Why I Still Don’t Like Lebron, the Cavs, or the Heat (but I respect James more)

As a sport fan, I was growing tired of the #Indecision2014 tag that had been making the rounds throughout last week. My biggest hope for all of this hoopla is that it would not turn our as a repeat of the horrendous made-for-tv ploy of “The Decision.” That being said, while the whispers had been pointing towards it for a time, I was still moderately surprised by LeBron James decision to go back to his “hometown” Cleveland Cavaliers.

Let me take a moment to state this succinctly – I hail from SE Michigan and love all things about Detroit/UM sports, as an effect, I can’t stand the following: Ohio State, any Cleveland team, Michael Jordan, UNC, and LeBron. I grew up in an era where Detroit and UM sports were like the towns of the Detroit area – TOUGH!

Now, I have to admit having LeBron back in Cleveland just means I have less disdain that I have to spread around to NBA franchises, I mean I used to like the Heat back in their early days, but that was surely lost during the LeBron era.

A funny thing happened to all of my annoyance with LeBron the other day – The Letter was released. Gosh the lack of humility found in the “…not 5, not 6, but 7 championships” statement was notably absent and a much more mature LeBron was found.

I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go.

Sure, I can nitpick about how some of this was just overblown that the money helped bring him back to Cleveland, that the NBA rigged three lotteries in 4 years to make up for the Decision (and to set up the Return), but I will not let that be the focus. The truth is, while I could (mostly) care less about this choice, I very much respect the character and leadership that his letter shows. Young people make mistakes, being uber-wealthy and having whatever you want only exacerbates that, but growing up…that is what counts. 

Congrats LeBron. You have my respect…until the Pistons play you (kidding, sort of)!

Teammate of the Year Award: Why the NBA Almost Got it Right!

Last year, among a litany of bigger, more coveted awards a NBA player was recognized for being a good teammate – errr, the best teammate. In the era of self-centered, ball-hogging, hero-ball that has clogged up the ranks of basketball from the youngest leagues through the professional ranks, the NBA did something that shocked me – they honored a teammate.

There may be more than a little bias on my part, but I have been absolutely thrilled with the selections for 2013 and 2014. The inaugural selection of the award was presented to a player whose identity changed from a slightly cocky point guard, who shot too much, and couldn’t run an offense through anyone but himself when he first entered the league to a player who served as the vocal floor-general on one of the best teams of the 2000s. Chauncey Billups had moved beyond elite player, to amazing teammate, teacher, and ambassador for the game. His was a fitting recognition.Image

This year, the award went to Shane Battier (who had been runner-up the previous year), who certainly exemplifies selflessness and team-orientation. Battier, a native of Birmingham, MI (suburb of Detroit) went from being the most highly recruited high school basketball player in the nation (when he played at Detroit Country Day – Chris Webber’s alma mater) being named the Naismith High School player of the year, to becoming another great at Duke where he led the team to the NCAA title and he was named the Naismith NCAA Player of the year (and was also a three-time Defensive Player of the Year in college).

Battier was selected 6th overall by the Grizzlies and throughout his early career was overlooked as an NBA player. Until, teams started to get it. No, Battier is not the quintessential NBA athlete. While 6’8” and having some quickness and jumping ability, Battier is not an athletic freak like you might think of when talking about Michael Jordan, Lebron James, or even Kobe Bryant. But Battier is a dogged competitor, a player who understands the team concept, and frankly has made every team he has played on better (as recognized by the championships won at each level – High School, College, and in the NBA). Battier is a great example and a perfect fit to follow Billups as the Teammate of the Year.

But, what pains me about this award is that outside of the reason for the name of the award (it is the Twyman-Stokes award), the amount that goes to charity ($25,000 to the charity of the player’s desire) and the actual voting mechanics and finish, nothing in the articles seem to point out anything about the greatness of these two players as teammates! What? Can you imagine a story on the MVP trophy or Defensive Player of the Year simply focusing on the mechanics of the voting process?

What about a piece like this (written by Michael Lewis of Moneyball fame) where the teammate is shown for the blessings and struggles he has faced? What about getting real quotes from teammates about the ways he has mentored, assisted, and shown true leadership on the team and in the community? Might it be possible to talk more in-depth about the foundation that the player is supporting, detailing how it fits into their role as a great teammate? Nope. Sorry!

It pains me to thank the NBA, none of the other Big 4 North American pro sports has this award, but could we do a little better in spotlighting what teamwork it is actually about?

The San Antonio Spurs and the Myth of the Small-Market Loser

If you have been reading this blog for more than a minute, you recognize that this blogger loves teamwork, sports, organizations, leadership, and humility – and it is like my birthday when all of these topics collide!

As much as I wish I could say that this article was about the resurgence of my hometown Pistons, as they won the NBA Draft Lottery – oh wait, that didn’t happen. Well at least we kept our first round pick and will be able to still field a growing young team. Wait, that didn’t happen either? Well, at least the Cavs didn’t get to move up again. No? That did happen, they actually “won” the lottery for the 3rd time in 4 years (and this time with a 1.7% chance)? REALLY???? – sorry about that digression, it might be a little bitterness in my system this morning, ok enough about this, today I want to point out just how amazing the San Antonio Spurs are.Image

Within professional sports, one of the constant myths is that teams in the large markets are always the winner. This myth was largely built in the 1980s and 1990s when LA, NY, Chicago ruled professional sports. But in the present environment of league-wide TV deals, social media exposure, and salary caps (in all sports but baseball – though spending more money doesn’t even guarantee things there, just ask the Yankees, Mets, and Phillies of the last few seasons).

An amazing thing happened way back in 1987, the San Antonio Spurs, a team that was one of four ABA teams given “expansion rights” by the NBA to join their league only 11 seasons prior, drafted a 4-year player from Navy named David Robinson. The following year, the team added two assistant coaches to the staff of Larry Brown, R.C. Buford and Gregg Poppovich. In 1993 Peter Holt, the owner of the largest Caterpillar dealership in the United States came on as a part-owner (attaining majority shares of the team later). Then after a horrific 1998 season saw the firing of the head coach and the General Manager (Poppovich) stepping in as the interim coach, the Spurs won the NBA Draft Lottery and drafted Tim Duncan, 4 year player out of Wake Forest University. The primary pieces were in place to form one of the greatest most consistent franchises in all of professional sports.

These Spurs, with an owner who has made his mark with a values-based focus on business, a GM and Coach who have successfully built a roster and coaching staff with underappreciated names, who are well-trained, and fit their organization have become the standard bearer in the NBA. They have won 4 championships since 1999-99 season (the most by any team during this 15 year time frame), making the Western Conference Finals 9 times in that span, and never falling below a .610 win percentage each year (averaged 57 wins a season during that span), and never missing the playoffs. This is all being accomplished as the smallest of the three Texas cities represented in the NBA, and the 4th smallest market of any NBA franchise.

So how do they do it? They win as an organization! Name a player on the team that has ever established a me-first attitude during this era? When is Poppovich a distraction to the team? When does Buford blow a draft-pick (without at least flipping that person in a later deal), what free agents do they bring in that don’t fit? How?

Identity! They know who they are. They know what they want to accomplish, and they find players who fit that type of culture, regardless of personal background (last year they had 10 international players to start their season on a 15-man roster). They win, but they do it with class and with teamwork. If the Red Wings are the class of the NHL, the Spurs are certainly the class of the NBA!

Could 2014 mean another ring for this elite franchise?

Why do some organizations “get it” and others don’t?

What are the bedrock values in your organization? Do you hire based on values? Does everyone from the CEO through the rest of the organization understand these values?