3 Winning Entrepreneurial Lessons from Miami Heats

Not a fan of basketball or sports in general? You may still walk away from the NBA finals with inspiration for your startup.

Past Thursday, two of my friends and I saw the NBA finals – the seventh and final game of the best of seven NBA finals. Spoiler Alert – if you have TiVo-ed it and planning to see it this weekend don’t read ahead. But then again, it is King James, so you know the story.


Afterwards, as I left my friends’s house, my mind wandered to what the game had to say about entrepreneurship. (I could not think of any but my deadline was fast approaching and I know half-life of Heats victory is short if I want to get the page views. Besides I am an established entrepreneurial guru and I can see lessons anywhere. Luckily the next day morning NPR story gave me the material.)

Nobody actually started a business in the finals but the game is as much about teamwork, hustle, and competitiveness to achieve a worthy goal as it was about free throws and jump shots. Here are my top 3 takeaways:

1. You need every inch of what everyone has to give

I do not know how many know this but NBA basketball teams have only five people on the court. That is exactly like the size of a startup team.  Miami Heats needed every inch of what those five had to give. You may not see this from the game statistics (as you may know, lies, damn lies and statistics). Even though four of your Rock Star coders wrote 999,900 of our million lines of code, 100 lines from your fifth member matter.

Lesson: In your startup, your entire team’s contributions, however small any member’s may appear, is needed for your team to win.

2. Don’t pick one, do everything

Any other  NBA team has to pick their poison on defense. Those are strategic choices. Do they want to guard the shooters or guard the opponent’s big men downfield? But Heats are champions. They are champions because they rejected status quo and conventional wisdom of picking one poison. A remarkable team has to be everywhere and do everything. It is the losing team that makes excuses on what they had to choose and what they had to compromise. But the winners take away the middle and take away the three point shots.

Lesson: Strategy and choice are wrong things to consider for your startup. When you are disrupting status quo, building something insanely great and finding product-market fit you don’t need strategy. You don’t pick and choose what to do. You do everything. It is not easy. It is excruciatingly difficult. It is very exhausting. But that’s what your startup must do.

3. Believe in your own abilities

During the game I saw this player, James, who goes by the monicker King James. He consistently shutdown the opponent’s top players. He scored 37 points, five three pointers and many jump shots. He did that because he believed in his own abilities and ignored all the social media chatter on what he can and can’t do. James has been called selfish, an egotist and passive. Well most of these critics are like those who drive up to Niagra Falls and complain about wetness without ever seeing the greatness of waterfall.

Lesson: Be a superstar. Believe in your awesomeness and ability to code and design sticky products that people will fall madly in love with. Social media may ignore your greatness or call you an egotist for your awesome design skills. Call you selfish when you get $45 million in funding at $500 million valuation. But whose loss is that? Not yours. Definitely not yours when  Facebook comes calling.

If you liked these lessons, subscribe to this blog for  sequels

  1. 4 More Winning Entrepreneurial Lessons from Miami Heats (I started with 7 lessons then realized I can get two articles by splitting into 2, besides the NPR story had only 3 I could use.)
  2. What can startup founders learn from NBA concession vendors
  3. No one remembers the runner ups – Startup Lesson from NBA Finals

Yes this is meant to be a parody but you knew that. This caricatures the format and phrasing of  this article but any such article, there are thousands of them, would have worked. The text under lessons learned are straight from the NPR story which was surprisingly un-NPR like.

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