The NBA playoffs are in full swing and all any basketball fan is talking about is how Stephen Curry's injury could change the entire season.
Before there was Stephen, there was Michael Jordan. Before Michael, there was Irving. And before Irving, there was...well you get it. The NBA has minted a new protege or proteges every decade.
Someone who has seen many athletes become legends is David Stern, the longtime commissioner of the National Basketball Association. By the time he retired in 2014 after 30 years at the helm, he'd grown the NBA into one of the world's biggest sports leagues with $6 billion in revenue and oversaw countless controversies, scandals and crises. That's why when CEOs need advice, they call the commish up.
I sat down recently with Stern for our Radiate podcast and asked him to coach me through some tough scenarios. Here are my top 4 favorite pieces of advice:
1. When something bad is happening, make decisions quickly. Some of you might recall this fiasco when Indiana Pacers player Ron Artest stormed into the stands amid a fight between players and fans. The brawl led to the suspension of 9 players and millions in salary lost. "The idea was...was decide as fast as possible so that the discussion becomes whether I was an idiot or didn't take it seriously enough and...get the interest away from the players because they had to go out and play basketball," Stern said. In other words, when something awful is going on, make a decision so that the focus turns from how bad the situation is to how bad (or good) the decision is. Diffuse by deciding.
2. Never miss an opportunity to shut up. "I'm not suggesting I follow it as religiously as I should but you're more likely to get in trouble for talking too much than not," Stern advises.
3. Details matter. I've heard this from a lot of CEOs because it's very true-if you are meticulous about details, you'll almost always succeed. "Whoever said `God is in the details' is right," Stern said. "You have to be obsessive compulsive about the details. If you're going to bother doing it, do it. Be open to learning new things because if you understand the march of history, whatever it is that you're comfortable with and are doing...in ten years it's going to be a big waste of time."
4. Everything is about sales. Stern realized that his biggest job as commissioner of the NBA was not managing the owners, setting rules or imposing fines. The biggest job was being the best salesperson for the league. How else did he grow its franchises and global footprint. Every role in a company goes back to sales-how you represent and present your product to the world. "Everything is about sales," Stern said. "A good lawyer is a salesman and a good commissioner is a salesman."