Kobe goes out in a shower of pop culture glory while the Warriors win their 73rd regular season game. The NBA had quite the night earlier this week. You have a one name super star and legendary player go out on a crazy scoring night while another team finishes the season with more wins than MJ’s Bulls. It was the stuff of main stream news and cultural consciousness, as well as a great reminder for every leader – be careful who you have in your locker room.
The Golden State Warriors have been an incredible story, from winning the NBA title in 2015, to marching their way through this season to an unprecedented 73 regular season victories. They have done it with aplomb, while their head coach was out for the first several months of the season, while being the reigning champions that every opponent gives their best game, and under the bright lights of relentless coverage and analysis. They have met and exceed expectations as a team. The players, the coaches, everyone involved have risen to the occasion.
Conversely, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers have been an absolute mess, lingering at the bottom of the NBA for years. Though in the twilight of his career, Kobe has never once relented in his focus on being the center of the Lakers. The ball will go through him, to him, and will be shot by him…a lot. He was the highest paid player on the team, demanded and ensured that he remained at the top of the industry pay scale, and remained at the forefront of the Lakers marketing and consciousness. It was abundantly clear that what mattered to Kobe, was, well Kobe. Granted, he scored 60 in his final game, but he took 50 shots. Yes, you have to “take ’em to make ’em” but that is far from all-star percentages.
In the end, the Golden State Warriors are a team. Sure, they have their own star players, especially Steph Curry, an incredible coach in Steve Kerr, and a great organization, but above all they are a team. No one is more important than the whole. The Lakers in the Kobe era, and especially so in the later phases of his career, have been about Kobe above all else. Basketball, more than probably any other sport, demands a team have at least one or two star players. There are only 5 guys on the floor – one or two make a huge difference. However, it is still a team sport. An all time great alone cannot make it happen; just ask LeBron. In the end, teams win.
It is incredibly tempting to hire and retain the “best player”, to make exceptions for the “all star”, the top producer, that special person. However, that special person cannot be placed ahead of the team, the greater goal, the common mission. Steph Curry is a special player, an MVP, an All Star, but he is also a team player. Kobe was an MVP and an All Star to the end, but never was he known as a team player. Even Michael, a renowned competitor and a bear of a teammate, was always known to be a teammate. Demanding,; sure. But always a teammate.
Yes, Kobe and the Lakers were the story of the day. The ratings, the press, the glitz, the stars, the pop culture darlings, it was all Kobe and the Lakers that night. The Warriors setting the new season wins record was the “other NBA story”. That was one day, well maybe two. Next week, the Warriors start the first round of the playoffs, and Kobe starts his retirement, and the Lakers start to rebuild their franchise.
Building a team is hard. Finding the best talent it tough. Hiring and retaining great people is even harder. But finding, hiring and retaining the right talent, well that is how a winning team is built. When given the choice, taking the very good player and teammate trumps the great individual. It only takes one bad hire, regardless of their talent, to ruin a team. Put aside the glitz and glamor, and find that special person that has the skills and talent, as well as the selflessness and maturity to be a great teammate. And if you find your MJ, well provide them the leadership to at least be a teammate. And if you find a Steve Kerr…then keep on winning.