Sam Walker, an editor at the Wall Street Journal, has recently published a book reporting a research project of his to identify the greatest sports teams of modern times and explore why they were successful. He identified sixteen teams as fitting his criteria for greatness. When he investigated these teams, he found the critical common factor was the player-leader of the team or as he calls this player, the Captain.
These Captains were team centric, not ego centric. Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs was an example. He forewent higher stats and salary as well as endorsements and media attention to concentrate on the good of his team.
According to Richard Felton in Business Insider, "Walker determined that elite captains like Duncan have seven traits.
1. They are extremely resilient.
2. They play to the limits of the rules.
3. They do thankless jobs.
4. They communicate clearly with all members of their team.
5. They motivate through nonverbal displays.
6. They have strong convictions and aren't afraid to be different.
7. They have total control of their emotions."
[The book is $13.99 on Amazon, but I did not buy it because now that I have had to give up Ramen Noodles because of their high salt content, my food prices have soared. However, I am sure many GSoMers could afford it as its price is a small fraction of the cost of going to a GSW game.]
Walker’s result raised two questions in my mind.
• Does GSW have such a leader?
• Does SAS still have such a leader now that Duncan is gone?
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS PLAYER LEADERSHIP
Three players have most frequently mentioned in descriptions of GSW team leadership – Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant. These three and Andre Iguodala have been designated Co-Captains during recent times – not clear if this is still true for 2017-18. Currently, they have various levels of conformance to these seven points. Here is a synopsis of my observations. Feel free to disagree or expand regarding these in the comments.
• Draymond Green fails point 7, emotional control, but actually doesn’t do that badly on the others.
• Stephen Curry is not known for 3, doing thankless jobs, and his control of his emotions is not entirely total but close. (This, of course, presumes for 5 that shimmies motivate his current teammates. Something they did not do for Bogut.)
• Kevin Durant does meet number 7, total control of his emotions, but appears weaker than the two others at 3-5, do thankless jobs, communicate clearly with all team members, and non-verbal motivation.
• Andre Iguodala may come closest to meeting all seven points although I have not frequently noticed nonverbal motivation. In 2015-16, Iguodala reportedly was chosen as Co-Captain over Green and Thompson.
With the exception of Green, all four have had moments when their willingness to sacrifice money to play for the team or in Curry’s case at least reportedly professed to have. None have been as self-effaced as Duncan or centered their attention so exclusively on the team, but few have. However, all have a team-first attitude – though I seem to remember that some heaves have occurred after the buzzer.
Sam Walker writes about players who were already Captains. Today, picking the Captain in Walker’s sense among GSW players is not as easy as it was in 2015-16 when Curry was the clear-cut leader. g NBA teams given rough equivalence in experience, the best player tends to become the leader. For GSW, many hold firm opinions on who is the better player – Curry or Durant.
Whether having two candidates for a Walker-style Captain will hurt GSW seems questionable in the short term given GSW’s talent edge. However, according to Walker, talent without a Captain’s leadership has not been sustainable at the level of being one of the greatest teams of all time.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS PLAYER LEADERSHIP
Now that Tim Duncan has retired, Kawhi Leonard is the leading candidate to become a Captain in Walker’s sense. While he certainly has 7, total emotional control conquered, verbal and nonverbal communication with teammates are still weaknesses. This is about his only shortcomings regarding the points on the list. He is resilient, plays to the limit of the rules to obtain foul calls, does the thankless jobs such as hustling and defending, and has strong convictions not being afraid to be different.
Leonard has stated that during the summer of 2016 he worked on leadership and that this continues to emphasized in his areas for improvement. Reportedly, he has substantially improved. Given how he has improved in other areas during his time in the NBA, some would find it hard to bet against him mastering this as well. However, basic personality factors seldom change in adults, so some level of skepticism is probably appropriate.
If the widely held expectation that several SAS players will opt out in the summer of 2018 actually occurs, then SAS might acquire a leader that would fit Walker’s criteria.
While GSW does not appear to be in immediate danger, resolving any uncertainty in player leadership eventually needs to occur. SAS currently does not have a player leader that fits Walker’s criteria to the degree Duncan did. The only immediate candidate is Leonard. However, he needs to further substantially improve his communication skills.