Great management in progress: NBA playoffs

I’m aware of the risks of stretching topics to the point of transparency, but I have to note the high quality of what’s happening in the NBA playoffs right now, at least from a team and management perspective. The best lessons I’ve learned about teamwork, leadership and success come from my experience in competitve sports – especially basketball. And right now some of the best basketball the NBA has seen in a long time is being played.

I’ll hold off on the treatise comparing sports teams to design or management, but I can say this: Every one of the four teams still in the playoffs plays like a team.

  • They have shared goals
  • They help their teammates
  • They check their egos at the door
  • They work hard
  • They play to win
  • They love what they do and show it

Typically the NCAA tournament, where amateur athletes play every game like it’s their last, is the most exciting event in sports, with every game coming down to the last minute, or the last shot. Well this year the NBA playoffs have seen more lead changes, game 7s, and last second turns than any year I can remember.

The coaches of these teams set a high standard of leadership and management. Pat Riley, Avery Johnson, Flip Saunders & Mike D’Antoni have all earned solid reputations for building great teams and managing them with a sense of balance, integrity and professionalism. Given the size of the egos and sallaries of players, it takes a masterful manager to keep a sense of team together. I’m a particularly strong fan of Avery Johnson, a former point guard, for how open and honest he is about what’s he’s doing and why.

Steve Nash, Dwayne Wade, Ben Wallace & Dirk Nowitzki, four of the biggest stars from each team, approach the game in the old school, fundamentals way. The way I was taught to play. None of them are flashy, show-boat, trash talking players. They leave it all out on the floor and let their games and work ethics speak for them. There is nothing more exciting than watching a great talent who isn’t isn’t in love with themselves as much as they’re in love with with the game, and profession, they’re in. These guys play with respect and make you want them to win.

The result of all this is some excellent, high excitement, team based basketball. It’s a throwback to the NBA of old. And the best news is that there are still two rounds of playoffs left – If you want to see great teams in action, tune in to watch Miami vs. Detroit, or Phoenix vs. Dallas, and see for yourself.

5 Responses to “Great management in progress: NBA playoffs”

  1. kareem

    Totally agree–I fell out of love with the NBA in the last few years. This year, though, there is some unbelievably exciting basketball being played, and it’s a joy to watch.

  2. dotone

    It’s the best season ever since MJ.

    I’m hoping to see Dallas & Miami in the final game. Detroit and Phoenix are both good. I wanna’ see Dwayne playing Dirk. What a game, oh man.

  3. Dan Perl

    An even wider aside. I just read an old article from the Outside magazine written by Yvon Chouinard (the founder of the Patagonia company):

    It’s a remarkable story on management and business and I think that you and your readers will enjoy Chouinard’s opinions as much as I did. Can’t say anything about his book yet, but I believe that I will get it and read it.

    Seriously, I am not affiliated in any way with Chouinard and I am not trying to promote his book, I was just so impressed with the article. I was especially impressed by how he takes responsibility for everything that has ever gone wrong with his company and that reminded my of your essay “Ten things VPs never say”.

    I’ll go even one step further and suggest that you interview Chouinard for your own upcoming book on innovation. BTW, I am looking forward to that!

  4. pimpgangz4000

    Reading your message makes me want to get back into watching the NBA again. For a long time I got sick of all the egos and headcases as well but from the sounds of your description they’re playing oldschool style right now so I am going to check it out! :)

  5. Michael Wagner

    Like so many I have given up on the NBA but secretly hoped things would get better. I remember how good it was.

    Your posting has me thinking I should give them another look.

    As you mention, NCAA tourney is “the most exciting event in sports”. But there is no reason why the NBA can’t give them a run for their money.

    Thanks for enlarging the conversation. Getting things done through sports is a great illustration of getting things done through project management


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