In recent years, both basketball and executive teams have seen revolutionary changes compared to the days of Jack Welch and Michael Jordan in the 80s and 90s. The game, in both business and basketball, is much quicker, with more emphasis on teamwork, agility, and a dramatic redistribution of traditional roles and responsibilities.
The digital revolution on and off the court
The digital revolution created the need for businesses and the NBA to be more agile and change the way they view and play their respective “game”.
In the NBA real-time, automatically captured statistical and performance analytics have transformed the way the game is watched, analyzed and played. Data Analytics have impacted the NBA landscape so much that they now hold a yearly hackathon to get new data-driven, innovative ideas. Advanced analytics have supplanted previous experts who “felt” which player combinations worked well, instead providing now proven plus / minus analysis that tells them exactly which player combinations, plays, and shot selections work best.
One of the biggest changes in the NBA following the rise of analytics was the significant increase in three-point shots taken per game. As a result of the accumulated data, NBA analysts and coaches realized that three-point shots, which had a 35% chance of going in on average, were actually underutilized. This drove a significant rise in average three-point attempts per game from just 13 in the 1999 season to 32 in 2018. Specific players were then encouraged to take as many of these shots as possible. A new breed of superstars like Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, and James Harden that seem to shoot the ball from just about anywhere on the court, was created.
Advanced analytics are also used to manage player load, identifying which players need rest during specific games, which in turn helped to lower fatigue and prevent injuries.
In the business world, the digital revolution drove home the point that no business sector is safe from the threat of new players. If previously C-suite was able to see competition coming from miles ahead and take action, now threats were invisible and seemed to have appeared from thin air. Uber is a good example of this; in 4 years, they managed to create a new form of transportation, completely disrupting the taxi industry. They continue to greatly benefit from the new technology they brought on board, while the world of taxis is continually lagging behind because of its a non-digitized and archaic business. The same story goes for Airbnb and the hotel industry.
Today, executives try to be data driven. They make quicker, finer decisions based on real-time data and insights, helping them determine course of action on current KPI’s and their ongoing progress.
One interesting note is that since the digital revolution, nearly 20% of the world’s 2,500 largest public companies have added a new role to the C-suite—the Chief Digital Officer (CDO). These executives are in charge of integrating digital initiatives that can assist and advance the strategic-planning process and its execution for all areas of the company.
A jack of all trades
Today, the NBA is moving towards positionless basketball. Teams are letting go of traditional labels such as point guard, shooting guard, power forward and center, and adopting players based on skill sets, taking advantage of individual strengths and matchups.
The trend started with Magic Johnson in the 1980’s. Magic, who stood tall at 6”8, was a typical build of a power forward, but had the skills of a point guard. He was an NBA unicorn – the first “Point Forward”, and a harbinger of things to come.
Fast forward to the 2011 NBA Finals , when the Miami Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks, led by Dirk Nowitzki, perhaps the NBA’s first true stretch four / combo forward, a 7-footer with the ability to grab rebounds while hitting threes and scoring at an elite level.
The Heat did win the title a year later, led by Lebron James, who is today’s premier combo-player, and perhaps the best ever. His multi-faceted skill set has made him one of the world’s most popular athletes and the league’s most dominant player since Michael Jordan.
This change, having more versatile players and leaders, has made teams more effective, more dominant and harder to defend.
One of the current rising stars, Giannis Antetokounmpo, known as the Greek Freak, is a classic example of letting go of traditional positions. He is considered the most versatile player in the NBA, playing a multifaceted game that combines the dunking and rebounding of a forward with the shooting and passing of a guard.
The NBA has evolved from classifying prospects in only one natural position to searching for versatile players with top notch skills who can play any position.
C-suite roles have also changed drastically through the years. In the 1980’s, C-suite managers were hierarchical and centralized. From the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s, the size of the executive team doubled and executive teams became more specialized, each exec in his or her own role which then required additional focus on collaboration and alignment across the org. Today, executives are required to understand, act, think, and support various functionalities across the board, such as finance, marketing, sales and sometimes even R&D, not only in their area of expertise. This is due to a need for speed, as markets change faster then ever before, executives need broader understanding in order to digest information and act quickly while aligning, collaborating and then re-aligning continuously with their colleagues in order to meet their business goals.
Part two coming soon ….