moment of that journey, and regardless of the end-game, if you enjoyed the journey, if you put your full self into the journey, you're a success. It doesn't matter what the end-game is.

Raymond Hansell
Yes. One of our guests recently said, I think he quoted from some well-known author, 'Yesterday is history, tomorrow's a mystery and today is a gift. That's why they call it the Present.'. That's what meditation's all about, and we'll be talking about that in our next segment. But before we get to that segment, I would like you to chronicle the story of your motorcycle accident because that probably knocked you back and you've seen what it does to other people. How did that attitude - that you talk about here - get you through that terrible accident?

Pat Croce
So, it's '99 and I'm on top of the world because for the first time in my three year tenure, we make it to the play-offs. But it's an eight year drought for the 76ers so we make it to the play-offs, not only do we win the first round against Orlando, we make it to the second round. And we do lose the second round to the Pacers who were fabulous. So I'm at the top of the world. I go to Nevis to give a motivational speech for GlaxoSmithKline, I come back and I'm on a motorcycle trip with five buddies on bikes and two in an RV. We're going to cross from Ocean City, The Atlantic Ocean, we're going to go cross-country to The Pacific Ocean. It starts to rain. Now, I've got some serious biker buddies with me but we bring one rookie that wasn't used to the big old Hogg Harley. It starts to rain and about an hour into it I pull under an overpass and these guys pull under and as I'm dismounting off the bike, the rookie loses control in the rain and throttles up instead of down and slides right through me. A highway peg, where you rest your foot on, cuts my legs off like a sickle cuts down high grass. I'm sitting on the ground, in the rain again, so that I don't see anything. I don't see what's going on. I see my motorcycle down and I see my boot off. I pick up my boot, I look inside, my foot's still in it. It's attached to my leg only by my Achilles tendon and some strands of denim and that was the beginning of a- six surgeries later they put rods in my leg, they re-attached it, they put my shoulder muscle, transplanted it, they took some bone from my hip. But I've got to say that I had full belief in the rehabilitation that I was going to go through. It never dawned on me that I wasn't going to walk, dance, kick again. There's no way. there was no way. I might have had one hint of despair in the hospital when I couldn't move my two arms, my leg, everything was stuck down, I had needles in it. That was one moment of despair in that- this is a true story. the doctor comes in and he's got this meter where he's measuring the blood flow in my transplanted muscle in my leg, and he's listening to it and he looks at me and he says, 'Sounds great.'. BAM! I was like- fireworks went off. It was like there was a parade down in Main Street in Disney. It was almost like, 'Holy Mecca, this is the beginning!'. It was truly the beginning of a new journey of, 'Okay, I'll get this baby walking again.' .

Raymond Hansell
That's an amazing story and that's where that positivity was just waiting to come up and really help you through that process. Many people don't get through that kind of a situation, they get an accident of that magnitude or something else in the same area and it just sets them back and they never -well, it takes them years. So I think that's a great lesson to pass along and I encourage people to read that in the book as well, the first book 'I Feel Great, You will too.'.

Pat Croce
I should say that positivity that you're talking about does help the healing process. Now, whether that's proven in science or not, it adds to the endorphins, it adds to your attitude that - again, every moment of every exercise, you do it your best, because you expect the results to be in God's hands. You do your best, God takes care of the rest.

MarySue Hansell
Hi Pat.

Pat Croce
Hi, MarySue.

MarySue Hansell
You know Pat, a big part of your success, and I should quote, your 'journey' of life, was from your positivity and your persistence. Can you share your secrets with the listeners? I think it would really help. How does somebody get to be positive when they're not?

Pat Croce
Well, if you go deep enough, everyone is positive. Everyone is positive. When you un-peel the go, take off the leather jacket, take off the shackles and deep down you are positive. But what happens is, you arrived at negativity in the world. You allowed the setbacks, the obstacles in the world to weigh you down and that little 'me' ego gets burned down and you stop believing it. You have to unleash that, uncover that positivity within you, and a great way to start - as corny as it sounds MarySue- is when you get up in the morning, as soon as your feet hit the ground in your bedroom, slap your hands together and just get excited about the day. When that happens, you'll find that your day does become exciting. Yes, stuff will hit the fan but it will hit the fan less often and when it does hit the fan it, it 's not going to spray all over you!

MarySue Hansell
[laughs] I can feel that smile on my face doing that, when I put my hands together and jumping out of bed. So, it sounds like--

Pat Croce
--It sounds corny but I'm telling you- and you don't have to jump out of bed - you can take your time coming out of bed. When you hit the ground, give it a moment, be present and do it. Hit your hands together like you're scheming, like when you were a kid, hands together and rub them and here we go. That's what today is. Today is now, it's your day to live to your fullest, right? So why not go into it with a positive attitude. Why go into it with a negative attitude already beaten up? Because what happens is, those who expect success, there's a really good chance it will come. While those who don't, you know, you'll never be disappointed if you don't expect success. [laughs]

MarySue Hansell
Pat, I've always really admired your persistence and your resilience and it reminded, when I re-read your book too- it's amazing. what secrets do you have there? Especially when you get knocked down? How do you get yourself back up again?

Pat Croce
Well, there's a Japanese proverb, MarySue, that says, 'Knocked down seven, get up eight.'. I really believe that if you have a vision in mind, a purpose, a goal, a dream., if you have something that you want to attain, accomplish, then keep it in the forefront. Write it down, make sure you keep it in your consciousness and work toward that. Yes, things are going to happen, obstacles are going to happen, but what you have to do- I think a big sticking point which most people don't do is they don't accept the present moment as it unveils in front of them. they have resistance towards it as though it shouldn't happen to them. No! Life is hard! Life is difficult. Isn't that the first line of, I forget the book. the first line is 'Life is difficult.'. Well, it truly is, so go at it with a positive attitude and know that challenges are going to come up, and that you- challenges are just for you, just to make you stronger. The universe is powerful. It gives you what you need, when you need it. If you realized that, then the setbacks can be accepted a little easier and you can take a step forward. everybody just falls down at the first challenge. Let me take you into a gym, MarySue. If I want to strengthen your bicep muscles, I'm going to have you do curls. If I want to strengthen your quads and your butt muscles, I'm going to have you do squats. And as I increase the reps and as I increase the resistance, you get stronger. So those challenges in life are just a little bit of resistance to make you stronger, to accomplish more and bigger dreams.

MarySue Hansell
That sounds like a really interesting way of looking at it. You know, you mention being in the present, so that I definitely wanted to talk to you about your mindfulness practice. Can you tell us how you got involved with that?

Pat Croce
It's about two years ago, I happened to read a book 'The Art of Happiness' by the Dalai Lama but before that I saw an article from the travel writer, Pico Iyer. He's written a book on stillness, and I didn't even know what stillness was at the time. Me, I never stood still in my life but nevertheless I saw a line that he wrote. He said something about 'most of life occurs in our heads in memory, imagination, speculation and interpretation, so if you want to change your life you'd best begin by changing your mind.'. And that was it, that was the satori, that was the flash of insight. 'Oh my goodness, can you really change your mind?'. I can change a body, I know how to physically change a body, I was good at that. But can you change your mind? I know you can change your opinion but can you change your mind? So I looked into it, and I read more, and I saw a TED Talk by Pico Iyer, that lead me to another TED Talk on mindfulness by Mattieu Ricard, the Buddhist monk who was interpreter for the Dalai Lama, who I will be with in October in Bhutan. Nevertheless, it turned me on to a variety of paths, and this journey of looking into this whole thing about the mind and mindfulness. I didn't even know what the word 'mindfulness' meant two years ago. Now, I'm a meditator, you know, 20, 30 minutes every day and I try to use mindfulness or presence which is truly- all it is , is a focused attention to whatever's happening, without the veil of judgement on top of it. That's the difference, MarySue. What happens is, I think, what it is, is what's happening before you think about it. So, here is you and I talking over the radio. That's all that's happening, but once you put your veil of perception on it, likes or dislikes 'I wish Pat would shut up.' or this or that, then it changes everything. I went to a retreat just a month ago, at the Omega Institute, in Rhinebeck, New York and it was with Eckhart Tolle for a week and he says it so well. 'Every situation is neutral. It's your interpretation of the situation that causes suffering.'

MarySue Hansell
that's very interesting. I was wondering, I know that you're an expert in Karate - what is it? A four time black belt?--

Pat Croce
--Fourth degree--

MarySue Hansell
--okay--

Pat Croce
--As a matter of fact, by the way, if - I don't know when this is going to air - but I am the commentator for the Summer Olympic Games for Taekwondo. This is my fourth Olympiad.--

MarySue Hansell
Oh, that's fabulous.

Pat Croce
I've got August 17th to 20th. Taekwondo is one of the lost sports. These four days, you probably won't see me on NBC because Taekwondo is usually on MSNBC or CNBC but you'll hear my voice.

MarySue Hansell
We'll definitely put that in the press release. That's something people would want to know about. What I wanted to ask you, since you know so much about that, what kind of similarity do you see between your Karate and the mindfulness practice?

Pat Croce
That's a really good question and I wish at the time I trained - when I really trained in Ken- competed internationally - but I had the same sort of mindfulness practice and meditation practice I have now because then we would do the 'katas' or 'yangs' in Korean, 'katas' in Japanese. We would do the free-sparring and I love the free-sparring stuff when in fact 'katas' are the dance movements, are the ones that mostly Tai Chi or Qi Gong, all these movements where you use the breathing and the mind in every position. In Karate, fighting, you're just waiting for the instinctive thing. You have to be very present because you don't want to be scored ippon and knocked out or whatever. I think it's the attention to detail, the attention to the present moment. We didn't meditate much back in the day when I was training all those years. I started when I was 18 and stopped when I was 50. But it was something that was part of who I was and now again, I'm back. Just last week I was with a Chinese Zen Master for a week, and it was just wonderful being with someone who's so present and when you're feeling some of the same techniques in Tai Chi that we do in Taekwondo and Tangsudo so there's a lot of similarities. There's a lot of that Eastern philosophy bringing over to the Western world, where the mind- we were always about the body. We use the mind for intellect but we never went and used the intuitive mind like the Asians use them, it's in the middle of your chest, down by your heart. That wise mind that you use when you're totally present.

MarySue Hansell
That's great. You and your wife Dianne donated, I think, $250,000 to West Chester for their Contemplative Studies Program and to help students develop mindfulness. Tell us a little more about that. I'm really interested in that.

Pat Croce
Well, thank you Sue. I got so involved in this meditation, mindfulness, awareness, presence, where I've thought, 'What if an 18 year old Pat Croce, when he was at West Chester, what if someone would've exposed me to this then? What then? What would've happened? So I went back to West Chester and I went to see if they had a program and they had a- they did have a program but it wasn't, it was almost like a hobby, the Contemplative Studies Program. Because the two executive directors, Dan and Chris, also were in nursing and public health and they both were trained under Jon Kabat-Zinn in mindfulness. But they didn't have enough time to do it the way they would have loved to do it. So, my wife and I , we did, we committed $250,000 to have the Center for Contemplative Studies launch an 18 credit course with mindfulness and mediation and Tai Chi and Eastern studies and meditation- just so it exposes- some for a course, some just for the public: yoga, just so that students can all have access. As a matter of fact, in September this year, we're going to christen the new Centre for Contemplative Studies. The University of West Chester gave a building for it, so we're so excited that- for me, it's just a pebble in a pond. It's a ripple. Like, I can talk one-on-one about being present. You know, Buddha said it best:' Pain is inevitable. suffering is optional.' . So if I can help people take the suffering out of their life, I'm a physical therapist again, right?

MarySue Hansell
That's great. Pat, how do you hope all the work that you've done - and continue to do - are helping to make the world a better place?

Pat Croce
I truly believe, MarySue, if you want to make the world a better place, you have to make yourself a better person. And I'm working on myself first and foremost. And as I'm working on myself, specifically my mind - my body has never stopped because that's the temple - now, in addition to training every day, doing some form of fitness, now I meditate every day for 20 to 30 minutes. But it's not with the goal of being a great meditator. It's with the goal to be a better person, to be aware, to listen better, to be aware of the circumstances better. And then if I can pass that onto others, to decrease the suffering and to enhance the service of others, then I think that makes the world a better spot because that ripple ion the pond - or, as I'm looking at the Atlantic ocean - the pebble in the ocean turns his little ripples into waves. And if we really realized that all those ripples represent, as Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Vietnamese monk, that each ripple is one of us. But together, below, the deep ocean, that's all of us. We're one. And if you realized we can make person better we can make all of us better.

MarySue Hansell
That's fantastic.

Raymond Hansell
That's very well said and so many of our guests are tackling these issues about self-improvement, about self-development and about self-awareness through being in the moment and in so many different ways. This is a perfect example of what we call 'A BetterWorldian' and Pat, you've done amazing work. We congratulate you. for those listeners that are tuning in, please go to patcroce.com to learn more. Pat, thanks a million for being on the program today. We really enjoyed it.

Pat Croce
Ray, MarySue, great to have time with you and great to enjoy the Now with you.

Raymond Hansell
Yes, indeed. BetterWorldians Radio is brought to you by BetterWorld Foundation which is now officially a 501C3, a non-profit, whose mission is to make the world a better place by encouraging the very best in everyone. Our philosophy is that it's better to plant flowers than pull weeds. We focus on positive thinking, positive values and positive actions. In short, our vision is to bring out the BetterWorldian in everyone so that we can all make it a better world. So, go to betterworld.com to become a part of the support mission and until next time, please be a BetterWorldian.