Last night, I turned on the TV to watch the Los Angeles Clippers play the Golden State Warriors. If you do not know about either basketball team, they have a very strong rivalry, and are both considered to be some of the top teams in the NBA right now, with Golden State having won the championship last year.
As a life-long Los Angeles Lakers fan, I rarely cheer for other teams, but I have a connection to the Warriors since I was supposed to see them play for the first time the day my father died. Obviously I did not go to the game, but because of that day, there is a special place in my heart for them. Right now though, they are turning the NBA up on it’s head because they are playing in a way that is much different from the “traditional” way others have played. Instead of having gigantic 7 footers, they play “small-ball” (small in NBA standards) with lots of running and long distance shooting. They are a very fun team to watch if you are not necessarily interested in the sport, and even better if you love the game. The way they play is a thing of beauty.
I caught the game at a point where the Warriors were actually losing to the Clippers by over 20 points, which in most cases is insurmountable, but I actually watched from that point on because I knew of their ability to come back. They actually won the game going away at the end, and I thought about how they are really challenging the conventional notion of basketball. A lot of the things they are doing can have a connection to what we are doing in education.
- They focus on developing leadership. Steve Kerr, a rookie coach last year in the NBA, had one of the best seasons ever in only his first year, and led with a quiet and steady hand. Suffering an injury to his back during the NBA Finals, he has suffered from complications which have not allowed him to be on the sidelines with his team at this point. Without their “leader”, they are still undefeated at this point of the season. Luke Walton, with no head coaching experience, has taken over and is leading the team until Kerr returns, but as you watch, he is not the only leader on this team. Great leadership develops more leaders, and you see in his absence, the team has not lost a step. Do our schools become dependent on a few individuals, or do we create a culture when someone is gone, others step up?
- They play to their strengths. Stephen Curry won the MVP last year, but if you saw him on the street, he does not look like your typical NBA player. He is listed at around 6’3 (which he isn’t) and probably weighs 180 pounds, but he can shoot the ball. Even after his MVP season, he is probably playing better this year than last, because he is doing what he did last year, better. Although I am sure he has added to his repertoire, he is on a historic pace to break the record for most 3 pointers made (which he has already done twice). He is not trying to be taller or bulkier but focusing on doing what he does well, and the team is built around this idea. They don’t adjust to you, but they focus on what they do well and then continuously do it better. This ties in nicely to the Peter Drucker’s idea that, “It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.” We need to spend more time focusing on getting better at what we do well, not just our weaknesses.
- They define and play their roles. If you watch the Warriors play, it is very rare for them to do something as individuals that is out of character. Their philosophy seems to be to find what people do well, and put them in spaces where they can excel. Andre Igoudala, an all-star for several years, was asked to come off the bench last year, which was probably a struggle at first. He excelled at the role, but in the NBA finals, he actually started because of his ability to cover Lebron James, and became the first player in NBA history to never start a regular season game and then win Finals MVP. He had a role and did it well, as did the other players, which helped them achieve success. Do we create an environment in our schools where we see ourselves as part of a bigger picture, or just a collection of individuals?
- They have confidence in themselves and others. At the end of last night’s game, when Stephen Curry was asked what he thought when they were losing, he said that they have confidence in their team and each other. This is not something we talk much about in schools, but a trend I have noticed lately is that we seem to lack confidence in the others in our own buildings. People will talk about the lack of willingness of others to embrace change, and I wonder what that does for collegiality in the building? If we believe in each other that we are all there to focus on doing what is best for kids, even those things might not look the same in some cases, we are more likely to move forward than if we don’t trust in one another. A great African proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go fast, go together.” If we are going to move our organizations forward, we will need to believe and trust in one another.
All great teams have a “shelf-life” where physically they cannot do what they did at one point, and I am not sure how long this team will be great. But if you are just looking at the athleticism of the team, we are missing the bigger picture of what they are doing together and the culture that is being built. There have been teams with more talent that have done less, and the way the Warriors play together as a team is a thing of a beauty. I am going to learn from it and enjoy watching the ride.