Speaking Engagements
NBA Career

The Pro Approach


I am not quite sure why my wife wanted me to clean the attic, but with 20 years of marital experience, I have learned that certain battles just aren’t worth fighting.

The attic was cramped and dusty, and when I opened the closest box I was immediately transported back into the 1970s. The treasure chest contained thousands of baseball and basketball cards, haphazardly thrown into the large container. Cleaning the attic could wait. I found a comfortable spot, and for the next two hours I was a twelve-year-old boy again.

I was particularly interested in the basketball cards. I spent 10 seasons as a player in the NBA and had the opportunity to meet and compete against many of the legends from my card collection. I admired the pictures of Willis Reed and Bob Lanier. I reminisced about Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s sky-hook, the speed of Tiny Archibald and the trickery of Pete Maravich. Each card was essentially a 2-by-3-inch cardboard autobiography that told the story of big dreams and tremendous accomplishments.

The winning secrets of these basketball legends are focused on a unique quality that I call the Pro-Approach. Millions of children world-wide grow up with the goal of playing professional basketball and an incredibly small fraction of those NBA dreams become a reality. The key to the Pro-Approach is an aggressive and persistent mind-set that allows only a select few to separate from the competition and take their games to the highest level. The winning approach necessary to compete and succeed in professional sports are the same skills needed to dominate in the business world. There are three Pro-Approach principles to help achieve a consistent level of excellence.

1. Big Producers Keep Growing – During my journey down memory lane, I found a Michael Jordan rookie card. In his first season in the NBA, he was regarded as a premier scorer that needed to diversify and balance his game. Each season the competition would adjust to Jordan’s dominance and he would sharpen his skills, eliminate flaws and add new elements. This drive for constant improvement powered Jordan to elite status and the recognition of being the greatest basketball player of all-time.

Hard work is the most basic building block of championship performance, and serves as the primary catalyst for growth in professional sports and business. The key to improvement is a combination of increased efficiency and the continual development of new techniques and strategies. You cannot do the same things you’ve always done and expect better results.

2. ‘Bounce-back’ Ability – I was excited to locate a vintage Bill Russell card during my sorting-session. I was reminded of an airport conversation with Mr. Russell in which he shared the extreme challenges he faced early in his basketball career. He was cut from the team in junior high and was devastated when he barely played as a 6-foot-5 sophomore on the JV. Prior to his junior season in high school, Russell’s career was at a crossroads and he was in jeopardy of not making the varsity. His resilient behavior and a summer of hard work at the YMCA transformed him from an underachiever into a champion. Bill Russell led his teams to a California High School State Championship, two NCAA titles, an Olympic Gold Medal and eleven NBA titles in thirteen years with the Boston Celtics. He bounced-back to become the greatest winner in the history of team sports.

Bounce-back ability is centered on a next-play attitude to briefly analyze, adjust and move forward without dwelling on past failures. You may fall, face disappointment and deal with frustration. It’s all part of the game. Bounce-back experts are resilient and they use crisis and adversity as motivation to improve in the future.

3. Playmaker Mindset – The highlight of the happily diverted attic cleaning experience was finding one of the prized possessions from my youth, a Julius Erving card from his days in the ABA. I was blessed to play with Dr. J during his last season with the 76ers and I caught a glimpse into how he developed into one of the greatest legends in sports history. He benefitted from hitting the genetic lottery with tremendous size, skill and athletic ability. However, the trait that separated him from his peers was his play-making ability, both on and off the court. His dunking exploits and creative flair were the catalyst for the NBA’s merger with the ABA. He was a basketball ambassador that powered television ratings and made the NBA popular to mainstream sports fans. He was tenacious on the court, a role model off the court and the greatest playmaker of his era.

Playmakers possess an aggressive attitude focused on the constant pursuit of excellence. They play the game to win and possess a belief that they cannot be stopped. Too many people fail to capitalize on the golden opportunities that life presents because they are not assertive, confident or willing to take a chance. You can achieve anything that you want, but no one will hand it to you. Go out take what is rightfully yours and that is success.

After two hours, my wife wanted to know if I was almost done with my job in the attic. I held the final stack of 50 cards in my hand and I replied, “Perfect timing, I am just about finished.” The place was still a mess, but at least the basketball cards were separated, organized and stacked neatly. She said, “That’s great because I want your help cleaning the garage.”

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