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Sporting anecdotes: Basketball

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Anecdote 1: LA Lakers' 1988 Championship - For when you want to talk about determination to succeed

As the champagne flowed and the LA Lakers celebrated their 1987 NBA Championship in their dressing room after the winning game against the Lakers, coach Pat Riley made a promise that froze the smiles on the team's faces. He said, "I guarantee you we will repeat as champions next year." And just in case anybody missed it, he repeated it at the victory parade the following day.

The problem? Nobody had won back-to-back championships for 18 years.

  Pat Riley

A lot of people thought he said it in jest or in euphoria but Riley's promise was made on the back of calculation rather than emotion. He'd read articles about why nobody ever repeated their success the following year and decided it was because nobody would take the responsibility for making it happen. Coaches and players would always talk about the difficulty of doing it, giving themselves a rationalization for failing.

So he prevented the Lakers from doing the same with his premeditated statement. He told them despite winning the title 4 times, they'd never be considered one of the greatest teams unless they won it back-to-back. Starting with Magic Johnson, who was motivated by the fact his great rival Larry Bird had never done it, the players got on board, one by one. And set out to achieve what many considered to be impossible.

The result? It took 115 games, and it went all the way to the wire in the 7th game of the playoffs, with the Lakers finally beating the Pistons 108-105. The Pistons themselves would eventually win back-to-back, and the Bulls would eventually win three straight titles. But the Lakers were the first ones to do it, establishing themselves as one of the greatest teams of all time.

We've made some bold claims ourselves this year. We've set ourselves a target of XYZ / told the press we're going to achieve ABC / achieve market leadership. And the reason we've been so bold is that - like Pat Riley - we didn't want to give ourselves a psychological crutch for failure by being less than positive about our ambitions ........

Anecdote 2: The 1971 Milwaukee Bucks - For when you want to talk about teamwork

When you consider that the 1971 Milwaukee Bucks team had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson on the bench, it’s not surprising that they won the Finals that year. What is surprising was that it was only the third season they had played in the NBA.

The Bucks came further, faster than any expansion team in the history of major pro sports. So fast, in fact, that the city of Milwaukee was caught by surprise. The team weren’t an automatic sellout in Milwaukee Arena, and their traveling party consisted of only eight people during the Finals. In fact to fill out the celebration party after they won Game 4 in Baltimore, they had to invite Bullets personnel to join them.

abdul jabbar  

How did they do it? The answer is one word: teamwork. Man per man, they weren't the most talented group of players, but when you put them on the floor together, their teamwork and execution made them one of the greatest offensive teams in league history. Every player had a specific role and played it beautifully. They proved that if you had a team of role players with a couple of stars, you could win.

It wasn’t the kind of team where they socialized together. They all had our own lives off the court, but when they came together on it, they simply clicked.

There was never any bickering about who should have the ball, or who should score because everyone accepted that Abdul-Jabbar and Robertson were the foundation of the offense and defense. But they were unselfish and shared the ball. Robertson's scoring average had regularly been above 30 points whilst at Cincinnati, but it dipped to 19.4 at Milwaukee because he unselfishly accepted that Abdul-Jabbar was the go-to guy, and fed him the ball whenever he could.

As Andrew Carnegie once defined it, "Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results."

And it's teamwork that's going to enable us to hit our objectives this year. They're big. They're bold. And they're stretching. And we'll only hit them if every single person in this room plays his or her part ...............

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Anecdote 3: Bill Russell v Wilt Chamberlain - For when you want to talk about competition

Basketball fans often talk about the competition between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the 1980s, but the greatest direct rivalry between two players was unarguably that between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain in the 1960s.

No one had ever seen anything quite like Bill Russell, who terrorized the NBA for years. And then along came Wilt Chamberlain. Three inches taller, stronger, just as quick, with the greatest offensive skills from the center position the basketball world has yet seen. On the eve of the 1960s, sports pundits forecast that the Russell Era was over, and that the next decade belonged exclusively to Wilt Chamberlain.

But Russell refused to move over for the new kid on the block. If Chamberlain wanted to take his position as the NBA's number one player, he was going to have to fight for it tooth and nail. Chamberlain would go on to rewrite the record book many times over and become the greatest individual force in the sport's history. But he would also prod Russell into playing some of his very best basketball. Without Chamberlain, Russell would have been great. But because of him, he became, as the old Army ad said, all that he could be.

  Chamberlain & Russell

As much as people rhapsodize about the Johnson-Bird rivalry, the two only played against each other 37 times, because of the increase in the number of teams, and rarely guarded each other in those games.

Russell and Chamberlain went head-to-head a unbelievable 142 times during a ten-year rivalry. And every time, each player raised his game a little. Each brought out the best in the other. A strong opponent introduces risks and uncertainties into any competitive situation, which if harnessed properly, can help someone reach a higher level and bypass what they might ordinarily have achieved.

It is through competition that we are challenge to truly test ourselves and our abilities. It is through competition that we challenge ourselves to the limit, whether it is on the basketball court or out in the marketplace.

For a long time we had this market almost to ourselves, and that isn't good. Because if you're not careful, it can breed complacency. Now, for the first time, we have real competition. And instead of wishing Company X's product launch hadn't taken place ...... I, for one, welcome it. Because I know it will bring out the best in each and every one of you in this room ...........

More sports anecdotes articles you might enjoy:

NFL stories 1

NFL stories 2

NFL stories 3

NFL stories 4

Baseball stories

Boxing stories

Hockey stories


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