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What the NBA Finals tells us about leadership

Posted 30.09.20

The NBA Finals 2020 tips off this evening with a matchup of two teams that have distinct qualities yet find themselves in a similar commanding position. We discuss both teams’ journey so far this season and why it has been effective.

The Eastern Conference champions, Miami Heat, are returning to the finals for the first time since LeBron James led them in 2014. Miami locked in as the 5th seed in the East and never looked back, dismantling the Pacers, the Bucks and the Celtics, who were all higher seeds.

After clinching the conference, Head Coach Erik Spoelstra had high praise for his players. When talking about star Jimmy Butler he stated ‘We love him for who he is and what he’s all about. He impacts winning. Spoelstra along with Team President Pat Riley had also promised guard Goran Dragic six years ago ‘They would build a contending team’ and now have reached an NBA Finals. There’s a loyalty within the Heat’s culture that is rare in the NBA. Heat Forward Meyers Leonard claims “The Heat just want a level of professionalism. But truly, at heart it’s loyal, caring people.”

Amongst these examples, there is one common factor, which is the strong team culture the Miami Heat instills from day one based on trust and an unmatched work ethic. Being in a new surrounding, the Heat have used their commandery and relished the ‘NBA Bubble’ opportunity with a record of 12-3 in the playoffs. This resolve has been building over a long time, before lockdown, both collectively and individually.

Miami’s frontman Jimmy Butler signed with the Heat last offseason after being labeled as “Not good enough to be the best player on a championship contender.” Butler has a perceived reputation as disruptive which got him traded from Chicago and Minnesota. He played for the 76ers last season who opted towards Tobias Harris as their big free-agency investment. He now leads his new team as an outright winner with a chance at his first championship.

Bam Adebayo was selected 14th in the 2017 NBA draft, but was restricted to limited playing time in his first two seasons and playing behind previous league two times block leader Hassan Whiteside. Once Whiteside was traded in 2019, Bam has reveled in his new role as a starter and has never looked back. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has given Adebayo the task of the toughest assignments in each playoff series due to his ability to defend both on the perimeter and in the paint. His next assignment: Lebron James and Anthony Davis.

With each individual overcoming their own personal challenges a Finals appearance means that much more to a team who have something to prove. It also provides an incentive for any individual wanting to be a part of the Miami Heat culture. You’re one of us, now let’s get to work. Miami is the projected underdog but if you ask me they wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

The Los Angeles Lakers are about to enter their 32nd NBA Finals and remain the most decorated franchise in NBA history alongside the Boston Celtics.

However, recent history has not been kind to the Lakers, having not made the NBA Finals since 2010 and this year making their first playoff appearance since 2013. But what stands out was the drama and turmoil that was projected through the media about the Lakers organisation. The head offices made questionable decisions, which led to not making the playoffs during the final years of Kobe Bryant’s career and the abrupt resignation of Magic Johnson as team president.

Yet, that all seems to have been forgotten and the Lakers franchise has been revitalised and cruised through the tough Western Conference. Sure, they have the best player in the world and a superstar in Anthony Davis that elevates them to a much higher level, but the leadership of Lebron James and the effect it has on his teammates is something to behold.

Lebron James leads by example, not just on the court but off it. The NBA bubble has proven to be a real test of character for all NBA players. Not being able to leave due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and spending a long time away from loved ones has proved to be difficult for a number of players on various teams but the LA Lakers have not been one of them. In fact, they have flourished and Lebron James who is notoriously very close to his three kids and Wife Savannah said after his Game 5 victory against the Nuggets that he’s as “locked-in” as he’s ever been for an NBA Finals.

He also said “I’ve taken care of my body, been available to my teammates” and continued with “I try to get as much sleep as I can. And I’ve never cheated the game. I put so much into my craft, so much into the game”. Lebron is also the oldest player on the team, and when the oldest player is also the best and sets such high standards, it is hard for players below him to not follow suit. And it is evident on the court, superstar teammate Anthony Davis is arguably playing the best basketball of his life and the other role players are committed to the roles within the team.

The Lakers major rival, the Los Angeles Clippers, who built a championship-contending team that was designed to beat the Lakers, led by Kawhi Leonard who many felt had eclipsed Lebron James as the best player in the world, lost in this year’s Conference Semis. There were also early signs of this happening, with teammates leaving the bubble and a very obvious lack of team chemistry at times, it is evident that the NBA bubble caused the Clippers to struggle. Yet the Lakers, led by Lebron have shown a remarkable ability to adapt.

This really shouldn’t be of any surprise, Lebron has resurrected a franchise before when he returned to a Cleveland Cavaliers and won them their first championship. Throughout his career, he has continued to set himself as an example to others by not getting into any off-court trouble. Not only that but Lebron has committed to staying in the best physical and mental shape possible for the last 17 years whilst speaking out on social issues and providing school funding for at-risk kids in Akron. A 2020 NBA final against a deep Miami Heat roster will be a tougher task than many anticipate but if there is one player you want leading the pack against this team, it’s The King.

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Will Miami’s teamwork triumph over the Lakers’ star power? These two teams have shown us different sides of leadership which have helped them reach the top of their respective conferences.

It’s time to find out which team will come on top and be crowned NBA champion.

 

Alex Ward – Paid Media Executive & Josh Kellerman – Junior Paid Media Executive