Thirteen (13) Rules for Leadership on the Basketball Court

Not everyone will be a natural born leader, so it’s good to learn from those who are. If you seek real, proven leadership skills, then look no further than

Colon Powell: Author,13 Rules of Leadership

Colin Powell.

If you don’t know who he is then wiki him.

I hate to do this to a supra-accomplished person, but here’s Mr. Powell in a nutshell.

Not so long ago, he was 65th United States Secretary of State and the first African American to serve in that position. During his military career, Powell also served as National Security Advisor and Commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command.

He’s also credited for scribing the 13 Rules for Leadership, and people everywhere have embraced them so much, they apply his rules to their everyday lives.

I took it one step further and applied the 13 Rules for Leadership to the game of basketball.

I can’t take total credit for this post.  It was inspired by my cousin on facebook. He recommended a book entitled, “It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership” by Colin Powell and Tony Koltz. Mr. Powell’s 13 Rules for Leadership can be found in the book.

Without Further Adieu,


RULE 1: It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.

It ain’t as bad as you think

Basketball, as compared with other sports, is way better because every game has one winner and one loser. Could you imagine playing cricket for a week only to have it end in a tie? That would drive me nuts!

In basketball, there’s a lesson in every win and loss.  Sometimes winning is worse.  That’s because winning often tricks players into thinking they’re doing things correctly when they’re really not.

RULE 2: Get mad, then get over it.

Get mad. Then get over it.

In the game of basketball, emotions are very dangerous– especially anger. If you’re an emotional player, then chances are you’re an inconsistent player. There’s also a really good chance that you’re not a leader.  Whatever happens, stay calm (especially on the outside), convert the anger into motivation, and move forward.

Coaches in Europe have this thing where they can determine whether or not your head’s in the game by taking a look at your face.  Please, don’t ask where they get this from.

If you wear your emotions on your sleeve, then no one’s gonna be too comfortable depending on you in the clutch.  Your teammates aren’t gonna be very receptive to you either. You’re gonna have most of them scared to death.

RULE 3:  Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position fails, your ego goes with it.

Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position fails, your     ego goes with it.

Let’s face it. Ballplayers gotta have big egos.  To be a leader on the basketball court, you have to be have an incredible amount of self- confidence.

Look at the numbers.  A team’s leading scorer will make an average of 50-60% of shots from the field.  They may even shoot 38-45% from three. That means to be really good, you’re still gonna fail almost half the time.

Those numbers don’t give anyone the right to say they’re the man to have the ball when the game’s on the line.

As a team leader, you not only have to believe, but you have to consistently convince others (including yourself) that no matter what, the game needs to be decided by my performance in the clutch.  And then you better be prepared to to take whatever the people say about the outcome. And that goes for before AND after you take the big shot.

I’m sorry, but a job like that requires a serious narcissist at the helm.

However, that egotistical, somewhat delusional, confidence cannot carry over to everyday life, or it could get you into trouble. The proficiency at which you dunk or shoot a basketball, the millions of dollars they pay you to do it, or the world-wide glory that comes with being great are no excuses for being a bad human being.   There’s a really funny story about Michael Jordan having some problems with this one.

If you’re a player that walks around degrading people because of your basketball prowess, then when your bounce, ‘bounces’ on you, or your ‘stop and go’ move turns into a permanent stop, you’re ego is gonna deflate faster than the air from the ball in your trunk.

RULE 4: It can be done!

It can be done.

First off, if you struggle with this one, then your leadership roles in basketball will be few and far between.

We’ve all had the coaches that says, “Those guys put on their pants the same way we do.”

That means that some analyst predicted our team was about to take a severe butt warming, and our coach was scared to death that it was about to happen.

Forget what anybody else thinks. The first one that has to believe in the impossible is you.

RULE 5: Be careful what you choose. You may get it.

I have to relate this to one of my recent posts.  iBall United hosted what many said was the best free agent exposure camp they’d ever been to. The MVP of the camp was to be sent to Spain for another pro exposure camp just 10 days after ours.  I still can’t believe some of the players showed up without their proof of passport.

Could you imagine being the guy (or gal) that got MVP but didn’t have the passport to be let out the country? All that hard work for a once in a lifetime opportunity would be flushed down the toilet because someone didn’t prepare.

Lucky for us (and the passport-less), Mr. McDonald had his passport.

Point being, if you’re gonna shoot to be the best at ball, equip yourself with the tools you’ll need to cash in on success.  You also need to know how to stay successful by surrounding yourself with good people who can help.  They’re two different challenges.  Start early and you’ll accomplish both.

RULE 6: Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.

Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision

There’s alot of ways you can apply this to basketball leadership.  The best thing I can think of has to do with avoiding the popularity contest when you go to college.

In other words, stay out the party scene.

I’m not gonna sit here and act like I actually took heed to this one.  But trust me, it wasn’t for the fact that doing so would have made me an outcast or totally uncool dude at school.  I could’ve cared less.  But I always took pride in being the best at everything I put my mind to.  And leading my friends to ‘having a really good time’ had my undivided attention for a good while.  If anyone asks, D.J. How-Duz-e is officially retired.

When I visited UConn, my host was Ray Allen.  He was entering his sophomore year at the time, so he wasn’t the Ray Allen we all know today.  But if you saw what I saw, you would totally understand why he’s such an accomplished player.

He gave one of the best campus tours of all my visits.  He was well recognized everywhere we went. He was a well spoken guy and really down to earth, so people absolutely loved him.  Literally.

We were walking across campus to go to the cafeteria, and all of a sudden a limo pulls up and offers us (him) a ride. Now this was Storrs, CT! There’s no place within 100 miles that requires you to drive up in a limo. Not in Storrs. I bet those people rented that limo just to try to pick up Ray Allen. That’s how much people liked this guy.

I don’t know how it happened or why he declined the ride, but he did.  The fact still remains, if it were me, my butt would’ve been gettin’ in that limo.

Later on that night, you could tell campus was starting to buzz..  But when we got to the spot where the team was hanging out, Ray said, “That’s it for me. I’m going back to my room.”

Kevin Ollie later told me that Ray never hung out with the team. At that time, I thought that was one of the strangest things ever.  Add the fact that we didn’t get in the limo, and it made me think dude was a little weird.

It took me a long time to understand that team partying doesn’t necessarily improve team unity.  If the chemistry that your leadership produces is based on a mix of alcohol and other destructive chemicals, then you’re not they type of leader thats gonna be effective for very long.  And you’re also a bad chemist.

RULE 7: You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.

You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.

Being a successful basketball player requires a serious commitment to hard work.  You’ll also spend alot of time away from loved ones.  And you really should embrace your commitment enough to always to be true to your goals when making decisions, even if it means staying away from doing what’s considered fun or cool.

Some people will tell you to find like-minded people with similar goals and try to outwork one another.  By all means, do so.

First off, your search may become really difficult or down right impossible.  And even if you do find them, there will come a time when your push to be the best outgrows there’s.  But you can’t let someone else’s decision not to be great have an adverse effect on yours.

One day, over 2 feet of snow dropped on Magic Johnson’s hometown in Michigan. (I don’t really know how much but 2 feet makes the story more interesting)  I don’t think Magic was wondering when his friend was gonna show up at the playground to help him shovel off the snow.  He just went with his shovel, cleared a path and started shooting. That day, Magic said he was gonna be great, and if need be, he was gonna do it all by himself.

RULE 8: Check small things.

Check the small things

As I got older I found that my body required a few weeks off in the offseason. Man that used to itch!

Every time I picked the ball back up, I could tell I had lost some of the ‘chisma’ that I had late in the season.  The sharpness on my moves, the consistency on my jumpshot, and my athletic movements were lessened due to the time off.

Instead of picking back up with my highly technical, pro training drills, I would just start off with the basics. Things like the ‘Mikan drill’, power layups and elboy jumpers, with a bit of rest in-between, were how I re-sharpened my skillset each offseason.

I read that MJ used to do that at well.  I found that as my athleticism declined, I needed to rely more heavenly on a superior skill-set.

Ever since high school I had committed to doing little things really well even if it was a laid back team exercise. (there weren’t many of those until I went pro) I’m talking little things like always making a sharp, crisp pass during shooting drills at practice.  When you’re a pro, nobody’s thinking about that kind of stuff, but I honestly believe those were the things that allowed me to stick around for 13 years.

RULE 9: Share credit.

Share credit.

When you see Lebron James standing up in front of the podium saying that he wouldn’t be MVP without the help of his teammates, what do you think he’s doing?

I’m not even sure if he believes those guys are the only way he would’ve won MVP.  He really doesn’t have to.  What he understands is the fact that every human being needs recognition and a sense of worth as much as they need food and water.

Share the credit. Take the blame. People will love you for it, and your unit will be able to accomplish bigger and better things.

RULE 10: Remain calm. Be kind.

Stay calm. Be kind

This is a tough one.  Basketball is an intense sport. There’s all kinds of testosterone flying around, and when something happens to piss you off, things can get ugly, and fast. But think about it.  When the ref makes a bad call, the whole stadium is gonna let him know about it.  he’s also gonna hear about it from your coach.  More than likely, he knows he made a mistake.  The worst thing you can do is go curse him out for it.

The minute you trash him for making a mistake, that’s when you are wrong. And that’s when you lose control of the situation.

The best thing to do is smile and talk to him calmly and kindly about it.  Who knows? You may get the make up call at a key moment.

But I understand that we all can’t be saints all the time.

Even if you can only manage 1 of the 2, then you’re ahead of the game.  So when you totally verbally destroy him, at least smile and talk calmly when you do it so you look good for mom and the people watching at home.

RULE 11: Have a vision. Be demanding.

Have a vision. Be demanding

When I entered my first professional season, I was also taking a course on real estate.  One of the books I was reading was written by a guy named Carleton Sheets. Now, whether or not he or his recommendations on how to buy and sell real estate were responsible for the real estate debacle is not my call.  But I will say that Mr. Sheets had some pretty good advice in his book.

He advised that every person take out a sheet of paper and write down a set of short-term and long-term goals.  So I did.

I wrote my 10-year plan first. I was gonna own $1 million dollars worth of real estate in 10 years.  Ummm….didn’t happen.

The second thing I wrote was my one-year plan.  I was gonna lead the league in scoring and be named first team all league.

I accomplished one.

Unfortunately, I came up short on first team all-league.  I made second. But I did manage to lead the league in per game average and total points scored.  Which is pretty remarkable when you consider that I signed two full months after the season had started.

Taking heed to rule #9, sharing credit.  Thanks Mr. Sheets!

RULE 12: Don’t take the counsel of your fears or naysayers.

Don’t take the counsel of your naysayers.

The fact is there ARE a million things that could go wrong.  You could miss the game-winning shot.  You could miss out on the playoffs.  The team could cut your contract. And if you decide you’re gonna play for another team, people could threaten your life and burn your jersey.

You have to use the power of thoughts to your advantage.  Consistently visualize positive outcomes, and when the time for arrives, you’ll be equipped with clarity and vision to see what needs to be done.

As for naysays (let’s call them haters), they’re alot like negative thoughts.  The better you are at what you do, the greater number the number of ones you can have.

Don’t get it twisted, I’m not saying you should totally disregard constructive criticism–especially if its coming from a valid source.  But be happy when people doubt or trash talk your ability. That means you’re doing something right.

RULE 13: Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

perpetual optimism is a force multiplier

One of my favorite things about playing basketball was to look up in a huge stadium and see the crowd performing the wave. But one person sitting in a stadium, can’t make it happen.  It takes a few thousand.

Consistently thinking positive thoughts is like opening the gates at the NBA all-star game. One person turns into thousands really quickly.  And then comes the wave.

When you discover your leadership style on the basketball court, embrace it, cultivate it, and learn how to become more effective at it.  Then put it into practice over and over again.

Every day a soldier sets out for battle, he has to put on his combat boots. There’s never a day that he can go to war in flip-flops.  And when he survives, he has to go back, clean the boots, and put em back on to do it again.

Your leadership will catch traction only if it’s put the test each and every day. You must consistently do everything to the best of your ability.  Challenge yourself to be better each and every day. You must also present the same challenge to your teammates.  See what works and what doesn’t work, and don’t get discouraged.

Moreover, apply the 13 rules to leadership and at some point, you may ultimately emerge as a leader on the basketball court.

Thanks for Sharing!

Howard Brown -iBall United


About iBall United

A Sports Management, Marketing, and Consulting Agency.
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1 Response to Thirteen (13) Rules for Leadership on the Basketball Court

  1. Love the blog. As a coach, one of my main goals is to help my players become leaders on the court. This will eventually help them become leaders off the court. These 13 rules are well thought out, but like you said, “not everyone is a born leader”. How can I, as a coach and mentor, teach these rules to my players to try and help them become “leaders”?

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