Kevin Durant Could Teach Businesses a Thing or Two

American eyes might have been turned skyward last night as colorful explosions put the stars to shame, but the real fireworks this weekend were going off in the world of the NBA. Kevin Durant, former star of the Oklahoma City Thunder, announced that he would be leaving the city where he made his name to play for the Golden State Warriors, and people had some feelings about it.

 

 

This is apparently a big deal to those who love basketball. OKC fans are devastated and angry. Warrior fans are crowing. Some fans are excited about the rise of “super teams” while others bemoan eroding competitiveness in the regular season. There are those who think Durant should have been more loyal. There are those who think he’s not getting nearly as much flak as Lebron did for making a similar choice. And on and on and on it goes…

Personally, the last time I cared about basketball was when Jordan did Space Jam, and I’d probably have had a rough time picking Durant out of a lineup before this. That said, the Durant drama holds a few valuable lessons for businesses looking to up their game.

For starters, the man’s motives are something to which we should all aspire. Much has been said about money and fame and how it all might have influenced Durant’s decision to leave. But he was pretty clear about why he made his choice, saying:

The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction. But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth.

And really, that’s a solid method for impact calculus no matter what line of work you’re in. Will this help your company grow into something stronger and more competitive? Will this help your brand develop into something that makes you proud? If your answers are yes, then the choice you’re contemplating is probably going to push you in the right direction.

But it’s about more than Durant as an individual. He was a superstar in OKC, and that stardom has staying power. But he’s also joining a team full of brightly shining stars who just made an appearance in the Finals. And as Harvey Araton writes for the New York Times, this is reflective of a burgeoning trend in the league. Rather than build a brand around one superstar, franchises are finally looking to build collectives of talented people who make each other better. He explains:

By the turn of the century, no two (much less three or four) stars could coexist in one city. The best players deigned to have their own teams and could be happy only as the Jordans of their fiefs.

Allen Iverson couldn’t share with anyone in Philadelphia. Charlotte wasn’t big enough for Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson. In Minnesota, Stephon Marbury couldn’t handle making less money than Kevin Garnett. In Toronto, Tracy McGrady wanted no part of being Scottie Pippen to Vince Carter’s Jordan.

Even in Los Angeles, while winning three straight titles with the Lakers, O’Neal and Kobe Bryant could not peacefully coexist. It wasn’t the best of N.B.A. times, but now the brand names are drawn to one another, sharing the burden of expectation along with the ball.

Don’t think such an attitudinal evolution didn’t factor into the league’s growth in popularity and the enormous television revenue increases that stretched the salary cap and allowed the Warriors to pursue Durant.

Say what you will about what this trend does to competitive balance in the league, but Araton is right. This new trend is good business for the NBA. The tactic is also good for businesses that don’t involve hoops and balls.

A single superstar is not going to be enough to help you take home the title. A group of superstars who grate on each other aren’t going to put points on the board. What you need is a team of superstars with varied strengths and complimentary communication styles. Invest in attracting and retaining such talent, and you, too, could be in the running for a championship ring.

Love him or loathe him, Durant will be donning a Warriors jersey next time he steps out onto the court. Over that, we have no control. What we can control, though, is whether or not we learn from the debacle. Taking these lessons to heart makes it much more likely you’ll get the slam dunk.