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Leadership Lessons—Building a Team

I love sports—playing, watching and coaching. Two examples from the past week come to mind about how different leaders built their teams.

On Saturday, the 148th Annual Belmont Stakes was held in New York. Creator, who started the race at 14—1 odds, won by inches over Destin. The winning horse paid $34.80. Obviously Creator was not expected to win. In the Kentucky Derby, Creator finished 13th. The horse finished so poorly in the first leg of the Triple Crown that he didn’t even run in the Preakness.

The important thing is how this horse won—teamwork. Creator, trained by WinStar Farms, won $800,000 by using a teamwork strategy.

Gettysburg, also trained by WinStar, was a late entry to the Stakes and started at 48—1 odds. WinStar’s goal was for Gettysburg to set the pace for the race. In seven races Gettysburg had only won once. But the trainer knew that for Creator to have a chance of winning with a stretch run Gettysburg had to set the pace. It was a very quick pace and Gettysburg ran out of steam and finished eighth.

The NBA championships started last week. Golden State vs. Cleveland. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, aka The Splash Brothers, vs. LeBron James and company. Game one was held at Golden State’s Oracle arena. Everyone expected the splash brothers to set the tone for a back-to-back NBA championship.

To say the splash brother’s shooting was ice cold is an understatement. Together they shot eight for 27 for a combined total of 20 points. Somehow, though, Golden State won. After the game LeBron commented, “Obviously the game ball goes to Shaun Livingston.”

This was music to my wife Mary Kay’s ears. Livingston played for the L. A. Clippers when MK, who lived in Long Beach when we started dating, had Clippers’ season tickets. Livingston was her favorite player. When I learned more about Livingston I, too, became one of his fans.

We both grew up in Illinois. He played at a Lutheran grade school and led that school to consecutive state titles. I went to a Lutheran school three hours north of Peoria and played in that same tournament many, many years before. He went on to Peoria Central High School where he led Central to back-to-back state titles. He played in the McDonald’s High School All American game where he was named co-MVP. Instead of going to college he went straight to the NBA as the Clippers No. 1 draft choice … the 4th overall pick in the 2004 draft.

When MK moved to Florida in 2006, we lost track of Livingston. Little did we know what was going to happen.

In a 2007 game, he landed awkwardly snapping his left leg and dislocating his kneecap. At the same time, he tore his ACL, PCL and lateral meniscus. He also badly sprained his MCL. Medical professionals said that he might need to have the leg amputated.

Few people would be able to endure the rehab necessary to come back. To make it back to the NBA Livingston had to play in the NBA D-League to show he could play at a NBA level.

The Warriors are Livingston’s ninth team. During game one of this year’s finals, while the splash brothers were having one of their worst games, Livingston was having his best playoff game. He scored 20 points, kept the Warriors not only in the game, but propelled them to victory.

That’s teamwork.

No surprise to me. Steve Kerr is the coach and he understands the importance of teamwork. Rewind the clock to 1997. The Chicago Bulls were playing the Utah Jazz for the NBA Championship—hoping to win their fifth championship ring. The leaders on the Bulls were Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. The point guard was Steve Kerr.

It was the fifth game of the championship. Bulls lead the series 3–1. The game was tied. There was 28 seconds left on the clock. During the time out Jordan tells Kerr to get open and be ready. With just under six seconds left Jordan, instead of shooting for the game winner, dishes the ball off to Kerr—who hits the winning shot propelling the Bulls their fifth NBA championship.

Teamwork. It doesn’t matter if it is horse racing, basketball or installing automotive glass. The same principles apply.

Not everyone on your team is a superstar. Not everyone is Michael Jordan or Secretariat. But, using teamwork, you can achieve more in your business than you ever imagined. Just ask Shaun Livingston!

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