Michael Jordan is arguably the best basketball player who has ever played the game. All over the world people have heard of him. In rural China “Jordan rules” can be seen written on basketball backboards. Michael Jordan was a star, the best player on his team—on any team. He could shoot three-pointers and do long slam dunks. Athletic shoes were named after him. He was a leader admired across the world. For the first six years of his professional career, he won scoring titles, defensive player of the year, and many other awards. Yet during those same first six years, he never won any championships. The team didn’t get far. Michael was a star, but not a champion.
The Coaching Difference
At that point, Phil Jackson became the coach for the Chicago Bulls. Phil taught a system called the triangle offense, which requires trusting your team. Now Phil had played pro ball, but he didn’t have the innate skill Jordan had. He didn’t know basketball as well and he couldn’t play nearly as well. But Phil had a way with the team, and he had a framework that allowed the team to work together within a structure: the triangle offense.
People called Phil the Zen master. He was known for bringing non-traditional methods into his coaching, and he aimed for a holistic experience with his players. He said to Michael, “You’re going to have to trust in me, and you’re going to have to trust in your team. You’ve been trying to do it on your own up until now.” Jordan bought into it, “Okay, I’m going to trust you and I’m going to try it. I’ll pass the ball to someone like Scotty Pippen, who isn’t as good as me.”
The Power of Team
The team took a turn. They began winning and took home six championships in the early 90’s. They became a dynasty. Once they finally started functioning as a team, once Michael Jordan put his trust in a coach, the Bulls were able to make history. They accomplished all they wanted and more. Jordan was a hero as the Bulls went on to win six championships.
Yet Michael never won any championships until he got the right coach– Phil Jackson– and until Phil convinced him to trust his team. He was trying to do it all on his own before.
As a coach, consider ways you can help your clients begin to rely more on their teams and work better together with their teams. What would that look like? What next steps could you take to move in that direction?
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