When the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Championship, they made history on various fronts.
For starters, they became the first team ever to come back from a 3 to 1 deficit and win the NBA Finals.
This was also the Cavaliers first ever NBA title, and the first major sports title won by a Cleveland team in 52 years.
The fact that this feat came against the Golden State Warriors makes it all the more impressive. The Golden State Warriors had just set a new record for the most wins in a single season after eclipsing the record set by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the 1995-96 season.
The Warriors were the reigning NBA champions and as such the bookies first choice.
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ win holds critical success lessons for any business. This includes lessons on staffing, teamwork, letting go, and building a winning team.
Any entrepreneur, CEO or business owner who wants to create a winning team needs to master these lessons. So, what specific lessons can we learn from the Cleveland Cavaliers?
Steve Jobs was famous for meticulously seeking out top performers. His advice on recruitment is summed up in this quote “you’re well advised to go after the cream of the cream. A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.”
The Cleveland Cavaliers followed this approach. The seeds of their success were sown when their famous son, LeBron James, rejoined them in 2014. At that time, James was two-time NBA champion, and two-time NBA Finals MVP, and four-time NBA MVP. He had also won two Olympic gold medals, and a host of other awards.
Having a proven champion to lead the charge was the first step toward championship glory. However, James brought more than just his raw talent to the team. He also brought leadership, motivation, and a solid work ethic. Above all, he had a vision for Cleveland Cavaliers.
Writing in 2014 about his decision to rejoin the Cavaliers, James stated “My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.”
Beyond winning the championship, James had another (even more important) goal. He wanted to develop his teammates. Back in 2014, he wrote “I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys. I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and others."
James wasn’t the only key player who joined the Cavaliers in 2014. Another important player who joined was Kevin Love. However, an even more important decision made by the Cavs in 2014 was extending Irving’s contract.
Irving, who was the Cavaliers’ leading player had been somewhat unsettled by the news of the impending return of James. The transition from being the top-talent to number two can be difficult. If not handled well, it can end up pushing the person under the door. However, the Cavaliers assured Irving that his position in the team was secure by offering him a six-year contract extension.
These three players formed the core of the Cavaliers championship winning side. All of them played a critical role in the penultimate game, Game 7 of the NBA Finals. James scored a triple-double (27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists); Irving scored the three-pointer which gave the Cavaliers a lead with 53 seconds to go, and Love critically blocked Stephen Curry in the final seconds of the game, forcing him to shoot wide and prevent the Warriors from rallying back.
The take home from this is that to build a winning team, it is critical to recruiting the best players available. This works not just for sports teams, but in business as well. This is why Jobs placed such a premium on recruiting top performers.
Despite assembling the best team they could find, the Cleveland Cavaliers were still inferior to the Warriors, man-to-man. The Warriors were (and are still) the most complete team in the NBA. Their superb performance over the last two seasons is a testament to this.
The one factor that makes the Cavaliers thrive is their teamwork. It is not just that they work together on the court, they are committed to each other beyond games. This commitment is summarized in James' desire to uplift his teammates, to mentor them so that they can become better. This has seen the individual stats of almost every Cavaliers player improve since James' return.
Actually, James' role in team building extends further than just mentoring his teammates on the court. During the past season, James occasionally hosted his teammates to dinners and barbecues at his house. He did this to build team spirit, morale and camaraderie. This created an almost family-like feel in the team. The team members liked each other and fought fiercely for each other on the court.
The take home for this is that teamwork is critical. However, what is even more critical is the talented team members passing on their knowledge, skills, and experiences to others. For any team to fulfill its potential, such mentorship is invaluable. When everyone on the team is constantly growing and improving, there is no limit to what the team can achieve.
However, team building goes beyond just skills development. Team morale and camaraderie are also important. And the onus is on the leaders to take steps to develop it. James did it by hosting dinners for his teammates. Other leaders may do it differently. The important thing is taking a deliberate effort to build the feeling of comradeship within the team.
One of the gutsiest decisions taken by the Cleveland Cavaliers was firing their head coach, David Blatt, mid-season. Blatt, a seasoned coach, had helped the Cavaliers win the Eastern Conference, and taken them to the NBA Finals the year before. He was one of the most respected basketball coaches. Nevertheless, he was fired and replaced by his top assistant Tyronn Lue.
So, why was such an illustrious coach let go? Well, he had lost the respect of his team. A team he had ironically helped put together. His presence was beginning to have a detrimental effect on the team spirit. That is why he was let go and replaced with the assistant whom the team respected and loved.
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The decision to fire Blatt offers a critical lesson for business leaders. Sometimes, high-profile managers or supervisors need to be moved out. This becomes a necessity when their teams have lost confidence in them. Irrespective of a manager’s past accomplishments, they cannot lead the team to victory if their followers no longer have confidence in them. In such a scenario, the best thing for the team is to let the individual go.
In a nutshell, the Cleveland Cavaliers' championship harbors important lessons for businesses. The Cleveland Cavs staffing strategies can provide every business with a template for success i.e. recruit A+ players, build teamwork and camaraderie; and, occasionally, move out anyone who is a threat to team cohesion. Following these simple strategies, any business can put together a team which will lead it to victory.