I was born in Canada and lived in Toronto for many years – I guess that makes me a Toronto Raptors Fan. I’m also a keen Student of Leaders and the subject of Leadership. Yesterday, many of us Basketball Fans watched as the Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 and are now on the verge of Winning Canada’s First NBA Title.
It’s been an exciting and memorable season for the Raptors in many ways. Yes they’ve one a bunch of games, but that’s not it. They won many games over the past 4 seasons and have developed into a Top Tier NBA team. In my opinion, this season has been remarkable because of a tale of two Leaders – Masai & Kawhi.
Lets start with Masai Ujiri – President of Basketball Operations for the Toronto Raptors. His team had enjoyed strong regular season success for several years, only to loose to Lebron’s Cavaliers repeatedly, in the playoffs. Last Season, he decided to make a very risky and gutsy change. He traded away the Raptors best player, all time leading scorer and all around great guy – DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard. A very unpopular move because DeMar was and is still LOVED in Toronto and he’s been a truly Great Player for the Raptors. Kawhi was coming off two injury riddled seasons with the Spurs and had become a pretty polarizing figure. His reputation with the Spurs took a hit when he requested a trade. Masai also fired Raptors long time Coach Dwane Casey – who by the way just won Coach of the Year award for his performance the previous season. He was replaced by his assistant, Nick Nurse – a first time NBA Head Coach.
No Leader is perfect and Masai is no exception – however All Great Leaders develop Courage and Deep Self-Belief. So much could have gone wrong this season – an Injury to Kawhi, no chemistry with his team mates, Coaching issues – with Nick Nurse. Worth noting that Kawhi is only under contract with the Raptors for one season and becomes a free agent in July. He’s under no obligation to resign with the Raptors and several teams are looking to sign him. This was a very, very Gutsy Move for the Raptors Organization. Add to that – the Eastern Conference got tougher. Sixers & Celtics loaded with Talent and the Bucks having a breakout season. Now Masai is being hailed as a Great Leader , other teams will undoubtedly be looking to recruit him next season.
Courage and Self Belief – often in the face of strong criticism. Key traits which Every Aspiring Leader must cultivate and nurture, every day. That doesn’t mean we stop listening to others, or accepting advice and guidance. However, Leaders must act with Conviction and Purpose, at all times. We need to consistently inspire trust and confidence through our words and actions. We also need Sponsors, Supporters and Fans who are willing to stand in the gap for us. Credit the owners of Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment , which owns the Toronto Raptors franchise, for believing in Masai and standing by him.
Next – Kawhi Leonard. Widely regarded as one of the top 5 players in the league before he got injured. Already a World Champion and Finals MVP with the Spurs – Kawhi fell out with the Spurs and demanded a trade. When he landed at the Raptors he immediately faced scrutiny and pressure to perform at an All Star Level. Clearly, the Raptors were rolling the dice on this one man and the expectation was that he would lead the team to the NBA finals. (I doubt that even the most ardent Raptors fan dreamt that we’d be 3-1 up on Golden State in the NBA Finals).
Kawhi is a different type of leader. Quiet, subdued, rarely shows emotion – not the most charismatic player out there. However, he’s definitely a Leader and has been the Difference Maker for the Raptors this season. His led by example – great Work Ethic on and off the floor, always staying poised, no panic, very even keeled. Watching him this Season, I’ve been constantly reminded that teams, organizations, even Families – will only go as far as our Leaders take us. Watch how the Raptors play, they feed off his confidence, his focus and his work ethic on both sides of the floor. These traits are infectious – when our leaders display these traits, we find ourselves mirroring them. Most important, Kawhi has displayed Self Belief on the floor – his body language, demeanor and competitiveness has propelled the Raptors to the cusp of true NBA Greatness.
Whether or not we win the title this year – it’s been a memorable one, in part because two leaders exhibited Courage & Self Belief. In so doing, they gained the trust and confidence of others and inspired others to mirror those leadership traits.