The Toronto Raptors shocked the sports world by winning the NBA Championship in June, but any devoted basketball fan will tell you that there wasn’t very much that was actually “shocking” about the win. Many observed during the course of the NBA Finals that Toronto was, in many ways, the superior team. Yes, the two-time defending champion Warriors were depleted by injuries, but the way that Toronto dominated the series showed that they were simply the better team during the series.
The team showed grit and determination, and a refusal to back down when things got tough. Each member came together to work for the benefit of the team. The individuals that make up the team gelled perfectly, and more importantly, they did so at exactly the right time. Many factors contributed to the Raptors’ success in 2019 – from strong, focused leadership to an unselfish, team-first mentality.
So, without straying too far into hoops specifics – your organization probably won’t benefit that much from strong rebounding or consistent 3-point shooting – what can businesses take away from the Raptors’ history-making victory?
A Vision from Management
The man receiving much of the praise for the Raptors’ victory is team president and general manager Masai Ujiri. He’s held the position since 2013, and made the personnel and management moves that gave the team the opportunity to compete for the richest prize in the NBA. The 2019 NBA Champions were assembled according to his specific vision, and it’s a vision that Raptors fans didn’t always understand or appreciate.
Ujiri’s building of a championship team meant trading the franchise’s most popular player, DeMar DeRozan, for Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, the latter of whom is arguably the most popular man in Toronto at the time of this writing. But at the time, it was seen as an incredibly risky move, with some speculating whether Leonard would even suit up to play one game for the Raps.
But Ujiri stuck to his vision despite the doubters and skeptics. His determination and persistence paid off when his team reached the top of the proverbial mountain. The lesson for managers and business owners here is, if you have confidence in your vision, stand by it, and if you truly see the value in taking a calculated risk, as Ujiri did when he dealt DeRozan, go for it.
Assembling the Right Team
A big part of Ujiri’s vision for his team was the makeup of the team itself (which, in team sports, is obviously very important). In any business, assembling the right team is a key factor in determining the organization’s success. If you have the right people in the right roles, you’re on the right track. In addition to putting the best people in each position at your company, part of great leadership is also ensuring that those individuals can work together cohesively. You may have the best salesperson in the city, but if they’re constantly clashing with the top-shelf marketing genius you brought on board last year, there’s little chance that either person’s superstar skillset will be put to proper use for the benefit of the company.
“It comes with time,” Ujiri told Canadian Business in 2016 about creating the right chemistry. “You have to build continuity and let people get used to one another. It’s not just on the court; maybe someone doesn’t like getting emails at 2 a.m. I think when everyone gets the personal attention and you [add] consistency and support, everyone can be their best.”
Strong Management (Not Micromanagement)
This point can occasionally trip up some leaders, but it’s good to keep in mind that strong management isn’t the same as micromanagement. A great leader understands that once the right team is in place, the best thing to do is to just get out of the way and let people do what they were hired to do. Simply letting go and trusting others to do their jobs can be a difficult thing for some managers and business owners, particularly for leaders used to doing things themselves. The old saying, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” is not a good attitude for a manager to have. You’ll spend far too much of your time doing others’ jobs for them, which doesn’t reflect well on either their own abilities or yours as a manager.
“Being personal is very important for me,” Ujiri explained to Canadian Business. “I don’t micromanage – I just give my people the best possible platform and let them do what they do. [I try to] treat people like they want to be treated. It’s very easy to say and sounds like something everyone would [want to] do.”
While it may not be immediately obvious what your business can learn from a basketball team, there are lessons to be learned from the success of the Toronto Raptors. Through the team’s chemistry, and the clear and consistent vision of management, there is much to be drawn from the Raptors’ incredible success this year. By following these tips, you can bring your own organization closer to the promised land.
Justin Anderson | Senior Editor