Business Lessons Learned from the Hardwood

Posted on July 20, 2016

Author Name By Mike Welker, CFA

As a reformed college basketball player I’m always looking to sports, specifically basketball, to illustrate powerful virtues that I can share with my co-workers. Maybe I’m only trying to justify or rationalize all the time I spent playing the sport I loved growing up. Unfortunately, in the world of mega contracts and lucrative endorsement deals that we live in today, rarely can I turn to the NBA to showcase the actions and virtues I would hope my co-workers and I would choose to exhibit. However, this offseason saw one of the most surprising free agency signings in recent memory when Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City for the Golden State Warriors.

For days, sports columnists, talk show hosts and social media voiced their collective astonishment that this revered NBA superstar would leave the team and city where he had spent the entirety of his career, thus far. While the details on his new contract and opportunity make complete sense for such an important individual decision, to me, the real story is how Kevin Durant got to Golden State from Oklahoma City. The “how” in this surprising turn of events is a business lesson from the hardwood that should be shared, taught and never hidden below the fold.

Rumors coming out from those close to the situation claim that Golden State’s star player, Steph Curry, the reigning two-time NBA MVP, called Kevin Durant after he visited the team. The purpose of the call was to let Durant know that he was not concerned with who the face of the organization would be, nor was he concerned with who the public would deem as the team superstar. Curry didn’t care who would get all the publicity or the fancy endorsements that come along with individual accolades. What Steph Curry stated to Kevin Durant was, essentially, come to this team and help us win multiple championships. The Warriors motto during their incredible run last season was, “Strength in Numbers,” and nothing exemplified that more than Steph’s phone call.

Steph recognizes that legacies, and your place in history, are largely defined by how many championships you win, not by how many different pairs of shoes you release during your career. While many people, athletes and business professionals alike, claim they have this selfless approach in their careers, the reality couldn’t be farther from the truth. Steph Curry will only be the 4th highest paid player on his own team next year, let alone in the NBA. His statistics and popularity could easily demand the highest contract in the league. However, what Steph understands, besides dribbling and shooting, is the power of true success when you don’t care who gets the credit. While Golden State lost in Game 7 of the NBA Finals this past year with the best record in NBA history, the whole team just got much better and will be the odds-on favorite to win the title in 2017. Conversely, there is a good chance that Steph Curry’s personal statistics will go down next year and his stature relative to other individuals will suffer. However, his selfless acts of leadership will increase his chances of adding real hardware to his resume, represented by world championships. If his team maintains the selflessness demonstrated by Steph Curry, they could be on the verge of a dynasty.

It’s extremely hard to exhibit selfless characteristics in a world that promotes individuality and instant gratification. Whether you are sharing photos of all the great things you are doing on Instagram, posting amazing moments on Facebook or just talking to friends about recent successes, rarely do people get excited about someone that takes a step back to take a giant step forward. Rarely do people suffer minor near-term setbacks for the belief in something greater for the group going forward. Rarely does the front page of the paper or the talking heads on radio or TV promote the boring, selfless act that was really the catalyst for positive change.

Well done, Steph Curry. While many revered you for your ridiculous ball handling skills and ludicrous shooting range, hopefully more will start to mimic your selfless behavior. As you’d probably be the first to state, it was this action that truly helped propel you and your team to greater heights.