5 Things The NBA Can Teach Us About Business 2.0
Do you people realize that it has been basketball season for well over a month now and this is the first post I’ve written on the NBA? If I were you, I would consider myself lucky. Because MAN is there a lot of material to work with, already this season, even after just about 8 games per team. The antics both on and off the court of NBA players this season have already provided me with a wealth of opportunities to wax philosophical, so instead of sixteen separate posts on the topic, I thought I’d consolidate into one list on Business 2.0 and the NBA. So here are the thoughts I’ve had on the NBA and the 2009-2010 season thusfar. Enjoy.
Sometimes Your Product Is Awesome, But Still Nobody Wants What You’re Selling.
Unless you’re already a basketball fan, you probably have not heard the name Allen Iverson before, even though he is a fairly certain inductee to the Basketball Hall of Fame once he retires. Unlike superstar basketball players like Shaq, LeBron, or Kobe, who are all on a first-name basis with even the non-basketball viewing public, Allen Iverson has quietly maintained a lesser stature in the popular imagination, despite being one of the most prolific scorers in the history of baskeball. The other three have weird, memorable names, and personalities the size of Rhode Island. But Allen Iverson, as good as he is, is just plain old weird.
Weird for a basketball superstar, that is. Because he’s short, by NBA standards, so he plays point guard. But unlike most point guards, AI has been known to lead the entire league in scoring. See, point guards are supposed to run the court, look for plays to make, openings for passes, get the ball in the hands of the superstar. They are not supposed to score, except on occasion, so much as they are supposed to serve as a a stabilizing force on the court. Shorter players cannot go up against the “bigs” in the paint, but they are fast, and they are stable, and it’s tough to get the ball away from them, even when you tower over them, because they can do things like dribble the ball between their legs and — sometimes — pass the ball through your legs if you’re not watching carefully enough. But somehow, AI missed the memo on the purpose of point guards, because what he does best is to score, to make plays for himself, and to be the star, rather than to assist the star.
AI has posed a problem for the teams on which he has played because, even if he drives ticket sales and makes lots of points, he makes it tough for a team to develop its other talent. He’s too short to really play down in the paint, and he’s too much of a superstar to create openings for other players. And like most superstars, he expects to start the game and be catered to, and he expects a big salary in exchange. Which is why, after being asked to play off the bench for the the Memphis Grizzlies (the crappy team to which he was traded this season) AI decided to quit playing basketball “for personal reasons” after playing only 3 games in the 2009-2010 season.
AI is a star, but his product doesn’t fit well into the current market conditions of the NBA. With the NBA set up as it is now, it is tough for a player of his talents to fit into a team, and basketball is still a team sport. Rather than adapt, AI appears to have (at least for now) quit, which I suppose is a viable option when you’ve already been playing for a bunch of years and have money in the bank. But not all entrepreneurs can be so lucky — when the market isn’t conducive to your product, the best way of dealing with it is to put your ego on hold and adapt.
- Even When Your Product Is Awesome, You Need A Backup Plan.
It may be that things will change in professional basketball at some point in the future. Maybe at some point it will become more common for shorter players to dominate in scoring the way that AI does. Or, it may be that the taller players will keep selecting themselves out because of the problems they tend to have with injuries. (Take Yao Ming, for example: he’s huge, and he’s great, but he’s been plagued by foot problems his whole career and is out for this entire season.) It’s not completely far-fetched that there will come a time when there are more shorter players who become their team’s major scorers, but at present it seems unlikely. And in any case, that day is not going to happen in time for AI, who is in his mid-thirties. As a player, AI’s choice is to either adapt to these conditions or quit: he can either check his ego at the door and come off the bench for a bad team, or try to find another way to do what he does best. The best businesspeople do not get caught off guard by these kinds of things, or quibble over what is fair and not fair. They adapt and find a way to succeed because they are always planning for a worst case scenario. People who are successful are people who understand that their product is only as good as its ability to adapt to the dictates of the market.
- Use The Market Realities, Even When They Hurt Your Ego, To Your Benefit.
Allen Iverson could learn something from Canadians, because the only thing we Americans like more than Canadians, is making fun of Canadians. That’s why this move by Steve Nash the other night in the game against the Lakers has amused me to no end: unhappy with the ref’s call of a foul on a shot, Steve Nash decides to put on backwards Batman glasses in order to better illustrate his point to the ref. Too bad the ref isn’t Canadian, because I think she probably just thought, “What the hell is that funny Canadian doing now?” But seriously, take a cue from the Canadians on this one: instead of being upset by the “blame Canada” jokes and the constant references to “eh” and Strange Brew, Canadians do what all people with a good sense of humor do: embrace their stereotype as America’s dorky upstairs neighbor, and use it to their advantage. You’d be hard-pressed to find a comedy show or troop that isn’t dominated by Canadians, and why? Because Canadians are funny, even when they don’t want to be, and instead of getting mad, they laugh all the way to the bank.
- The Sum Of The Parts Of Two Greats Might Be Worse Than Those Greats Alone.
Last season, I wrote about the peculiar economics of the then-hypothetical trade of Shaquille O’Neal to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The results of this trade, now that it’s actually happened, are even more interesting. Cleveland won all of its regular season games at home last year save one, to the Lakers, who went on to win the NBA Championship (BOOYAH). LeBron won the MVP in no small part due to this feat, which is highly impressive and highly unusual. But even with the great LeBron, Cleveland could not make it to the NBA Finals, because (as I wrote in last year’s post) you usually need two or three hall of famers on a team in order to win an NBA Championship. Now that they have Shaq, you’d think they’d be better, right? Well, wrong. They’re record so far is 7 wins and 3 losses, which is not bad, but it’s hardly off to the start that everybody was hoping for. It may be that these two will end up making a great team, or it may be a total bust. The best bet, though, is that each of these great players will have to adjust their games a bit to work well together — and that is always the question when it comes to winning games.
- Give Your Customers What They Want, But Know That This Will Only Make Them Find Something Else To Want.. The other night I was watching the Lakers play the Phoenix Suns. This was a highly anticipated game in the Western Conference because the Suns and the Lakers have been trading off the number one position for the season so far. Well into the fourth quarter, it became apparent that the Lakers were going to win the game because the point discrepancy was getting too large for the Suns to come back in the time left in the game. At this point, the crowd started chanting “WE WANT TACOS! WE WANT TACOS!
Now, if you’ve never gone to a Lakers game, you might be confused by this chant, but what it means is this: the Lakers have a deal with Jack In The Box that everybody in the audience at Staples will get a coupon for two free tacos if the Lakers 1) Win the game and 2) keep the opposing team under 100 points. So when the Lakers win, the big issue becomes if they won “enough” to get tacos. And suddenly, a pair of tacos that retail for $0.99 is the goal of the thousands of spectators at Staples, the game being an assumed victory. I have to imagine this is particularly humiliating for the opposing team, who is already losing, to have their defeat put on the backburner to cheap hangover food. But still, it happens every time, and you would think these people have forgotten that they can get these stupid tacos for less than 1/10th of the beer they’re drinking at the game. The taco becomes the symbol of embarrassing defeat, the better to stick it to the opponent. And I have to assume that’s why Grant Hill, a player on the Suns, was cheering, “YEAH! NO FREE TACOS!” when Phoenix’s score tipped the 100 point mark, and it was clear that the Lakers fans would not be getting tacos the other night.
The takeaway? Whatever you give your customers, they’ll find something else they want more. Anticipate where they will go next, and you can have an army of people chanting for your craptastic $0.99 tacos on national TV.