It's an enormous challenge to win games in the National Basketball League, where the worst can beat the best on any given night. That's what made last night so extraordinary.
The Golden State Warriors went into yesterday's game against the Los Angeles Lakers owning the best record in basketball. They had already tied the previous NBA record of 15 wins, 0 losses to start a season. (The last team to do that? The Houston Rockets--over 20 years ago.)
So how would the Warriors fare with the pressure on?
They destroyed their opponent. By 34 points.
I hear you--they were playing the Lakers, who are scraping the cellar this season. Kobe Bryant will go down as one of the greatest, but he's most likely on his retirement tour and is a shell of his former self.
But that doesn't matter. The Warriors have been playing out of their minds since the season has begun. Stephen Curry, the team's best player, is demonstrating confidence we haven't seen since Michael Jordan. (One could argue that Curry's confidence is even higher than Jordan's, looking at some of the shots the former has put up.)
Just feast your eyes on these, all highlights from the first 10 games of this season. Do yourself a favor and don't miss the last one (at the 2:15 mark):
Of course, the Warriors are more than just one great player. They boast the number one offense in the league (by points), they rank number five in defensive efficiency, and they play excellent team ball.
So I've been thinking: What business lessons can we learn from the reigning NBA champs and their record-breaking start?
Here are four.
1. Culture matters.
Head coach Steve Kerr hasn't coached a game this season, after taking a leave of absence to address complications from off-season back surgery. Interim coach Luke Walton has filled in tremendously; however, he credits the team's success to the culture of excellence that Kerr has worked hard to establish.
In an interview with the media prior to last night's game, here's what Walton had to say:
"Everything we do is based on what Steve has set up here. We try to mimic what we think Steve would do, we continue to preach to the guys the lessons and the values that he put in when he got here. Everything we do, Steve has his hands on.
We have core values as a team and he just reminded everybody--he put them up on the whiteboard before we started shoot-around. He reminded the guys what those values were and he emphasized to them how proud he was watching them because we're hitting all four of those values."
What exactly are those values? Walton elaborated:
"The first one and the most important one is probably joy--he wants us having fun. It's a long season, this game's meant to be fun. There's mindfulness. There's compassion--for each other and for the game of basketball. And then there's competition.
When we hit those four things, we're not only very tough to beat, but we're very fun to watch, we're very fun to coach, we're very fun to be around."
Although Kerr is far from ready to resume full coaching duties, he's kept in touch with the team and made sure they remember one thing: Culture is what's gotten them this far.
Lesson: When leading a team, define your core values. Then, do all you can to make sure those values permeate you and your team's activities.
When you live your values, others will follow.
2. Trust your team.
Interestingly, Kerr was there at the game last night, watching behind the scenes. In speaking recently with ESPN, he admitted that it's "killing him" to not be out there.
But he's held back. He trusts his people to hold down the fort, and he has given them enough freedom and levity throughout his tenure that they now feel comfortable stepping up their game.
Assistant coach Jarron Collins spoke to the value of this earlier this week:
"The thing that Steve did to empower us as assistants was, he gave us a voice--and he allowed us to use our voice...We're responsible for breaking down game tape, leading walkthroughs, leading video sessions. And what that does for us as young coaches, it gives us experience and gives us confidence. And so when the players hear us say something that's going to contribute to winning, they know it's coming from a place of wanting to get them better.
I've been on teams where the head coach wants to lead the team through the walkthrough and he's the only one who speaks at practice. That's not the case with us."
Lesson: Who gets the credit isn't important. Achieving success is.
3. Learn to identify top talent.
Let's take a quick look at the Warriors' starting five, along with the position they were drafted upon entering the NBA:
- Stephen Curry: 7th pick
- Klay Thompson: 11th pick
- Harrison Barnes: 7th pick
- Draymond Green: 35th pick
- Andrew Bogut: 1st pick (by the Milwaukee Bucks)
Notice a pattern here? The Warriors have put together the NBA's best team using players that at least a handful of teams didn't want. Sure, Bogut was a number one pick; but a series of injuries and a couple of disappointing seasons led the Bucks to trade him to the Warriors in 2012.
Since then he's become one of the Warriors' most important defensive players.
Lesson: Look for talent in obscure places. Another company may not want someone, but that person could be the perfect fit you're looking for.
4. Never stop improving.
Stephen Curry finished last year on top. NBA champion. Voted Most Valuable Player on the best team in the league. A solid reputation as one of the best shooters and ball handlers in professional basketball.
Want to know how he spent the summer?
He worked on his shooting and ball handling.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Curry explained why:
"It's not like I'll go in and try to implement a post game, work on a hook shot or things like that. I've just got to be able to take what I do well and make it even better."
Lesson: Of course you want to improve your weaknesses. But don't forget about your strengths.
Never stop learning, and never stop working.
After making history last night, Coach Walton admitted: "Eventually we will lose. It's natural to let down at some point."
"I doubt it. I highly doubt it."
Maybe he was joking. But you've got to love his confidence.