I am neither a fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers nor the Golden State Warriors (my team wasn’t even close to making the playoffs), but I am a huge fan of the NBA in general. Thus, I watched the recent NBA Finals series rather closely.
Truth be told, what surprised me most about this Finals match-up was the two teams involved: the Cavs and the Warriors. Just a year ago, the former had been out of the playoffs, and the latter had been bounced out in the first round. What was it that allowed them to go the distance this year? The answer is simple: good leadership. Without it, both of these teams would never have made it as far as they did.
You too can take advantage of these leadership lessons. What are they? Read on to learn more.
1. Hire the best people you can find.
Just a few years back, the Golden State Warriors were a mess. They ran a haphazard lineup led by second-tier players like Monta Ellis, hired mediocre coaches like Keith Smart, and lacked direction in their front office. That all changed when two new owners bought the team. What they did was simple, but ingenious. They first rebuilt the team’s culture, basing it around hard work, success, and results.Then they went about re-structuring the front office, hiring Jerry West as general manager.
As one of the premier GMs in the league, and a former superstar in the NBA, Jerry West (otherwise known as “The Logo”) went about making much-needed adjustments to the roster.
The final masterstroke came when the Warriors fired head coach Mark Jackson last year, replacing him with Steve Kerr. Though a decent coach, Jackson didn’t fit the front office’s vision. Meanwhile, Kerr seemed to be much more of a creative tactician who knew how to maximize the talent on the roster. Obviously, their gamble proved to be successful.
The moral of the story is that to be successful, you need to be surrounded by talented and driven individuals. You can’t be happy with the status quo if it isn’t getting the results you desire. When you couple this with a tireless and devoted staff, you will find your way to prosperity sooner rather than later.
2. Know when to make adjustments.
Though Steve Kerr proved to be a brilliant coach (leading the Warriors to a league best 67-15 record in the regular season), his rotations during the first three games of the finals proved to be inadequate at best. What had worked throughout the year was now being battered and broken by an injured, yet-hungry Cavs team led by LeBron James.
Through the first three games, the Warriors found themselves down 2-1, with game four happening in Cleveland. Things looked dire, so Kerr made a drastic lineup change.
He benched his starting center, Andrew Bogut, replacing him with Andre Iguodala, a former all-star who had agreed to take on a more limited role in order to win. The results were stunning. With his new, smaller lineup, Kerr and the Warriors blew the Cavs away, winning three games in a row and delivering the Bay Area its first title in forty years.
Had Kerr been stubborn and not listened to one of his assistants (Nick U’ren, who suggested that Iguodala start), it’s likely the Cavs would have run away with the series.
While it can be good to stay the course, there are times when you need to change things up and adapt, even if it seems risky initially.
3. Lead by example.
When Kyrie Irving went down in the first game of the NBA Finals, fans and critics across the league wrote the Cavaliers off. They assumed the Warriors would sweep the depleted Cavs, to such an extent that every game would be a blow out. On shows like First Take and Sportscenter, pundits like Stephen A. Smith and Chris Broussard spoke about the Cavs as if they were already dead in the water.
They forgot; however, about one man: LeBron James. LeBron took it upon himself to make sure the Warriors didn’t have an easy go of things. He did everything for the shorthanded Cavaliers, scoring nearly half of their points, and averaging close to a triple double (that is, nearly ten rebounds and ten assists a game to go along with his point total).
LeBron’s resilience seemed to rub off on his fellow players. Guys like Matthew Dellavadova and Tristan Thompson, who were seen as inconsequential previously, elevated their play to the extant that Delly was dubbed “the Curry stopper,” and Thompson was described as being better than fellow teammate and perennial all-star Kevin Love (who had been injured earlier in the playoffs).
When you leave it all out on the table, others will take notice, going above and beyond to match the effort you are giving. Without LeBron setting the example that he did, it’s likely the Warriors would have swept his team.
4. Don’t hold grudges.
It would have been easy for Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to hang up the phone when LeBron James called in the summer of 2014, asking if he could join his hometown team once again. It would have been poetic if Gilbert rejected him, given how LeBron denied Gilbert back in 2010 when he chose to sign with the Miami Heat instead of resigning with the Cavaliers.
Gilbert, despite all of his faults, chose to do what was best for his business: he accepted LeBron James with open arms. Despite the fact that LeBron is the best player in the game, this must have been incredibly hard to do. After all, back in 2010, Gilbert had described LeBron’s departure as a “betrayal,” vowing that the Cavaliers could and would win a championship without James’ help.
Despite all of those theatrics, Gilbert took the high road, putting his team before any personal grudge that he might hold.
In life, that’s an important lesson to learn. There’s no point in burning bridges with folks if you can still assist each other in the future. Thanks to Gilbert’s decision, the Cavaliers are set to be Finals contenders for the next several years.
5. Stay true to yourself.
When things began to look bleak for the Golden State Warriors, folks like Knicks general manager Phil Jackson (multi-ring winning coach of the Chicago Bulls, with Kerr on the roster) made some fairly critical comments, citing the Warriors’ reliance on the three point shot and fast paced play as the reason for their woes versus the Cavs. What had worked for the Warriors throughout the regular season and playoffs was now; according to some, causing them to lose against LeBron and the no-nonsense Cavs.
At this point, down 2-1, Steve Kerr and the Warriors could have folded and completely changed their style. They could have played a bigger lineup and battled it out with the bigger, tougher, and downright meaner Cavs. They could have listened to Phil Jackson, and began throwing the ball inside rather than hoisting three point shots.
Instead, Kerr doubled down. He allowed MVP Stephen Curry to play the same game he had played all year. Kerr even took it a step further, going with an even smaller starting lineup than before. The gambit worked. As mentioned earlier, inserting Andre Iguodala into the lineup did wonders, quickening the Warrior’s pace and slowing down LeBron considerably on the offensive end.
Because Kerr had faith in his system, guys like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson eventually found their shooting stroke. This culminated in a 37 point barrage by Curry in a crucial Game 5 victory that practically sealed the series for the Golden State Warriors.
Often, we waver when met with failure, switching up everything we know for little reason other than that we’ve lost confidence in our abilities. Meanwhile, in reality, it’s often better the stay the course, making smaller adjustments to whatever strategy has worked in the past. Chances are, things will turn around for you eventually, much like they did for the Golden State Warriors.
Featured photo credit: IMG_0585/Amir Aziz via flic.kr