Almost every day, someone asks me how tall I am (I’m 6’7”). Their next question is often “Did you play basketball?”
I did. From a young age, I loved all sports but was particularly drawn to the hardwood. I spent many hours playing and practicing basketball and received a full scholarship to attend St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, where I led the Hawks in scoring my sophomore year. That same year, I was one of 49 basketball players invited to participate in the Pan American Games Trials. Among those who tried out with me were future hall-of-famers Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan. I was in good company.
After college I was selected by the Sacramento Kings as the 98th overall pick in the NBA Draft, and later I was inducted into SJU’s basketball hall of fame as well the hall of fame for the Big 5 – Philadelphia’s historic association of basketball schools that includes St. Joseph’s, Villanova, Temple, La Salle and the University of Pennsylvania.
I shared my story and experiences with a group of young athletes at the 2017 Gettin’ in the Game Junior National Championship, a baseball, golf and swimming competition for children and their families from the bleeding disorders community. The event is hosted each year by CSL Behring. I talked about my experiences because I wanted these young people to know that while I had a great time playing basketball and am proud of what I accomplished through the sport, I’m even more proud of the lessons I learned through the game. They’re lessons I’ve carried with me throughout my business career, and they’ve helped me find continued success off the court. Here are those lessons:
Teamwork: Greater results are achieved by working with others
Basketball taught me the true power of teamwork. Sure, one great player might score 50 points in a game, but if the rest of the team can’t contribute to that effort it’s not going to consistently result in a win. If three people on a team can get 30 points each, the team becomes a much stronger force with a far greater opportunity to post more wins. This concept is applicable to the business world, our team isn’t successful because of one person, product or program. We’re successful because of how we collectively work together to deliver on our promise to help people living with rare diseases lead full lives.
Practice: Repetition prepares you to react in the right way to a variety of challenges
Despite what Allen Iverson may have said in an infamous press conference years ago, practice does matter. Someone who performs any skill at a high level can only do so because he or she has practiced that skill over and over again. This repetition prepares athletes so that in the heat of the battle, they don’t have to stop and think about what they’re doing. They’re reacting to plays as they are happening. People in the stands will watch a game that’s coming down to the last seconds and think “Can you imagine the pressure on them?” As an athlete, it’s not a lot of pressure, because we practiced the situation 1,000 times during the season, running all kinds of scenarios just like the one before us. It’s the same thing in business. Every day in our sales and marketing efforts, we practice how we’re going to position ourselves against the competition. We work incredibly hard to ensure patients are receiving the best products and programs to fit their individual needs. We’re prepared for a multitude of scenarios and react without causing any disruption to the company or to the patients who rely on us to deliver on our promises to them.
Determination: Don’t accept limitations and you will take your game to new heights
In this world, if you’re not determined, you can’t succeed. You have to be willing to take a blow and you have to be willing to lose. But get past your losses and push yourself as far as you can go. Sometimes you’ll feel like you hit some sort of ceiling. It’s the people who find a way to break through that ceiling, to rise above the plateaus, who find great rewards. If you show great resolve and determination, you’ll find you will be successful in whatever endeavor you pursue.
Learn from mistakes: Sometimes losing teaches you more than winning
Winning is great. I love winning as much as anyone. But many times we learn more from our losses than we do from our wins. That’s because there is no better time for us to reflect on what we could have done better and what we could do to be more prepared next time. This goes hand-in-hand with determination and again has strong applications to all areas of life. When things aren’t going well for us, we tend to learn more. Take advantage of your losses, learn from your mistakes, and you’ll be very successful in life.
Prioritization: In a demanding world, successful people find a way to prioritize what’s most important
As a young man I found myself at a Division I school, taking a full class load while practicing basketball for many hours a day. It’s challenging. If you don’t learn how to prioritize in that environment you can never hope to graduate. You have to understand very quickly what’s most important, put those items at the top of your to-do list, and then work down that list. I’ve learned that this is important in school, business, or anything in life – realizing what is most important and paying closest attention to those things.
Have fun: Work hard but have fun with the work you do
I see too many parents putting pressure on their kids to use sports as a means to get a college scholarship. Often young athletes have so much pressure on them, they get burned out by the time they’re a sophomore in high school. I believe it’s the duty of family and friends to show support to young athletes and to encourage them to have fun with the sport they choose. If you can have fun while working to achieve your goals in sports, you can have fun throughout other aspects of your life. At my current job, my team works hard but we also have fun with the work we do. Remember, we will all face some kind of adversity throughout our lives, but as Vivian Greene’s famous saying goes, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”