LeBron James, The NBA Finals & Scaling Your Business

I won’t lie to you – for a long time I thought I was going to play in the NBA. Not just play, I was fairly certain that my jersey would one day be retired, and at a young age I had already begun to script the speech for such an occasion (it was a tearjerker). It wasn’t until about halfway through a junior high campaign marred with a few too many turnovers and a points per game average that hovered at five that I came to grips with the fact that that dream might best be realized on someone else’s blacktop.

That said, it’s no surprise that nearly 25+ years later I still am prone to go all in on the NBA, particularly around playoff time. While I no longer watch looking to one day emulate any post moves or the like, I do believe there are lessons to be learned any time greatness converges on the biggest of stages. This year’s NBA Finals have now come and gone – below are some takeaways from the viewing parties:

  1. What are you playing for?

“My motivation is this ghost I’m chasing. The ghost played in Chicago.” – LeBron James, 2016

Every year the basketball season begins anew, and thirty teams across the league have a singular goal – to hoist the Larry O’ Brien Championship Trophy, awarded annually to the winner of the NBA Finals.

For the players themselves, it’s similarly all about the championship rings. That ring count defines greatness and becomes the barometer for which legacy is measured – with LeBron James knowing the only way to spook this ghost (commonly referred to as “Michael Jordan” or “MJ”) is to equal or exceed MJ’s ring count.

The focused pursuit of this trophy / ring is ultimately the singular factor driving all strategic and operational decisions throughout the course of the season and beyond. Teams work backwards with the end in mind, as every consideration from free agent acquisitions to gameday “x’s and o’s” is made in light of this pursuit.

What about you and your business – what’s your ring? Can you define what success looks like with such simplicity? It’s hard to put together a meaningful game plan when working with obscured goals. That said, we all need to prioritize the time and be intentional to make sure both we and our teams know exactly what we’re playing for.

  1. It’s a “Make or Miss” League

The game of basketball is relatively simple, such that many within the NBA refer to it as a “make or miss league”, meaning at the end of 48 minutes it essentially comes down to ‘did your team make more baskets than the other’. Sure the NBA Finals showcased strategy filled with intricacies that ranged from designed out of bounds plays to substitution patterns, but the complexity of strategy is ultimately meant to promote the simplicity of operations – namely, how to most effectively put the ball in the basket.

The lesson here? Simplify. Once you’ve determined the aforementioned definition of success, simplify your operational path toward achievement with a focus on systems, processes and methodologies that are simple, scalable and repeatable. Only then will you have the operational infrastructure in place to seek and support the top-line scale you are looking to create.

  1. Talent Wins

The NBA Finals began with oddsmakers listing the Golden State Warriors as massive favorites against the Cleveland Cavaliers, with the Warriors opening up as the biggest NBA Finals favorites in at least 16 years. Vegas was expecting a short series, and a mere 4 games later they got just that, with Golden State sweeping the best of seven series. Why the upfront expectation and ultimate delivery of such a one-sided matchup? In a word, talent.

Golden State trotted a starting lineup out that featured four All Stars / potential Hall of Fame members. Cleveland countered with a lineup that featured…well, LeBron James. Suffice to say, at the end of the day, talent won.

Want to stack the business odds heavily in your favor? Go all in on talent. As someone like LeBron James proves time and time again, sustained greatness in the NBA typically goes to those that are bigger, faster and stronger. Every company in every industry has its own version of “bigger, faster, stronger” – so define how that is represented in your business and create a system and culture that attracts, recruits and retains a pipeline of aligning talent.

Opening night of the 2018-2019 NBA season will be here before we know it – new trophies will be awarded and rings will be sized. Until then, kudos to you Golden State and Cleveland for reminding me: 1) That really was going to be an epic speech, and 2) Talent, when united with a clear definition of success and coupled with a simple operational playbook, wins, and typically wins big.