Building winning teams in basketball and business

NBA Champion, tech investor and entrepreneur Andre Iguodala drops some knowledge

Andre Iguodala

Most people know Andre Iguodala as a member of the NBA championship winning team the Golden State Warriors, but the basketball star is also a savvy entrepreneur and serial tech investor.

As part of the executive team for the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), Iguodala has been leveraging his position as a leader to help other players realize career opportunities post-basketball. In late 2017, he and teammate Stephen Curry organized the inaugural Players Technology Summit, bringing together members of the sports, technology, and venture capitalist communities to exchange expertise and educate players on ways they can get involved with emerging technologies, both during their athletic careers and afterwards.

At Slack’s recent Frontiers conference, Iguodala sat down for a candid conversation with our CEO Stewart Butterfield, where he shared some of the principles of success that he’s learned over the course of his career, on and off the court.

 

Teamwork = Talent + Trust

Does teamwork make up for individual skill? “You should have the best talent, but everything fails if everyone’s just out for themselves,” says Iguodala.

In a discussion about team dynamics, and in particular the potential change in team dynamics as a company grows and scales, Iguodala notes that getting the best out of every individual gets harder. When that happens, Iguodala advises “putting people in the right position to lead others,” which can sometimes mean other team members stepping up to take on “internal coaching” roles.

“You have to be ok with your teammates not liking you sometimes,” he admits. “But you still have to trust each other’s ability and your commitment to each other.”

 

“Coach Steve demands the highest from everyone, but he doesn’t expect the same exact thing from everyone,” says Iguodala.

The best coaches are former players

When drawing comparisons between great CEOs and coaches, Iguodala emphasized that the coach’s role is “getting the best out of everyone.” He learned this best from Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who takes the time to tailor his messages to each player on the team.

“Coach Steve demands the highest from everyone, but he doesn’t expect the same exact thing from everyone,” says Iguodala.

One of Iguodala’s biggest sticking points as an internal coach is wasting time. He recalls the moment in his career when he stopped goofing around at practice, even though he would be done with all his exercises, and started opting to use that extra time to train more.

“I want every player to use their time the best they can,” he says. “If they only get two minutes in the game, they need to know how to use it.”

 

Data means everything. It can also mean nothing.

A discussion on the role of data in business and in sports sparked some interesting dialogue. Iguodala admits he was once told that “you can make numbers look any way you want,” rendering him an instant skeptic. But over time, his team has learned to look for larger patterns in the wide array of data at their disposal that might indicate future wins.

When they looked at their performance during winning games, they learned that their team’s success rate was best determined, not by shots taken, but by how many passes they made to each other (the Warriors’ magic number was 300 passes, or more). Even if the team managed to win in fewer passes, they’d return to practice still aiming for that golden 300 goal.

The metric became more than just a number, it was a tangible measure of their teamwork, trust, and communication as a team.

Iguodala points out that the team also does a lot of things to recognize one another’s accomplishments that can’t be see on a stats sheet. “We make sure to point out when someone’s doing a good thing, even if others might not see it,” he says.

He recalls a moment on the court where he noticed that he and his teammate low-fived at the exact same time another pair of players were doing the same thing on the opposite side of the court. It’s an expression of genuine support, recognition, and camaraderie among players. That kind of thing can’t be measured, but it matters.

 

Success is rooted in your values

“A lot of people in tech measure their success with data like their number of users and the strength of their community, and you have to be focused on that,” says Iguodala. “But you also have to have the right values going in for it all to work.”

For him that means focus, committing to practicing his craft, constantly seeking learning opportunities, and reading insatiably.

“You have to understand how your own flow works,” he says, describing the feeling of being so attuned to your work, your decision-making almost feels innate.

The conversation closes with the inevitable question: What’s next? Iguodala says he still has his sights set on reaching new frontiers in his career, whether as an athlete, an entrepreneur, or a tech investor.

As a 33-year-old player, he knows he has to train harder to stay in the game, but he also has to keep an eye out for his future off the court. That’s the lesson he hopes to impart to other athletes, and why he’s working so hard to keep seeking out learning opportunities and finding new ways to merge the worlds of sports, business, and technology.

 

Lima Al-Azzeh once fractured her finger picking up a stationary basketball.

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