The 2016 NBA Finals was one of the most memorable series in recent history. It truly was historic. In fact, last night ESPN re-aired their 30 for 30 entitled “Believeland”, but this time had a new ending. Cleveland has been the poster child for bad luck and hard times when it comes to sports having not won a championship in any sport since 1964.
“Believeland” pointed this out, agonizingly so, for Cleveland fans. But all of that changed on Father’s Day when the Lebron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers completed the biggest comeback in NBA Finals history and won the NBA Championship. The Cavs were down 3-1 to the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors. The Warriors were the overwhelming favorite with Steph Curry, the league’s first-ever unanimous MVP winner (that’s right…Magic, Bird, MJ, Shaq…they never were unanimous).
Watching this series unfold got me to thinking about a few lessons that we all can learn as we try to maximize our potential for success and become leaders in life.
Here are five leadership lessons learned from the 2016 NBA Finals.
1.) NEVER GIVE UP – This one was easy to see. No one had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit. How would the Cleveland Cavaliers win three straight games (two of which were at Golden State)? They did it one game at a time. They did it because they believed. They did it because they didn’t allow the naysayers and the media to write their obituaries early. I wrote them off. There was no way that they could beat the defending champs. Nothing so far had indicated that they could. They found hope. They found strength. They won three games and made history. What are you facing that seems impossible? What challenge seems too big? Think of the Cavs and what they just did.
2.) STAY FOCUSED – One of the reasons that the Cavs had hope when they were down 3-1 was that Draymond Green of the Warriors was suspended for game 5. That changed the complexion of the game and breathed a little extra life into the Cleveland lockerroom. Green lost focus in game 4 and got himself suspended. That was a turning point. He got caught up in the moment. Similarily, in game 6, Steph Curry lost focus and was completely fixated on the officiating, which ultimately led to his ejection. In game 7, Steph Curry made a number of mistakes down the stretch, including an unnecessary behind the back pass that went out of bounds. The Warriors lost focus. In their minds, the Warriors had already won the championship or were going to win the championship as it was just a matter of time. However, they forgot that to accomplish something big, they must take care of the little things. What is it at your workplace that has you frustrated? What in your life has you distracted? Your ability to stay focused can determine your success.
3.) THE GOAL IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE ROLE – Especially in sports, the stars get all of the attention. However, when it comes to a team sport, the whole team is needed to win a championship. In game 6, Tristan Thompson had a remarkable game and provided quite the boost. He had 15 points and 16 rebounds. Here is what he had to say after his double-double,
“Like LeBron and Kyrie said, be a star in your role,” Thompson said. “Be a star in your role, and for me that’s high energy, use my motor, just play hard. Play hard, be relentless on the glass. And that’s what I bring to this team. That’s my job.”
Be a star in his role. What a great concept. In the next game, the much-maligned Kevin Love provided the spark early. You could easily substitute him in the above quote. He was a star in his role. Love is a three-time NBA All-Star but has been criticized a lot this year for not producing, but when it mattered most he grabbed 14 rebounds, many of which were in key situations. Two lesser known examples that I’d like to point out are Matthew Dellavedova and Channing Frye. Both of these players played a great deal during the regular season and even in earlier playoff games, however, they were nowhere to be found in the finals. You didn’t hear complaints out of them. They could have easily been a distraction to the team but they focused on the goal, which was winning a TEAM championship. Do you like your role at work or in your organization? Are you under-producing or failing to live up to potential? Tomorrow is another day. Be a star in your role. Play your part to have a championship team or business.
4.) SOMETIMES YOU WIN; SOMETIMES YOU LEARN – This is the title of a John C. Maxwell book. We don’t fail, we just learn. The Cleveland Cavs lost to the Golden State Warriors last year and came back and won the rematch this year. Lebron was hated after leaving his home area of Northeast Ohio to take his talents to South Beach but eventually came back home to bring Cleveland a title. Kevin Love was a punchline of a player but saw what he needed to do and realized that each game is a new opportunity. Cleveland was down 3-1 and saw the things that weren’t working and made some adjustments. I also believe that Golden State will learn from this and be contending for a title once again next year. Have you ‘failed’ at work? In your marriage? In business? On a project? Well, look at it as a learning opportunity. How can that situation make you stronger? Never miss an opportunity to learn.
5.) DON’T WAKE A SLEEPING GIANT – All year it was Steph this, Steph that. Lebron was pretty much overlooked. Even in the NBA Finals, he was overlooked for the first few games and then some Warriors started talking trash about “the king”. Lebron proceeded to have one of the greatest three-game stretches in NBA playoff history. In three must-win games, he had 41 points, 16 rebounds and 7 assists in Game 5; 41 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds in Game 6; and a triple-double in Game 7. Overall, the finals MVP averaged 29.7 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 8.9 apg, 2.6 spg and 2.3 bpg. He also had one of the most memorable blocks in NBA history that quite possibly saved the series. The lesson is simple…take care of your own business and don’t talk negatively about the competition. Let the scoreboard and your performance do all the talking.