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Chris Paul

Ultimate Teammate…
The truly great will assume whatever role is necessary for the team to win.

The 2008 United States Olympic Basketball Team had one goal in mind: to recapture the gold after earning the bronze in 2004. Dubbed “The Redeem Team,” the roster read like a future Hall of Fame ballot with names like Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Jason Kidd, and Dwight Howard listed one after another. Even the “second string,” anchored by Chris Paul, was outstanding.

After being selected fourth overall in the NBA draft following his sophomore year of college, winning the 2006 Rookie of the Year title, being named to the All-NBA and All-Defensive Teams, and leading the New Orleans Hornets to the second round of the 2008 NBA playoffs, Chris Paul wouldn’t generally be anyone’s second string. And yet, when the starting players took the court, Paul was still on the bench as the back-up for Kidd, who had previously played on the USA’s 2000 Olympic team. Paul knew his numbers were good enough to start; he knew his moves were strong enough to score on anyone in the world. But he made a point of keeping quiet rather than challenging his position as a non-starter. Why? Because, simply put, Chris Paul has always been more concerned about the success of his team than he is about his own personal glory.

In high school, Paul had a chance to break the North Carolina state high school scoring record of 66 points in a single game. But with the goal easily in his grasp and his team well ahead on the scoreboard, he took himself out of the game after scoring 61 points as a senior. His grandfather had been beaten to death in a robbery just a few days earlier, and Paul sought to reach the 61 point mark in his honor, marking one point for each year of his grandfather’s life. In a recent interview for a story in SUCCESS Magazine, Chris told me that the scoring record wasn’t the number that mattered to him. He even intentionally missed a free-throw so that the box score would reflect his grandfather’s age as Chris’ final tally.

The same was true of Paul in college. Playing for Wake Forest, he earned numerous freshman honors, including the National Freshman of the Year, and was named as a First Team All-American his sophomore year. Though he could score at will, he became known as among the game’s greatest passers, more concerned with getting the ball to an open teammate than scoring the basket himself.

Paul’s NBA record reflects his team spirit, as well. He has made his mark as one of the greatest point guards to play the game, making sure that the ball gets to the right player at the right time. His first season, Paul had more assists (as well as points, steals and minutes) than any other new player in the league-and as his career goes on, his numbers keep climbing.

Tips from the Great Ones

As the 2008 USA Olympic Basketball Team prepared for Beijing, many sports analysts questioned how such a dynamic and game-changing player like Paul would react to finding himself on the roster behind the aging but savvy Kidd. But anyone looking for a new rivalry or an angry outburst was disappointed. Paul did what Paul does best-he put the team ahead of his own ego, and never challenged the decision.

Olympics Day 14 - BasketballThat’s not to say that he didn’t make an impact anyway. In fact, despite not being Team USA’s starting point guard, Paul still had plenty of playing time, finishing the Olympic basketball tournament with the third most minutes played, behind only LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

Even though Chris Paul is the kind of player who can light up the scoreboard every night, he seldom dominates a game with his shooting and he doesn’t insist on being the star. He makes his invaluable contribution not only by his dynamic skills on the court, but by his spirit of teamwork and his understanding that there are greater goals than just personal records.

Individual skills are essential for a team’s success, but only as far as they lift the entire team with them. When a person becomes obsessed with the attention and accolades of being a super star, they can often damage their overall winning record by damaging their team’s cohesive chemistry. By engaging those same skills to elevate the team towards a common goal, the individuals are ultimately doubly-honored both for what their team accomplished and for how they each helped to move that team towards victory.

chris3Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, is an avid believer in the importance of supporting the overall vision of the team more than seeking a personal goal. “Numbers aren’t the vision,” he explains. “Numbers are the products.” His management model puts the success of the company, or the team within the company, first. This keeps the shared goal in mind, but doesn’t make it the only object. With teammates focusing on how to combine efforts to achieve the desired end, the desired numbers will naturally follow.

Identify one thing today that you could do to make a colleague’s life easier. It could be lending a hand with a major project or just picking up lunch for someone whose desk is piled high at the moment. Whatever the gesture, you’ll be helping to foster a sense of cohesion by letting your co-workers know that you support their unique place on your overall team. A supportive, rather than undercutting, atmosphere will raise everyone’s productivity as you reach for success together. Chris Paul understood the importance of this-and it helped his team rise to Olympic gold.

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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