Sports: Where I First Fell in Love with Teamwork (Part 3)

Thirteen years ago, still reeling from the departure of the “next Michael Jordan” (honestly weren’t there about 6 or so of Air Apparents?) the Pistons made a bold move to go back to the red, white, and blue branding that had been so central to their back to back championships. With the former Finals MVP as the architect, the Pistons began a transformation project that early on look more like a reclamation effort than a restoration effort. They turned the reigns of the team over to former Boston player, who had most recently been an assistant with the Indiana Pacers.

This hire, along with the introduction of new Pistons, Chucky Atkins and Ben Wallace, brought about a change in identity to the Pistons. After seeing the Bad Boys era wane, the Pistons had embraced the MJ era of the NBA by trying to win with a team built around finesse and scoring. They had also recognized the value of rebranding and embraced a totally new look that fit with the wild color schemes of this era. Both decisions proved to lead to mediocre results.

In 2002, after a their first 50-win season since 1997, the Pistons brought in Chauncey Billups, traded their star Jerry Stackhouse for Rip Hamilton, and drafted a skinny kid from the University of Kentucky named Tayshaun Prince and an unknown Turkish Forward named Mehmet Okur. These moves bolstered a roster that also included veteran players with smarts and toughness like Clifford Robinson, Jon Barry, and Corliss Williamson.

Following another Central Division championship, but a tough playoff sweep to the NJ Nets in their first conference finals since the Bad Boys era, Dumars (now both President of Basketball Operations and GM) fired Carlisle and brought in the mercurial, but successful Larry Brown. As this team came together in 2004 the team boasted the same core, but also had added more fierce defenders in Darvin Ham, Mike James, Elden Cambell, and the newly returned Lindsey Hunter. The culture and attitude of the organization appeared set.

The season progressed with the Pistons inevitably coasting to what they hoped would be another 50+ win season, when on the NBA’s trade deadline, Dumars swung a deal to get Rasheed Wallace (who had just been traded earlier that week to the Atlanta Hawks). This deal created such a strong shock to the system that the Pistons went on a 20-4 run to finish the regular season. The era of Goin’ to Work had begun!  


This Pistons squad would go on to win the 2004 NBA Championship, would lose in the 2005 NBA Finals, and in total would make the Eastern Conference Finals 7 straight years before eventually bottoming out. This rebirth of championship basketball in the D was built on an understanding of culture, fit, and teamwork.

When you examine the players that participated on this run, they largely bring with them a chip on their shoulder and a strong commitment to defense, instilled by the coaching of Rick Carlisle and Larry Brown. While most teams were trying to figure out how to bring together as many stars as possible, a la the Shaq and Kobe Lakers, the Pistons brought together castoffs who understood how to play a role and commit to being good teammates. They passed well, rebounded well, and certainly defended well, all while being tough and truly having great chemistry.

I remember living in the Suburban Detroit area during this time (where most of the Pistons players actually lived), it was not uncommon to see members of the starting five out together on the weekend hanging out, playing with their vehicles or going to their kids events. These guys truly enjoyed one another.

This group of players was one of the most enjoyable and frustrating groups I ever had the chance to witness. For all of their early buy in to culture and team, a few of these same players would ultimately bring about dissension, backbiting, and hostility that ended championship basketball in Detroit. For those that work in organizations, it is important to recognize that thinking a strong culture will lead an organization on its own is absolutely false. Culture is simply the outgrowth of leadership and teamwork. When these two areas lack, the wrong lessons and narratives will be cemented and things will inevitably fall apart.

The exciting, enjoyable, yet sad story of the Detroit Pistons (and I said it all without dealing with the pain that is Darko)!

It’s only failure if you didn’t learn anything from it: 7 Lessons from my pathetic attempt at crowdfunding (Part 2)

Yesterday, I shared my pathetic attempt at crowdfunding a computer. Sometimes you swing big and hit a home run, other times you swing big and fall on your face. This time, it was pretty much a face plant. So, it was a failure, right? Not a chance. There was so much I learned from this social experiment, including these 7 important lessons:

1)      Never expect 100% of any group to buy-in to your idea

This may seem like an obvious one, but how often do we get really worked up when people don’t seem to think our idea is the best thing that ever happened? We should be used to the reality that not everyone will pick up what we are putting down. If they did, then something would be wrong. Creative disagreements, differences of opinions, and competing frameworks for doing things are what makes life in community so interesting.

2)      Early adopters will often participate even if the goal/vision/need/purpose is totally clear

Don’t you just love ‘em! I had a few people throw coins my way who frankly had no real clue what on Earth I was trying to do (heck, did I even know?). These people were the early adopters. This small percentage of people is going to find a reason to believe in your idea (or you) because they are ready for change and a new model or thought-process them. Engage them, encourage them, but don’t expect them to be responsible for making the whole thing happen.

3)      Sometimes even people the closest to you will think that your idea is crazy

Seriously. Isn’t family required by some kind of contract to support everything you do? I mean mom’s hang artwork on their fridges from their children regardless of how void of real artistic talent it is, just because we are their children, right? Not in this case. Sometimes the people that are close to you will very clearly tell you that your idea is stupid. And sometimes they are right, but not always. The important thing in this situation is to have close advisors around you whose opinion you trust that are given free-reign to tell you when something is out of whack.

4)      People on the fringe of your circles may actually be the greatest/most surprising champions

In a direct contract to Lesson 3, sometimes the people you least expect will be your champions. In the case of my laptop funding, I had old high school friends, friends of friends, and people I hadn’t communicated with in years who were the first to step to the plate. This was a profound wake-up call that our community isn’t always present, but stands by just waiting to be activated.

5)      If you have not clarified “why” they should act, they most likely won’t

In this situation, my “why” was missing. Why should someone give even a nickel to me if I couldn’t give them a good reason – because my old laptop is breaking down, which person among us doesn’t have a similar issue? No, if we are going to move mountains we need to explain the “why”. If you include people in a compelling reason, provide them with a mechanism, and give them a little room for creativity, the results will amaze you!

6)      Sometimes creating a small buy-in will only serve to hamper your ultimate goal

When we have an idea, we are entitled to set the parameters for the action of others. The problem comes when we don’t provide them with varying levels of commitment. In this context I asked people for 2 quarters, 1 nickel, and 4 pennies. You can probably find that in the cushion of your couch or stuck in the cupholders of your car. What about those that wanted to do more, they had to create their own level of commitment, rather than be encouraged that people can commit at varying levels (which we should help them understand).

7)      Newton’s first law of motion

A friend asked me before church this week if I had the funds for the new laptop yet. I sadly admitted that not only did I not have the funds, but nothing had changed in the last two weeks. The reality was, I had let moss grow under that big rock. If you have a campaign, movement, or cause that you are working toward – don’t stop moving it. Getting that rock rolling is quite a challenge and it will be even harder if you are constantly starting and stopping. Be clear and be ready when you launch then go all out for it.

Obviously, this initiative was not a loss. You could say that these seven lessons more than make up for the lack of new laptop (see this is getting posted on something isn’t it?), funds, or even my pride. Dream big, but don’t forget to work hard to make sure structure is in place so that your dream has a place to live.