Jim Fiore's Blog
Is there such a thing as an “overnight success?” Personally, I don’t think so and here’s one example I’d like to share with you about an NBA player who’s journey is a compelling example of my reasoning.
It was just a year ago when Hassan Whiteside was practicing his guard skills at a local YMCA in Charlotte, N.C. The 7 foot, 265 lb Center, now a starter for the Miami Heat, was once in a hollow gym wondering where his next opportunity was coming from. Whiteside actually played in 6 different locations professionally before finding a home in Miami.
According to ESPN’s Player Efficiency Rating, the 25-year-old Whiteside is currently the 10th most impactful player in the NBA. The elite class that stands before him on the list is filled with current and potential all-stars. Whiteside’s presence is an anomaly, as he’s jumped from a low D-league prospect to a high impact player for a playoff contending Eastern Conference Team. Through his long journey, there’s a great deal to learn about persistence and fighting against all odds in pursuit of a sports dream.
Whiteside averaged a respectable 13 pts and over 5 blocks per game during his college career at Marshall University. After coming into college, he declared for the NBA draft just after one year and was drafted by the Sacramento Kings as the 33rd pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.
Yes, Whiteside has all of the upside of an ideal NBA center, his talent and size allowed him to lead the nation in blocks during his one season at Marshall. He even charted three triple-doubles in points, rebounds, and blocks on the collegiate level. But team executives across the board put Whiteside’s ability to be a team player and overall determination in question.
After being drafted, Whiteside was soon assigned to the Kings’ D-League affiliate, the Reno Bighorns. Under the Kings organization, Whiteside was recalled twice during his two years of play. But his rookie year was plagued with a partially torn tendon injury which would sideline him for the rest of that season.
In 2012, Whiteside was waived by the Sacramento Kings and would begin his world tour to an additional 5 teams before finding a home in Miami. Whiteside’s path began would continue on to Sioux Falls, S.D., McAllen, Texas, Des Moines, Iowa, China and even Lebanon.
Five years after entering the NBA as a young, 20 year-old rookie, Whiteside finds himself sharing a locker room alongside NBA greats Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The relentless work ethic and openness to change not only externally but internally has led Whiteside to one of the most reputable organizations in the National Basketball Association.
Under the direction of Hall of Fame coach and executive, Pat Riley, the Miami Heat have established a strong culture and direction that has amounted to both individual and team successes. The Heat organization has also instilled group rules and regulations that force Whiteside to better himself on and off the court. His path to an NBA starting role has been quite a journey but it undoubtedly shows that the fight is never over if the desire is strong enough … and “NO” … There’s no such thing as an “overnight success.”
On November 11, I was invited to join the Sports Tao podcast to speak about the landscape of the athletic director position at the collegiate level. I’d personally like to thank Troy Kirby for his invitation and platform to speak on this constantly evolving role in college sports. Been fortunate to work in higher education for over 20 years and have served as a consultant to several organizations for the past two years while also providing leadership as Partner, President and CEO at Dynamic Sports Management. During that time I have been able to sit back watch listen and learn so much about “The Profession”.
Over the years, the role of an athletic director has drastically changed but throughout my career both in and out of higher education I’ve learned that some core traits are needed in order to be successful as an “AD” and a leader.
Highlighted by the explosion in popularity and professionalism of college sports, the responsibilities and expectations have vastly increased for the decision makers (AD’s). The role is catered more towards professionals that are highly trained and experienced at a managerial capacity but also must have a dynamic personality to mange the ever evolving work place that changes quickly and without notice.
In the podcast, I spoke about my experience as the athletic director of Stony Brook University but I also referenced the lessons I learned that define the position and what makes someone successful in that leadership role on a college campus.
In 2012 I was named the Under Armour Northeast Region AD of the Year mainly because of the infrastructural changes, personnel transactions, cultural improvements, team and individual championships and overall fundraising leaps we attained at Stony Brook. Those elements of “judgement” are even more essential for athletic directors currently. One must “be all things to all people” while making very difficult and needed changes.
I would say that there is about 14-15 different really important responsibilities as an athletic director. Personally, I took great satisfaction and pride working with great people and the opportunity to develop and mentor young people (student-athletes, staff, coaches and other entities) was incredibly rewarding.With that said, there are a handful of factors that are used to determine the success of this position.
When operating at such a highly critiqued role, it’s essential that one has an strong personal foundation at his/her core. One must have strong faith and personal confidence that will pull them through the difficult decisions that this position may require and any and all fall out of such decisions. One must have a loyal and strong inner circle within the workplace and outside and away from the office.
Being an athletic director requires a great deal of leadership because it is an all encompassing role with many moving parts. But, personally, I believe that a potential athletic director must do the following to sustain and grow as an employee as well as grow the university’s program. They must have a strong core confidence, be introspective, secure tight knit and trusted inner circle, be able to manage BOTH “up” and “down”, and have the ability to develop, articulate and sell a vision and mission for success. You must have strong interpersonal skills. Such, vision and mission for success must be communicated effectively through all levels of the organization internally and externally.
It’s also essential to have prior managerial experience because collegiate sports has evolved into a business just as much as it is a past time. Finally, you must have faith in your decisions. The reality is that the skill-sets of successful college athletic administrators vary per case just like the the role itself does. Division I institutions employ hundreds of staff members and place a large focus to generate revenue and fundraising which leaves an array of responsibilities for the athletic director.
Though the landscape of the collegiate athletic director is changing, the principles that make a successful athletic director still stand. Maintaining a voice that’s in-line with the university’s vision of the athletic department is mandatory, but the determining factor are the values and goals that you’ve set for yourself. It is a great profession with great people and the opportunity to develop and mentor young people (student-athletes, staff, coaches and other entities) is a responsibility that is both humbling, enticing and incredibly rewarding.
Let me first state the I love Steph Curry’s game, his humility and his overall brand. I’ve never met Curry but we share several mutual friends and acquaintances who, for many years, have raved to me about him as a young man, competitor and player.
I endeavor to teach my only child life lessons through sports. Michael, now 13, grew up around athletics from the crib to 8th grade. He’s passionate about athletics and the people associated with sport. Most, if not ALL, his role models are involved in the world of professional sports and I’m grateful that Stephen Curry is one of the few.
Recently, Michael and I were discussing Curry and I felt like I didn’t know enough details about him to have a well thought out perspective and conversation with my son. So, I did what everyone smart father does … I “googled” him! What I learned was a lesson in perseverance and thus, felt the need to relate my new found knowledge to Michael (and to you). This past weekend, Michael and I talked about Curry the “player”, the “person”, and his resilient journey towards reaching his sports dreams.
Shooting on the muddy, outdoor court in his grandfather’s driveway, Steph Curry began to develop one of the more spectacular skill sets that the NBA has seen from the humblest of beginnings. Curry told ESPN, “It was ‘make it or chase it’ out there, and if you missed, it was terrible.” To keep the ball from getting dirty and wandering off into the messy terrain beyond the court, Curry sought perfection with every shot and that characteristic proved consistent throughout his career.
The Curry family legacy didn’t manifest in his physical presence, but it’s molded an unusual determination. Dell Curry, Steph’s father, is an NBA veteran and after playing 16 years he retired as the Charlotte Hornets’ all-time leader in points and three-point field goals made. Steph’s hopes to follow in his dad’s footsteps were bleak at first but surprisingly his story of perseverance bred him into a bigger star than his father could have imagined.
Steph Curry was born in Akron, Ohio but raised in Charlotte, North Carolina during his father’s tenure there. Curry’s father often took him and his younger brother Seth Curry to his games where they first saw the NBA stage they’d eventually evolve to and join. But Curry’s path wasn’t always destined for this level of limelight.
The thin, 5-8 frame at 150 pounds put noticeable obstacles in front of Curry from an early age. As a sophomore at Charlotte Christian School, Curry was already at a physical disadvantage but his shooting mechanics at the time wouldn’t work even on the high school court. During his sophomore year, Curry faced his first on-the-court obstacle and it took him a great deal of practice to change something so fundamental. Although it was necessary his changed his shot form and dramatically improved the speed of his release. As Curry said, “When it came to basketball, I was always the smallest kid on my team. I had a terrible, ugly, catapult shot from the time I was 14 because I wasn’t strong enough to shoot over my head, and I had to reconstruct that over the summer and it was the worst three months of my life. You’d think there are no hurdles or obstacles that I had to overcome, but even when I got to high school I wasn’t ranked. I wasn’t highly touted as a high school prospect. I had nobody really running, knocking on my door saying “Please, please, please come play for our school,”
Steph is such a basketball connoisseur, took charge in building a better skill set despite the chatter that his size would keep him from reaching the big stage. He often took 1,000 shots before practice with the thought pressure that his father was a well respected shooter in the NBA and Curry would also endure comparisons. After a summer of hard work, Curry began to perfect his lightning-quick form and shooting efficiency. The emerging prospect was named all-state, all-conference, and led his team to three conference titles and three state playoff appearances.
By senior year Steph Curry grew to a respectable 6 ft tall, 160-pound senior but he hadn’t received any scholarship offers from any major-conference schools. Curry’s dream was to follow in his dad’s collegiate choice and play for the Virginia Tech Hokies. His dad finished his career with his jersey hanging in the rafters, second all-time leading scorer, first all time in steals and the 14th overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft. The coaching staff at Tech only offered Steph a “walk-on” position. Big mistake. He was obviously disappointed, yet highly motivated to prove to himself and others that he was worthy of a high major scholarship.
But Steph’s hard work and development did earn him scholarship offers from “mid major” basketball programs like Davidson, VCU, and Winthrop. He chose Davidson and brought the university a great deal of notoriety, especially for an institution who hadn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1969. Nonetheless, Davidson would reap the rewards of Curry’s perseverance.
The sharpshooter set a freshman record during his first year at Davidson with 122 three-point shots in 2006-2007. Sophomore season in 2008, the Davidson star only increased his production. He set another 3-point record but more importantly, brought the Davidson Wildcats within one game of the Final Four before a close loss to a stacked Kansas. Kansas went on to win the national title that year but Curry’s performance gained national recognition as well.
Curry’s collegiate career was beyond unexpected, but the goals he set out to achieve weren’t easy tasks by any means. His story of perseverance rallied against the lack of physical presence that’s helpful to play basketball at a high level. But without a major scholarship offer, Steph Curry is the epitome of striving through all odds with personal belief, faith, talent, hard work and relentless perseverance.
In the 2009 NBA Draft, Curry was drafted No. 7 overall by the Golden State Warriors and became the lowest draft pick to win the NBA MVP since Kobe Bryant’s first ring in 2008 (Bryant was drafted 13th overall). In 2014-15, Steph lead the Warriors to a franchise best 67 wins and their first NBA Championship since in 40 years (1975).
After being awarded the NBA Finals MVP Trophy Curry stated, “If you take time to realize what your dream is and what you really want in life– no matter what it is, whether it’s sports or in other fields– you have to realize that there is always work to do, and you want to be the hardest working person in whatever you do, and you put yourself in a position to be successful. And you have to have a passion about what you do. Basketball was mine, and that’s what’s carried me to this point.”
Thank you, Steph Curry, for the lesson in perseverance and hard work!
Control What You Can Control
All of us at some point in our lives go through hard times and difficult circumstances. These periods of
anxiety, stress and despair often makes us feel as though we are not in control of our destiny and our “end game.” While we cannot control what happens to us in our lives, we CAN control what we will feel and do about what happens to us. Admittedly, I have struggled at times throughout my life in dealing with adversity, a personal attack or a situation beyond my control, but I am proud to say I’ve experienced great improvement in this area of my life in recent years. Thanks in large part to introspection, love of family and true friends and supporting others in need. I am blessed beyond belief.
Forces beyond our control can take away everything we possess except one thing, our freedom to choose how we will respond to the difficult situation. Life is meaningful and we must learn to see life as meaningful despite our circumstances, finances, job responsibilities, social status, marital challenges, religion, gender, race, etc.
The famous playwright, Arthur Miller, wrote a play named Incident at Vichy in which an upper-middle class professional man appears before the Nazi authority that has occupied his town and shows his credentials: his university degrees, his letters of reference from prominent citizens, and so on. The Nazi asks him, “is that everything you have?” The man nods. The Nazi throws it all in the wastebasket and tells him: “good, now you have nothing.” The man, whose self-esteem had always depended on the respect of others, is emotionally destroyed.
The point being and in my eyes the moral of that short story is that we are never left with nothing as long as we retain the freedom to choose how we will respond to our circumstances.
Stay positive … have faith … be good to others
I thoroughly enjoyed the NBA finals this year. Specifically, I enjoyed Steve Kerr and Mark Jackson and the juxtaposition of the two. Kerr the current coach and Jackson the former coach who built the foundation for the Warriors run to a championship.
I’m a firm believer champions are so much more than what we see on the field, court, etc. To me, “real” champions are people who give and show respect to their elders, to those that supported them when unknown and when most needed. “Real” champions are those that remain humble and classy in the most difficult of times. They show leadership and dignity when its easy to run or fuel anger or resentment. “Real” champions don’t just encourage you when you are striving and thriving, they lift and carry you when you stumble and fall. They lead in toughest of times and have appropriate messages in best of times.
BOTH Steve Kerr and Mark Jackson are “real” Champions…. here’s why:
I recently watched an interview with Steve Kerr, first year head coach of the 2015 NBA world champion Golden State Warriors. I always enjoyed and admired Kerr from afar; from his college playing days at Arizona, through his NBA career as a player and role player, into his career as a media member and broadcaster and now as a new head coach in the NBA. Heck, I even enjoyed his articulate and thoughtful analysis on my sons video games as the commentator for NBA 2K series! All that said, nothing he’s ever said hit me harder than when I heard him say the following in an interview about his parents:
“My parents literally showed me a whole world that existed beyond typical American culture. They gave me an education in understanding people, in being compassionate and respectful. They taught me that people may speak or dress differently, or have customs or beliefs foreign to me. It was important to not only understand those differences, but to embrace them as well.”
Kerr’s statement was pure Class, respect, maturity, leadership and humility …. it showed why he is a “real” champion. I sent a text to my son this morning with the aforementioned quote and the following introduction:
Dear son, You should know your mom and dad try to do same for you. We love you. Have a great day. Daddy
On the other hand, there was Mark Jackson, sitting court side, serving as an analyst in front of the largest TV audience to watch the NBA Finals. The FORMER coach of the Golden State Warriors. Fired a year earlier after building a team from an “also ran” to play-off contender in three short years. After inheriting a team that had made the playoffs just once in the previous 17 years, Jackson took a team with a 23–43 record during his first season and led the Warriors to a 47–35 record and a sixth place seeding in the Western Conference in his second season. It was the first time the Warriors had made the playoffs since the 2006–07 season. The Warriors defeated the Denver Nuggets 4–2 in the first round of NBA Playoffs, but lost to the San Antonio Spurs 4–2 in the Western Conference Semifinals. The following season, the Warriors improved to 51–31, the team’s first season with 50 or more wins since 1993-94. They reached the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1992. However, the Warriors lost the first round of the playoffs to the LA Clippers in seven games and he was fired on May 6, 2014.
So, last night as his former organization, former employer and former athletes were celebrating there first NBA title in 40 years, there sat Jackson having to address and analyze the championship, watch from court side and talk to millions upon millions of viewers about the scene unfolding in front of him. What did he do? He showed poise, humility, class, dignity and respect. He took the high road and praised his former employer and celebrated the coach that replaced him and praised the work ethic and commitment of the players. Here is a quote he said at the end of the telecast that I immediately wrote down and shared with my son in a teaching moment about total class & humility displayed by Mark Jackson:
“This is about them. Steve Kerr and this organization. It’s their moment. They earned it and should celebrate it.”
I can’t reiterate enough what it truly means to be a “Real” champion, but we can take the cues of two “Champions” in Steve Kerr and Mark Jackson. Thank you to both for allowing teachable moments for kids and adults alike.
Stay positive … have faith … be good to others
“Everyone is Fighting A Battle You Know Nothing About”
I am a true believer in the aforementioned statement … i think of those words often and try to keep them in the forefront of my daily interactions with people I come in contact with in my life – personally and professionally. Truth be told, that mind set has allowed me to help, forgive and manage relationships with those that pass in and out of my life.
Here is a small story and example I’d like to share:
I have been driving around with a “SERVICE DUE” light on in my car for over a month. A friend urged me to get to the 10 minute oil change spot, free car wash too. BONUS! Why wasn’t I taking care of business? I have ten minutes….not to mention, I needed it for my car to be protected and drive safely. DONE. I head to the shop with my summer reading book in tow (just in case I am there longer than the advertised ten minutes).
I pull in and am immediately signaled down by the employee (Henry) to pull back, move over, his head shaking in frustration at me. I am confused but pull back, put my car in the other lane and ask if that’s ok? He said, “Sure, if you want to wait 30 minutes.” Immediately, I turn into “Efficient Jim, No BS Jim,” and “You’re not going to get away with talking to me/treating me like that…Jim.” You might know him…he comes around every so often …. I march into the shop and ask to talk to a manager, but I am told he’s gone for three hours. I was told to ask for another General Manager, he won’t come speak with me as he is busy with another issue. Now. I. Am. Fuming. Other customers agreeing, seeing what just went down. I feel good, I am “right.” Really, this guy is disrespecting me? I grew up in a family owned and operated customer service business and throughout my life I work with customers every day .. I say to myself “I would never treat a customer this way.” It was ingrained into my DNA that “the customer is always right!”
I walk outside and the Henry pulls a different car into the open lane I had just occupied. Okay. Now you KNOW I am not going to let this one go! He goes on to tell me that was MY choice to move the car, blah, blah, blah …. I feel like I am in the “Twilight Zone” … I am not getting thru to Henry and he’s having zero luck justifying what just went down. We are not listening to each other and we are both too frustrated to take the time. He ultimately “agrees” to take my car and eventually comes into the waiting room shop to share I need a few “extra services.” In other words, much more expensive that originally anticipated… yeah right …
At this point I am heated … “Okay”, I say to myself “I got this.” After all I remind myself at this moment, “Everyone Is Fighting A Battle You Know Nothing About” … I suggest we hit the “reset button”.
I offer my hand in a handshake and say “Henry … Friends?” and introduce myself appropriately. After some small talk, I sensed he was just having a bad day. The grown man starts crying and shares he lost his grandmother (who raised him) the night before. I immediately give him a warm embrace (whispered words of support), thanked him for sharing his loss with me and encouraged him to make the most of the rest of the afternoon. WOW.
I went back inside, I shared my experience with the woman at the cashier counter. I asked her to pass Henry’s issue along to the owner to please watch out for him, bought a card -best one you can find at the car wash- and left him a note with a generous tip. Hopefully one he can justify taking a personal day off with the contents of the envelope.
I think Henry and I both learned a valuable lesson that day and I am grateful for that experience.
The lesson? “Be nice … for everyone you meet, is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
Stay positive … have faith … be good to others