What a great series the NBA Finals have been. I actually have covered both teams here before: The Miami Heat prior to the season when discussing the “War for Talent” and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban when speaking about the importance of “playing”, but this series gave so much interesting insights and ideas that I tried to put together 10 learnings from it that can easily be transferred to the business world and to our work environment. You’re invited to share your views or add your findings as comments.
1. Work ethics
Being great is not only a question of being talented, but of working hard, too. Dalles super star Dirk Nowitzki is known to be one of the hardest workers in the league. Every year, he only takes a few weeks off, and spends the rest of the off season practicing the basics. When he was sick during the finals, he didn’t use the fever as an excuse; he just carried on and worked harder than ever.
Opponent Chris Bosh had it right after the final game: “He has worked very hard, for a very long time and he deserves it. I think we can take a page out of their book and really just pay attention to people’s work ethic and how much time they put into the game. Obviously, what we did wasn’t enough.”
2. Sense of purpose
The Mavs were a team of veterans, but not of veterans which have already won a lot before. Jason Kidd, 38, lost two NBA Finals, Jason Terry, 33 and Dirk Nowitzki, 32, lost one bitterly against the Miami Heat five years ago. And the franchise never won the trophy before, either.
This whole Mavericks team had just one point on the agenda: To finally win the title. When Nowitzki had a bad first half in the final game, Terry took him aside and told him to continue pushing, using the words “remember ’06!”.
It made them tough to beat. When Miami already felt like they had won game two, Dallas came back from a 15 point deficit in the final 7 minutes and 14 seconds.
When everybody shares a common sense of purpose, a common vision, a common goal, great things can happen. It can build people up when they are down, it gives stamina and believe.
3. Don’t only hire the mainstream
13 years ago, everybody called Don Nelson crazy for drafting a tall, skinny, goofy German called Dirk.
He saw the talent, not the image. Well done.
Many leaders are loud and in your face. Great leaders don’t have to, especially in situations in which they could afford to.
Mark Cuban is not known for being a quiet and humble man. He is very outspoken and always aggressively protecting his team. However, during the playoffs while his team was outperforming opponent after component, he was not giving interviews. Finally after the game, when many were expecting him to get back to the loud mode, he asked to present the trophy not to him, the current team owner, but to the founder and first owner of the Mavericks, Donald Carter, instead. In an interview minutes later, he even defended LeBron James and said that a lot of the criticism he received wasn’t justified. Humbleness beats schadenfreude.
5. Mentoring is not for the weak
Seconds after Dirk left the field with tears in his eyes, cameras caught another German with wet eyes in the stands. Holger Geschwindner has often been referred to as Nowitzki’s shooting coach. In reality, he’s a lot more than that. He discovered Nowitzki as a kid and coached him technically and mentally ever since. He’s the one #41 trusts, the one he goes to when in bad form or doubt, the one offering unmasked feedback all the time. A real mentor. Someone who made a world class athlete even stronger.
Using a mentor is not a sign of weakness. It’s a step that can bring people to the next level.
6. Be yourself
Chris Bosh: “There’s nothing extra. There’s nothing super. (Dirk) was just himself. And in these situations, I think when you’re yourself and you play your basketball, the best things always happen.”
Not only valid for playing basketball.
7. Broadness beats stars
Miami relied on their three super stars, while the Mavericks were a lot broader. In the final game, the Mavericks’ bench players scored 43 points compared to 20 points by Miami. Dallas could afford to have a player in a slump like Nowitzki in the first half of that game, and one of their stars, Caron Butler, wasn’t even able to play at all in the finals. Miami could not compensate for those situations in which James, Bosh or Wade did not perform at their limit.
We tend to overload the most talented people in our teams, in our organizations, with work and expectations instead of developing broadness to make sure the “stars” can deliver when it is needed. While LeBron James looked tired towards the end of each game, Kidd and Nowitzki, despite being a couple of years older, were able to heat up as others carried them earlier in the games.
8. If you promise a lot, you better deliver
Less than a year ago, any discussion on the NBA was all about LeBron James. Making a prime time TV show out of his announcement to go to Miami was seen as over the top by many. And many waited to see him fall. What he did – especially in the fourth quarters of the finals.
The louder you are, the more you promise to those watching, to the market and to your customers, the more pressure to deliver you put onto yourself. This is something to consider. Showing self-confidence and promising a lot surely has positive effects, and James’ contract in Miami obvisously isn’t too bad, but you should be aware that it can have an impact on your ability to really make things happen the way you expect it from you – and others expect it from you. It’s a thin line.
9. Have trust in your guys
Mark Cuban had many options to trade Dirk Nowitzki. He didn’t. He didn’t bring in Kobe Bryant to replace Dirk when he could have. Instead, he told Dirk that he would stick with him and that he trusted him. Nowitzki paid back. Even before the season, when the trade market was heating up with e.g. LeBron James going to Miami, Nowitzki – then a free agent – signed for Dallas again, trusting Cuban he would build a great team around his leader.
Give trust and get trust back. So simple. So effective.
10. Team work
Finally, a quote from basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson:
“This series proves that a team is much bigger than individuals”.