(by Silas Grant)
Most people want to be successful. But success is not easily attained. For some, the idea of being successful includes outdoing an opponent to reach their goal. And no one is willing to give up their spot. The throne is for the taking. It’s not given. You must take it. This post is not aimed at unnecessarily making enemies. I’m not a big “48 Laws of Power” kind of guy. But in some situations, you are faced with opponents who are in the way of you attaining your desired spot. So, how do you take the spot? Let’s look at the two professional basketball teams in Los Angeles. One team, the Lakers, has a long lasting legacy of winning and drafting great players. The other team, the Clippers, has a long legacy of losing and selecting the wrong players as members of their roster. Now as the 2012-2013 season continues, it seems as if the Clippers have turned the corner and have a future as a “staple” in the Staples Center. In the middle of the season, they’ve already had a 17 game winning streak, which ranks among the highest in league history. We can learn a lot from the Los Angeles Clippers. Although they are having a great season so far, I’m not here to say that the city of Los Angeles is under new management. But if we simply stop and take a look at this moment in time for the Clippers, there is a lot to learn about ascending to the next level in life.
Living in the shadow
Some standards are set by you. Others are set for you. The Los Angeles Clippers were once the Buffalo Braves. Later, they became the San Diego Clippers. In modern times, they moved to Los Angeles and became the Los Angeles Clippers. The city of Los Angeles already had a perennial champion in the Lakers. It’s tough to play in Buffalo. It’s tougher to play second fiddle to the Lakers. I think that we can assume that the Clippers didn’t move to Los Angeles to be better than the Lakers. They came to Los Angeles to win. Of course, that means that they have to be better than the Lakers to win titles, but they didn’t go to Los Angeles with the sole purpose of picking a rivalry with the Lakers. We can also assume that like it or not, they inherited the challenge of being compared to the Lakers. It became the sole purpose of critics to compare the Clippers to the Lakers. It doesn’t help that the Lakers have 17 titles and going into EVERY season, there is an expectation for the Lakers to win it all. What do you do when you want to start fresh in a new place and you walk into uncomfortable competition head first? Sometimes you believe that you’re walking away from bad situations and locations. And the new situation and/or location are not so perfect.
Lesson: The first step is acknowledging your competition. Immediately after that, you have to acknowledge that you’re in the shadow of your competition. I believe that the Clippers appear to be turning the corner because they’ve finally embraced the fact that they have been in the shadow of the Lakers for decades. Instead of merely trying to win, they’ve now set out to beat and outdo the Lakers.
Sharing an “Arena”
Although they shared the city of Los Angeles, the Lakers and Clippers played in separate arenas for years. In 1998, the Staples Center became the home of both teams. This means that both teams share facilities and the comparisons become more intense as a result. In the NBA, teams don’t bounce around and play games across the country in random cities. So, if you’re the Atlanta Hawks, you wouldn’t play a game in Sacramento, and then back east to Boston, back to Los Angeles to play the Clippers, over to Chicago and back to California to play the Lakers. Your team would be on a schedule that allows for road trips based on regions. So if you go to play the Lakers, it would be a part of a west coast road trip. This trip is where you’d play a number of games in a row on the road against west coast teams. And if you play the Lakers on one night, there is a good chance that the next night, you’ll stay in town to play the Clippers. Let’s say you lose by 25 points to the Lakers. Nothing used to be better than having the next night to get your feet back under you by whipping on the Clippers. Even common opponents of the Lakers and Clippers had a lack of respect for the latter team. Sharing this arena highlighted everything that was right about the Lakers and all that was wrong about the Clippers. At some point, the Clippers had to begin paying attention to the Lakers to see what it took to be successful.
Lesson: When your opponent is better than you, being close to your opponent allows you to analyze them closely. You can copy routines, schedules and performance when you are close to your opponent on a daily basis. Sometimes, you have to embrace the close proximity and take advantage of it.
The right roster
Do the names Michael Olowokandi, Darius Miles and/or Bobby Simmons ring a bell? Did you know that 4 of the 12 players from the 1996-1997 roster are now deceased? So many examples of “bad luck” or disappointment can be developed into separate stories, but the Clippers never had the right team. They made playoff appearances, signed a few notable free agents and worked hard with what they had. But it seemed that they just didn’t have what it took. Fast forward the tape to 2012-2013. The new roster has savvy/crafty veterans, young exciting players and strong leadership. The chemistry is there. And they are taking advantage of the talent that they have. They seem to be in the moment. And in this moment, this team has the opportunity to set a new standard for what their organization stands for going forward.
Lesson: In every success story, there is a team that comes together to make it work. Those who start out with you may not be able to make it to the end with you. The team may play musical chairs for a while, but if you find the right balance in your team, use that moment to set a new tone. Develop a new reputation based on execution and success.
If you can’t beat em, join em. If you can’t join em, have them join you.
Ronny Turiaf, Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes are currently members of the Los Angeles Clippers. All are former members of the Los Angeles Lakers. The significance of their on-court contribution to either team can be debated. What can’t be debated is their experience playing on a team that prepares and competes for championships each and every year. Being veteran players, the younger Clippers are at the least, open to hearing from them on topics such as game preparation, travel preparation and handling the pressures of winning. (Did I mention that Chris Paul was also THIS close to being a Laker before David Stern stepped in)
Lesson: Recruit winners. At the least, find people who have been around winning environments. If you can recruit from a competitor, do it. It expedites the previous lesson about setting a new tone.
The foundation vs. leadership
Blake Griffin is the foundation of the future of the Los Angeles Clippers. Chris Paul represents the current leadership of the Los Angeles Clippers. Blake has been criticized for being a one-dimensional player. But he attracts fans and there is never a dull moment when he’s on the floor. Chris is the leader. And in between, there are other players (old and young) who contribute. Blake and Chris appear to have a great relationship. Unlike other duos across the league, there have never been any hints of rifts between these two players.
Lesson: Respect the contributions of others on your team. The leader doesn’t always have to be the foundational focus of the team. The person who serves as the foundation of the team’s future doesn’t have to be the leader in all situations. Rely on your team.
Chris Paul vs. Pau Gasol
There comes a point in time where you have to face your opponent head on. You’ve recognized that you were once in their shadow. You’ve embraced being close to them for observation. You’ve finally developed the right roster, established the leaders and you even stole away some of their players. At some point, you have to overcome fear and compete head on. The “Goliath” might not take you seriously. Take a look at this clip (click here). In that clip, the Lakers are playing the Clippers. The game was close, but again, the Clippers came up short. But they wouldn’t back down. And their leader, Chris Paul was in a competitive mode. Pau Gasol didn’t seem to take that seriously. In the midst of a late-game exchange of trash talk, Pau Gasol did the unthinkable. He patted Chris on the top of his head. It was a sign of Pau looking at Chris as merely a boy among men. And Chris didn’t like it at all. It was important for Chris to show Pau that he was not a boy. And he made his feelings known publicly in his post-game comments. The post-game comments were as important as his on-court response to the disrespectful gesture from Pau Gasol. It was a moment when Chris Paul made it known to everyone that no one would disrespect him or his team. He took it upon himself to set the tone. Just as a note, since Chris Paul has arrived, the Clippers have won three of the last five games against the Lakers. That may not seem like much, but when your franchise is 51-143 all-time against the team that has been designated by the rest of the world as your chief rival, it’s a start.
Lesson: Be fearless. Just as you have to deal with your opponent, your opponent has to deal with you. The “Goliath” creates a dynasty by establishing an atmosphere where others have fear and adoration for them. Tearing down the fear and adoration that you have for your opponent is an early step to creating your own dynasty.
Magic Johnson, a former five-time champion for the Los Angeles Lakers. lead a team that was affectionately known as “Showtime”. He recently said “I thought I would never, ever see Showtime again. And I was the architect of Showtime. The Clippers? That’s Showtime.” “Showtime” is an exciting brand of basketball filled with no-look passes, half court “alley-oops” and a full court styled run and gun. When Chris Paul signed with the Clippers, Blake Griffin gave the Clippers a new nickname. “Lob City” as he called it, is a fancy way of describing an alley-oop dunk. The dunk is only worth two points on the score board. But the dunk can be a game changer. And when “lobs” are being thrown all game long, the crowd can’t help but get excited. The team also becomes excited. And when the game is close, late in a tiring competition, the most energetic team gains a slight advantage. At some point, if a team is consistently exciting, the wins begin to come in. And that’s what we’re seeing right now from the Clippers. Again, a new standard and a new tone are being set.
Lesson: Be excited! If the opponent is currently the “Goliath” and your team isn’t expected to win, then initially you have nothing to lose. Take that time to establish excitement. Rally the team. Find ways to energize yourself and your team.
You don’t have to be friends, but being friends is a plus
Dwight Howard is new to the Los Angeles Lakers. And it seems as if he’s looking for a little more chemistry. “Those guys on the Clippers team, they really enjoy each other off the court and it shows,” Howard said after a recent Lakers practice. The Lakers have Howard, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. It’s good to have great players who perform well as individuals. But it’s better to have good players who perform great together. This isn’t the first time that the Lakers have had issues with bringing in great individual players.
Lesson: If your goal is to get your project, company or initiative off the ground, you will have people around you for long periods of time. If your project, company or initiative involves being better than some other team’s efforts, you will share in the preparation for battling against your opponent. Sometimes the best of friends come from situations where two or more people have one thing in common: their disdain for something/someone else. I believe that every player on that Clippers team hates the thought of being in the shadow of the Los Angeles Lakers. But there is also a love for the excitement that the organization encourages the players to participate in, on or off the court.
It’s good to have an ego. It’s better to catch your opponent when they are caught up in their own ego.
Are the Lakers full of themselves? Do they believe that they can just walk out and waltz to the NBA Finals every year? Are they struggling to get over losses because they don’t know what to do? Or is it because they just can’t understand how it’s possible that they’re losing? Who is next after Kobe leaves? It was George Mikan that passed the baton to Jerry West. West then passed it on to Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt then handed it over to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem then passed it on to Magic Johnson. Magic then passed it on to Kobe and Shaq. I can’t imagine who’d be next. I can’t see anyone greater walking through those gold and purple doors. I think Dwight Howard is a pretty good player. I’m no basketball expert, but my gut is telling me that Dwight Howard’s name won’t fit in with the aforementioned players in the baton passing ceremony. Kobe has now played with the Lakers for 17 seasons. That is a far longer tenure with the Lakers than any of the other legendary players who have put on the Lakers jersey. Have they reached their limit with Kobe at the helm? Did they miss an opportunity to grab a younger player fit to take on the baton? While they ponder on those questions, the Clippers have the second best record in the NBA. The team with the best record, the Oklahoma City Thunder, is also filled with young, energetic players with “chips” on their shoulders. And they’re also looking to come from out of the shadows of the establishment teams of the NBA.
Lesson: Seize the moment. The glimmer of light will arrive. Be ready. The “Goliath” can sometimes be consumed with his own size. It’s not the size of the warrior in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the warrior.
I fully expect some of the sports fanatics and other readers to pick through this entry with a fine comb and find any historical errors in stats or accuracy of the Lakers, Clippers and other sports references. It’s merely an example. I’ll also be the first to say that I have not mastered all of these pieces and lessons. But the example is relevant to what we all want. I believe that a new flock of leaders are emerging. And I also believe that some of the “Old Guard” won’t be so willing to assist in shaping the future of new leaders. And in some instances, the young emerging leaders will have to treat the “Old Guard” as opponents. And once they’ve become an opponent, the young leaders have no choice but to defeat them to continue the emergence.
Lesson: Far too often, when asked about competition, young people are reluctant to acknowledge competition. We end up saying “No company/project/initiative is like this one”. Or “No one has ever done this before”. Where there is no benchmark, there is no way of measuring performance. Where there is no target, there is no chance to develop accuracy or consistency. Be clear about the people/companies/projects/initiatives that you want to be like, those that you want to be better than and the type of people that you need to help you get there. Get out of the shadows of others, stay within range of your opponents for observation, get the right team and get excited. Whatever you want out of life, it’s out there waiting for you to get it. It’s one “lob” away. The ball is in the air. Go up and get it.