What the NBA Finals Taught Us About Data and Teamwork

Let me be clear, I am not a huge sports fan. However, we only have one TV in my apartment so I have been forced to watch more than a few basketball games (post-game press conferences, episodes of Around the Horn, SportsCenter and anything else on ESPN) this season.

While watching, I have noticed that many of the lessons athletes learn playing organized sports can also be applied to entrepreneurship. From watching film to the endless amounts of statistics that are provided, athletes constantly use data to inform their decisions and improve their game. Basketball is still a team sport and the chemistry of a team is the difference between a championship and a losing season.

Keep shooting.

In Game Two of the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Stephen Curry, the league’s MVP and star of the Golden State Warriors, shot 5-for-23, missing more than half of those shots from the 3-point range. Needless to say, it wasn’t a good night for Curry. However, that didn’t stop him from coming back in Game 3 and taking another 20 shots. This time making half of the shots he took.

The problem wasn’t only that Curry was missing shots, but instead he failed to read the defense and pick his shots a bit better. There are many variables in business that throw us for a loop, and we need to not only have the resilience to keep shooting but take the shots we really want and not the shots that the defense is giving you. Basketball players watch tons of film, the coaching staff provides insights and recommendations and players need to learn their opponents. The lesson here is not only about perseverance, but also understanding the loss. It’s about using failure as learning moments, identifying missed opportunities and using the information you have at your disposal to make better decisions in the moment and in the future.

Understand your role within a team.

While many companies are represented by their CEO and founders, we need to remember the importance of role players – having individuals that understand their strengths and weaknesses and are open to do exactly what is asked of them. No executive knows everything so he/she goes out and builds a team of people that can complement each other’s weaknesses. Each member of an organization needs to understand their role and value that they add to a team.

Cleveland player Tristan Thompson recognizes that his job is to give Cleveland extra shot attempts through rebounds. Look at his stats for the three Finals games:

• Game 1: 2pts, 15rebs
• Game 2: 2pts, 14rebs
• Game 3: 10pts, 13rebs

Not everyone is meant to be a scorer, but it doesn’t make him any less important to the team. Find your specialty, play your role and contribute where you are most needed. Whether it’s Thompson with rebounds or Lebron with assists, you have to do whatever it takes. Organizations and teams have to be nimble and able to adapt their skills and actions to the role that is being asked of each member. Entering the finals Cleveland would have never guessed they would be down two all-stars and a center, yet they continue to make it work because of each player’s commitment to understand the role that they play within the larger organization.

In life and in business, overtime is inevitable. Regardless of how much of a lead you have throughout the game, you should never underestimate your circumstances and your competitors.There will be instances where another company will come up with a similar product, better execute your idea or improve their business processes. With the right data and team members, success is possible.


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