English: left to right: Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sef...

English: left to right: Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins, and Kevin Durant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you experience setbacks, change your strategy, then move on.

This week, a young NBA team is going to the NBA finals for the first time.  The Oklahoma City Thunder, deemed to be inexperienced underdogs, overcame the odds to emerge as the best team in the tough Western Conference.  With its low-profile superstar Kevin Durant and a host of key role players in tow, OKC is now four games away from basketball’s biggest prize.

To appreciate how this team has improved and how we can apply what they learned in our everyday lives, let’s take a look at their story.

The team started off as the worst team in the NBA in 2008, coming off a bitter lawsuit between its owners and the city it used to play in.  With no star players, untested young players in Durant and Russell Westbrook, and dwindling revenues, the future looked bleak for OKC.  However, after a coaching change, hope started to surface.  After starting out with just 3 wins in 32 games, they ended up winning 20 of their next 50 games.

The next year, they improved markedly, reaching the playoffs.  But they still lost in the first round to the reigning NBA champions, the Los Angeles Lakers.  In that year, management decided to improve the team step by step, not by adding superstars, but by building from its core of young talent.  In addition to youngsters Durant and Westbrook, they drafted James Harden, who eventually became the NBA’s best sixth man.

Last year, OKC became a team to be reckoned with.  They won their first playoff series by eliminating the Denver Nuggets, then reached the Western Conference finals with a hard-fought 7-game victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.  Although they lost to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks in five games, it was clear that OKC was destined to win an NBA title in the near future – maybe 3 to 4 years.   Last year, OKC decided to plug its “soft” center spot and traded for Kendrick Perkins, another young and rugged no-nonsense defender who had won a championship with the Boston Celtics.

Finally this year, OKC’s script has been something like a fairy tale.  First, they avenged last year’s loss by sweeping the defending champion Dallas Mavericks.  Next up for the team was the Los Angeles Lakers starring Kobe Bryant,  the NBA Champions 2 years before.  They eliminated the favored Lakers in five games, but they still were not getting noticed as potential title contenders because of their perceived immaturity.  For their next opponent, the Thunder came face to face with the mighty San Antonio Spurs, who have the best record in the NBA this year.  San Antonio boasts of a lot of championship experience with tested veterans in four-time NBA Champion Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and 2012 Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich.  Durant, Westbrook, Harden, and another young defensive menace Serge Ibaka showed maturity beyond their years, booting out the Spurs in six games after losing the first 2 games.  This year, OKC also added veteran Derek Fisher, a heady point guard armed with five NBA titles won with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Let’s list down the steps OKC took to reach new heights in such a short span:

1.  Resolve leadership problems.  They started out in management turmoil with a lawsuit in tow.  But they resolved this first.  They also fired their coach, and elevated assistant Scott Brooks to the top bench post.  Two years ago, Brooks was adjudged the NBA’s Coach of the Year.  Lesson: Iron out any leadership concerns as a priority in order to carry out improvements.

2.  Build with young talent.  Train the young guys and guide them through the process.  Today, OKC’s young starting five of Perkins, Ibaka, Durant, Harden, and Westbrook are deemed a powerhouse.  This was not the case a few years ago, when other teams were counting wins the moment they saw the name OKC on their schedule.  Lesson: If the old guard is not giving you results, give the hungry young turks your trust and confidence.  They may be the ones who could turn your organization around.

3.  Sprinkle some winning experience into the mix.  The addition of previous championship winners in Perkins and Fisher no doubt had an impact in the OKC locker room.  They presented actual experiences of winning, and this rubbed off on the young guns.  Perkins learned defense from former Defensive Player of the Year Kevin Garnett, his teammate at Boston, and his defensive toughness has rubbed off on the young Serge Ibaka, now the league’s best shot-blocker.  Fisher has knocked in a lot of sense to young Westbrook, and Westbrook has responded with less turnovers and better decision-making.  Lesson: When hiring from outside the organization, look for people with proven track records of success.

4.  Get social support and give back.  OKC fans are some of the most rabid and loyal fans in the league.  Players visit youth camps, and the owners have dedicated their success to the fans.  The Thunder have united the City and given them hope.  Lesson:  Never forget to give back to the community when aiming for success.

Are you looking for sustained improvement in a short period of time?  Just think of the OKC.  They have laid out the template for all of us to emulate.




English: Palo Alto native and Harvard Universi...

Image via Wikipedia

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

–  Calvin Coolidge

It’s the story of the season.  Jeremy Lin, the undrafted Taiwanese-American who was cut and neglected by at least 2 other NBA teams, has taken the New York Knicks to new heights.  Never offered an athletic scholarship, Lin studied Economics at Harvard, but he never gave up on his dream of playing professional basketball.  Today he is “Linsanity”, leading the lowly Knicks to respectability despite the absence of its established superstars.  The Media circus surrounding his meteoric rise has spread to Asia, with the audience watching NBA games in Taiwan reaching record proportions.

What are the keys to perseverance?  In a nutshell, persistence can be spelled out as JEREMY LIN.

J – Just Do it.  Take action even when presented with obstacles.  Not all lights will be green, but just keep moving.  Lin moved from one team to another, until he found the New York Knicks.

E – Endure to the end.  Remember that nothing worth achieving comes easy.  And Jeremy was probably thinking of ending his dream for good.  Lin was nearly cut by the Knicks too, but due to injuries to its starters, he got his chance.  The break was all he needed to show his wares.

R – Realistic.  If you have a seemingly insurmountable goal, break it down into smaller, more attainable targets.  Lin toiled with Harvard when Stanford University gave him a cold shoulder.  He played in the NBA developmental league.  He warmed the bench.  But he knew that all of these were stepping stones.  He decided to take it once step at a time, because realistically, he did not have the outstanding credentials to become an instant success.

E – End in Mind.  Keep your eye on the prize.  All Lin wanted  was to play in the NBA.  He got more than he wanted – and he is now slated to be a permanent fixture in New York’s roster.

M – Master your craft.  Keep getting better.  Lin was academically smart, but he needed to improve his basketball IQ.  Until now he is learning – he is prone to commit turnovers, but because of his gutsy play, he is never afraid to make mistakes.  That’s the mark of a great player.

Y – Yield when needed.  Sometimes you need to take the backseat for the sake of your team.  When the superstars returned, Lin was more than willing to play with them and churn out more victories.  Never think that the world revolves around you.  Getting over the hump is easier when the burden is shared with others.

L – Live by the day.  Enjoy the ride, cherish the journey.  Don’t deprive yourself of life’s simple pleasures on the road to success.  Jeremy is enjoying the limelight.  He seems so natural in interviews.  But he knows that ultimately he has a goal to fulfill.

I – Inspire yourself.  Look up to others.  Be inspired and motivate yourself everyday.  Yao Ming, the Chinese basketball great, has surely been an inspiration for Lin.  It’s great to have a model to follow – a framework to reach a destination.  Yao has paved the way, and Jeremy has followed.

N – Never give up.  You will get cut.  You will be rejected.  You will warm the bench.  But if it’s worth the wait, never, never give up.

So where will Jeremy Lin go from here?  It’s all up to him.  And it’s all up to you to decide to follow JEREMY LIN.