The Oklahoma City Thunder’s season ended Friday night with a 4-2 series loss to the Utah Jazz in the NBA Playoffs.
Russell Westbrook, the Thunder’s star player, was his usual dominant self, scoring 46 points and single-handedly (at least it seemed) keeping OKC in the game down the stretch. As only one of Russ’s teammates had a relatively solid outing to keep pace, I guess you could say Russ had to do what he did. Whatever the reasoning we put on it, it was damn fun to watch Russ shoot 19 3-pointers and generally get whatever shots he wanted as he dueled with Utah’s star rookie Donovan Mitchell (who will not win Rookie Of The Year only because of the brilliance of Ben Simmons).
If you’ve ever played a basketball video game (there are professional leagues for that now, which is amazing), you’ve experienced being the hero player: You take one really good player and have that cyber-guy do everything (at least on offense). He ends the (video) game with 60-70 points and you win. A great fantasy.
Russell Westbrook has become the closest thing we’ve ever seen to the real-life version of that (well, at least since Kobe Bryant did damn near the same act — with more points and less rebounding and passing — in 2006).
Westbrook is a video game player come to life.
He’s averaged a triple double (at least 10 points + 10 rebounds + 10 assists, or 10 of any other productive category) for two consecutive seasons, which, even though he blatantly chases the statistics, is still hard to do; I don’t think there are ten current players who could do it even if they were trying.
Russ has taken what basketball people call Hero Ball — one guy trying to do literally everything, even succeeding to an extent — to its apex. I like watching Russ do his thing. Problem is, at the pro level, that style isn’t conducive to winning.
Russ will go down in history for his statistical achievements over the past two seasons — but his team has lost in the first round of the Playoffs both seasons.
There are some things about Hero Ball that make it a losing stratagy.
- It disempowers your teammates, who grow accustomed to watching you (try to) do everything — then when you need them to do something, they’re not quite ready. Yeah — a pro should always be ready — but each pro has and knows his role. Hero Ball reduces many of your teammates’ roles to “spectator.” Remember what I told you about Victor Oladipo? He was teammates with Russ last year — and no one saw any of the Oladipo we’ve seen this year when he was on Russ’s team. To me, Vic didn’t have the ball enough to even know if he had it in him.
- In the pros, no one guy is good enough to beat an entire good team with Hero Ball. Even if you feel that Russ was the best player on the court, on either team, last night (and he indeed was), a smart opponent can gameplan around your heroics and still beat you. Which is exactly what Utah did: They knew trying to “stop” Russ was a futile exercise; let him do his thing within certain parameters — but that won’t be enough to win. And that’s what happened. Kobe tried Hero Ball and failed until he got a star teammate whom he empowered by giving him the ball, and then they won a title. Michael Jordan tried and failed with Hero Ball until coach Phil Jackson coaxed a more team-oriented style out of Mike; championships ensued.
- Any player playing Hero Ball for too long is sending a subliminal message to his teammates: I trust myself more than I trust any of you. Whether it’s true or not, no team member gives their best when their input is apparently not fully valued. So the chicken-before-the egg question of, does the Hero need to trust his teammates first or do the teammates need to perform better first? falls in the lap of the leader to bring them up, not play above them.
Russell Westbrook can continue playing his Hero Ball style for the rest of his career and accumulate some very impressive statistics which will have posterity on his side, and not come close to winning a championship ever again.
Or, Russell Westbrook can look in the mirror and his playing style and admit that maybe, just maybe, his pure dominance is a huge part of the problem. Not so easy for a person who’s headstrong enough to shoot 46 times in one game.
For Your Game
- When you have a team around you, use them. People quit jobs not because of money or the size of their offices — people quit when they feel they’re not making a meaningful contribution to something that matters. Leaders: it’s YOUR job to make sure everyone on the team feels their presence matters. Get your communication game in order with my People Skills course.
- If you find yourself being the Hero all the time in your life, maybe it’s time you recruited some help. They’ll save you time, energy, and more than justify their cost if you’re good at delegating what needs to be done.
- Look at your work performance and answer this: What do you do best? The answer is NOT “everything” — try again. Whatever the answer, every minute at work you’re doing something other than that, you’re losing money. Build a team and use the team to do the other stuff while you focus on your top skill. That’s what they’re there for.
Where have you been the Hero too often, and what did you / will you do about it? Reply and share with me.
PS- If I were to make Daily Game exclusive for a small fee, say $5/month — would you pay to get it? Would it be worth it for you? Just exploring options. Let me know.