Love and Basketball

I’m in love with the game of basketball. As a longtime Golden State Warriors fan, I’ve attended over 500 games and I’ve watched the rest on TV or online. Watching so many games has given me happiness and heartburn. Game seven of the finals clearly falls into the latter category.

Aside from an emotional roller coaster ride, watching so many games has given me a clearer understanding of the patterns of behavior that determine a team’s ability to fail miserably or succeed at historic levels.  I enjoyed the Warriors 73 game record run because I know that it’s a rare occurrence when a team has the right mix of players, owners, coaching and fans coming together to peak at just the right time.  But as dedicated observers of the NBA know, having all of these physical assets doesn’t guarantee winning a single game let alone the NBA championship.   It takes love.  Love of the game, love of the team, and the love of the fan community.  These lessons transcend sports and apply to almost any people-powered organization—including business.

I religiously watched the finals coverage on NBA TV’s Gametime.  During one of the broadcasts Isiah Thomas, himself a champion with the 1989 and 1990 Detroit Pistons, told his co-hosts about a conversation he’d had with Joe Dumars, the legendary guard from Thomas’ teams.  He told Joe that he was having a hard time articulating what makes the current Warriors team so special.  Dumars’ reply: It’s love.  Love, passion, and commitment are the ‘soft’ qualities that transcend the reality of the physical and take teams beyond the norm to accomplish exceptional things.

“It’s love” concisely sums up the Warriors, who consistently exhibit their devotion and the sheer joy of playing for each other, their organization and their fans.  They are skilled and singularly focused on accomplishing their goals for their immediate and broader community.  Successful teams—whether on the court or in any organization – are committed to each other and believe that they can do anything together.  The Warriors’ pre-game mantra says it all: “Just us!”  Time and time again they believe they can come back from cold streaks, 30 point holes and two game deficits, and if you listened to their post-game seven interviews, they believe they can come back from a failed championship run to win again next season.  They have so much faith in the unit, that it overrides the overwhelming negativity of the odds, outside chatter and even their own egos.

When we look at the NBA, we can also see the opposite, of course — teams that possess incredible assets, yet the chasm between their assets and their goals are wide.  The tension and the lack of generosity dragging their game down is visible and palpable.  Although they play on the same team, they are clearly not of the same mind.  On paper, these teams should produce championships, but the lack of these softer, yet essential elements seem to drain their physical strength.

There’s a lot I’ve learned from the Warriors that can be applied to running a company.  As the lead member of my own phenomenal team, I recognize that as my team goes, so goes my company’s success.  Organizational success is built on team members possessing skills, talent, smarts, and the willingness to bring their A game every day.  But they also must have the things you can’t buy – the intangibles that can’t be taught.  Team members have to have heart – the drive, passion, generosity and yes the love for each other, for customers and for the greater goal.  Whether on the court or in the office – love is the way to win stellar results – even championships – every day.