Business Management Lessons From LeBron's Lost Season
LeBron James joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018 with big expectations for the next stage of his career. Less than a year later, his Lakers are unlikely to make the playoffs and there are rumors flying fast and furious about organizational dysfunction within the L.A. front office. Even with the best player in the world the Lakers’ season has become a disaster – not only because of stretches of bad luck, but because of a series of management mistakes and missed opportunities.
What are some lessons for your business and brand from LeBron’s lost season with the Lakers?
1. Don't bet everything on any one person or product.
No single player -- even the best in the world -- is bigger than the team. The Lakers were (justifiably) optimistic to bring LeBron to L.A., but the rest of their roster was young and inexperienced. They needed time to develop into a cohesive whole. Aside from LeBron, this Lakers team didn’t turn out to have very much to offer in putting a competitive product on the floor.
When LeBron missed several weeks of games with an injury -- one of the first serious injuries he’s suffered in his illustrious career -- the team lost a bunch of games and dropped out of contention. LeBron is still only 34 years old, but he’s not getting any younger. This season also illustrates that Father Time is undefeated. Even the greatest athletes will encounter new challenges in staying healthy and maintaining world-class physical condition as they get older.
In the same way, your company needs to diversify your product offerings. Don’t bet the whole company’s future on any one product or service or line of business. Even if you have a world-beating product, your competitors can catch up with you. Just as the world’s best athletes get older and lose their peak performance, even dominant products can be supplanted by new competition at any time.
Don’t get complacent. The superstar product lineup of last year might look surprisingly outdated before you know it.
2. Complementary players matter as well as stars.
LeBron is one of the best players ever, but even he can't do it alone. The Lakers have not done a good job of finding the right supporting cast to complement his skills. The Lakers front office has been criticized for not doing enough to recruit free agents to L.A., and relying too much on an unproven core of young talent. It’s as if they were assuming that LeBron could do everything for them.
Don’t rely too much on a few star performers on your sales team. What if one of your superstar sales people decides to leave for a new job, or suffers a streak of bad luck? Even the best sales performers need support and collaboration from the rest of the team. No one can do it all by themselves -- in basketball or in business.
3. Team chemistry can be fragile.
Late in the season, just prior to the NBA trade deadline, the Lakers had a sudden opportunity to trade for Anthony Davis, a young superstar with the New Orleans Pelicans who expressed interest in playing in L.A. The negotiations fell apart but not before it leaked to the media that the Lakers were apparently ready to trade pretty much anyone on their team (other than LeBron). The Lakers finished the season without Anthony Davis and with a bunch of young players who felt disrespected and unwanted.
The team’s performance suffered as a result. Players have egos and self-respect. They don’t like to feel like the team sees them as expendable.
Don’t underestimate the importance of team chemistry. Not everyone on your team is a superstar performer, but everyone wants to feel respected and valued. You will get better results if everyone on your team believes in the overall mission and has a worthwhile part to play than if people feel like you’re trying to force them out the door.
Related: LeBron James' Greatest Quotes
4. Big picture strategy matters!
Perhaps the biggest lesson from LeBron’s lost season is the importance of long-term organizational strategy. The Lakers seemed to think that if they could just get LeBron, everything else would fall into place. Instead, they are missing the playoffs, they have squandered one of the last years of LeBron's likely athletic prime (he turns 35 in December 2019), and their future is uncertain.
It's not enough to make one big splash move or a single big sale; you need to have a long-term strategy and adjust your plans along the way. You can’t count on one big new client acquisition or one big new contract to save your business. In the parlance of basketball, look for “high percentage shots.” Identify a few key niche markets, multiple types of ideal customers, multiple verticals where you can compete -- and then go build a broad, diversified base of business.