By Brian Summerfield, Online Editor, REALTOR® Magazine
If you’ve gotten past the title of this post, you may be thinking: This guy wrote about a basketball book for a real estate blog? How self-indulgent is that? The answer: very self-indulgent. I admit it. But let me say two things in my defense. First, I didn’t start this book with the intention of covering it in The Weekly Book Scan. It’s something I’m reading in my free time, just for fun.
Second, although he didn’t intend to do it in The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy, ESPN columnist Bill Simmons inadvertently delineates the conditions for a cohesive, high-performing real estate brokerage. He does this in the course of his discussion of the characteristics of great basketball players and teams, which are, as it turns out, very transferable to brokerages and the associates who work for them.
According to Simmons, professional basketball is today afflicted by an obsession with numbers. Too many team managers, coaches, journalists, and players have an unhealthy fixation on individual statistics, and don’t pay enough attention to the most important stats of all: team wins and championships. For instance, Allen Iverson led the NBA in scoring four times, while Tim Duncan led the San Antonio Spurs to four NBA championships. So who’s the better player? Iverson, on paper. On the court, where the game is actually played, it’s Duncan.
Similarly, in a brokerage, several associates may have good individual numbers, but if you don’t have the right mix of personalities, experience, drive, and specialization, any success you have may be short-lived. Effective broker-owners — and basketball managers and coaches — should aim to build a great team, not just a haphazard assemblage of talent.
Now, the correlation between attributes of accomplished basketball teams and real estate brokerages only goes so far. (But it isn’t too much of a stretch, either: Last year, we ran an article about how former NBA player Mark Eaton has applied the lessons he’s learned from basketball to business coaching.) And Simmons’ book is definitely not for everyone. In fact, I recommend you don’t read this book if two or more of the following apply to you:
- You’re not a sports fan. (The book includes Simmons’ ranking of the Top 100 NBA players of all time, which by itself spans more than 300 pages.)
- You’re an independent agent. (The author’s arguments about what makes for a great team may not resonate with you.)
- You’re easily offended. (Simmons’ writing can sometimes be quite, um, colorful.)
- You don’t have much free time or downtime. (While it reads at a brisk pace, the book is just under 700 pages long. As a matter of fact, I’m still reading it.)
But whether you read the book or not, if you’re a leader or a member of any kind of real estate team, you should take these dynamics into account.
FROM THE BOOK: 5 LESSONS FOR THE REAL ESTATE INDUSTRY
1. Find your superstar(s): Every team should have at least one top performer on board who can do a lot of things well. But pure skill isn’t enough. Your superstars should be leaders and set the tone for the entire team as well. Although I can’t go into too much detail about it here, Simmons compares Hall of Fame centers Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, who played in roughly the same era. The latter is better remembered as an individual player, and had impressive career numbers in important statistical categories such as points per game (and famously scored 100 points in a single game, a record that has yet to be surpassed). But while Russell doesn’t have many of the same eye-popping stats, Simmons argues that he was the better overall player. Why? Because Russell’s Celtics won 11 championships, and he was an integral part of one of the most dominant dynasties in the history of sport. Wilt only won two championships with two different teams, largely because everything he did was all about Wilt. Although Russell didn’t post the same numbers, he played solid defense (which is harder to measure statistically) and was a great team leader, even serving as a player-coach during his final three seasons (in which the Celtics won two championships).
2. Find your role players: A team can’t be comprised of just superstars. For one thing, that level of talent is hard to come by. For another, if you have too many people around who are trying to be top dog, it can undermine the spirit of the team. Instead of trying to load up with nothing but all-around top performers, assemble a surrounding cast of associates who specialize in something. Think of players like John Stockton, who was so good at dishing the ball that Stockton-to-Malone became a sports cliché in the 1990s, or Dennis Rodman, a rebounding machine who almost never scored in double digits.
3. Cultivate a collegial, cooperative atmosphere: Now that you’ve got your team in place, it’s important to ensure that they get along. Of course, this is one of those things that’s easy to suggest but hard to execute. As with basketball, there is an emphasis on individual competition and achievement in real estate. But to have a successful brokerage, you need to have people on board who are sometimes willing to forgo a personal opportunity for the greater good (that is, the satisfaction of the customer and the benefit of the brokerage). This is akin to a player passing instead of shooting if he thinks his teammate has a better shot.
4. Get rid of whiners and naysayers: In the book, Simmons recounts a poolside meeting with Detroit Pistons great Isiah Thomas in Las Vegas. In their discussion, Thomas told Simmons about why the Pistons traded Adrian Dantley for Mark Aguirre in the middle of the 1989 season. The move was controversial at the time, as Dantley averaged more points per game — and was seen as a better all-around player — than Aguirre. However, Dantley had also complained about his playing time to reporters that year, which upset team chemistry. The deal for Aguirre was ultimately beneficial, as the Pistons won the championship that season (sweeping a Lakers team that included Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the Finals) and the next after coming up short in previous years. Similarly, if an associate’s negative attitude is bringing the overall performance of your brokerage down, you may be better off without that person, even if the individual’s numbers are very good.
5. Follow ‘The Secret’: In that same meeting, Thomas tells Simmons that, “The secret of basketball is that it’s not about basketball.” That is, excellence is not about players’ ability to simply get a ball through a hoop. It’s all of the points above, plus one more thing: a continuous, absolute devotion to superior performance. Surprisingly, Simmons goes outside of basketball to illustrate his meaning. He cites a quote from former Montreal Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden, who said that the championship mentality “becomes a state of mind, an obligation, an expectation; in the end, an attitude. Excellence. It’s a rare chance to play with the best, to be the best. When you have it, you don’t want to give it up. … But it’s a game of chicken. If you let it go, you might never get it back.” Or as Russell put it, “Heart in champions has to do with the depth of your motivation, and how well your mind and body react to pressure. It’s concentration — that is, being able to do what you do under maximum pain and stress.”
Does that sound like your team?
“For the purposes of this book — loosely described as ‘evaluating why certain players and teams mattered more than others’ — I couldn’t find that answer just through statistics. I needed to immerse myself in the history of the game, read as much as I could and watch as much tape as I could. Five distinct types of players kept emerging: elite players who made themselves and everyone else better; elite players who were out for themselves; elite players who vacillated back and forth between those two mindsets depending on how it suited their own interests; role players whose importance doubled or tripled on the right team; and guys who ultimately didn’t matter. We don’t care about the last group. We definitely care about the middle three groups and we really, really, really care about the first group. I care about guys who ralphed before crucial games and cried on television shows because a simple replay brought back pain from years ago. I care that someone walked away from a guaranteed title (or more) because he selfishly wanted to win on his terms, and I care that someone gave away 20 percent of his minutes or numbers because that sacrifice made his team better. I care about glowing quotes from yellowed magazines and passionate testimonials from dying teammates. I care about the things I witnessed and how they resonated with me. And what I ultimately decided was this: when we measure teams and players against one another in a historical context, The Secret matters more than anything else.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bill Simmons writes the “Sports Guy” column for ESPN.com’s Page 2 and ESPN: The Magazine. He is the author of Now I Can Die in Peace, founded the award-winning bostonsportsguy.com Web site, and was a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live. He commutes between his home in Los Angeles and Fenway Park.