“We know that we have to be at our best all the time, not just for ourselves individually, but for the person next to us – if we want to find success as a team.”
These are the words of the Golden State Warriors’ assistant head coach, Mike Brown, who addressed attendees at the first-ever Rakuten Optimism Conference in San Francisco on September 7, 2018.
And he should know; Coach Brown has played an integral role in what NBA broadcaster Bob Fitzgerald referred to as “the best four years in NBA history.” Indeed, the Warriors never lost a game under Brown’s stewardship after he stepped up to cover for longtime head coach, Steve Kerr, during the 2017 NBA playoffs when Kerr was battling health issues.
However, Brown was quick to emphasize that this success was a full team effort for the Warriors, who became a global partner of Rakuten before the 2017 – 18 NBA season: “These aren’t just talented people. They’re good people from right down within their souls,” he told Fitzgerald, recalling how colleagues and players helped calm his nerves about taking over the hot seat, allowing him to focus on getting the job done.
This was corroborated by second year forward Jordan Bell, who joined the session alongside Brown. Once a celebrated rookie, Bell had his fair share of misfortune after signing with the Warriors. He now credits his teammates and the broader Warriors family with helping him keep up his fitness, and his spirits, following a period of recurring injury.
“For a long time I didn’t get any play, and I started to wonder if I was wasting my time,” Bell shared. “I was just sitting on the bench and clapping. I was a great clapper!” He went on to describe the ways he tried to support his fellow players from the sidelines, often handing out bottles of water and making sure he was the first to offer his congratulations after the buzzer.
In the end, it was star player Kevin Durant who reassured Bell about his hiatus on the team, promising the young player that his time would come. Durant even asked Bell to work out with him in the gym after practice, which they did each day in order to stay game-ready. Eventually, Bell joined Durant on court against the Houston Rockets, and was one of the first off the bench against the Cleveland Cavaliers in this year’s NBA Finals.
Host Bob Fitzgerald stressed the importance of veteran Durant’s mentorship: “This is relevant to business too. It’s not just that the leaders have to lead; they also have to remember that every member is part of the team. At a critical juncture, you never know who in that team will be called upon in a key moment.”
Fitzgerald emphasized the significance of the Warriors wearing the Rakuten patch, explaining how crucial optimism is for a team that saw All-Stars sit out 41 of 82 NBA games due to injury. He told the crowd, “The woe-is-me attitude just would not have worked for us.” Mike Brown added that this culture of optimism is felt beyond the locker room to the wider organization as a whole, and even the Bay Area. “It took an optimistic view of ‘we have enough to move forward.'”
What is clear is that the Golden State Warriors aren’t just about prowess on the court. All three speakers were keen to point out that the players are part of a much broader team network, which includes the fans, ticketing staff, the media relations team, and a number of others who drive important parts of the business and work on the same site. Jordan Bell added, “We’re just as close with the people who sell tickets as we are with the coaches. We hang out with the people in the front office and have lunch with them. We’re all a big family.”
Brown agreed. “I’ve been in the NBA since 1992, and the more connected you are with your group, the easier it is to communicate both positive and negative things. People trust you and believe in you, because they know you.” The coach described the Warriors as the best experience of his career, with his proximity to people in the wider business, from the corporate office to the front of house, allowing him to build new and fruitful relationships.
What people can learn from the Warriors’ success, concluded Fitzgerald, is to recognize that adversity can put anyone in the spotlight at any time. Everyone must be prepared to contribute and ready to lead when their number is called. And yes… be optimistic.