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How Experience Can Become Your Tangible Intangible: A Lesson From The Golden State Warriors

Not too long ago, I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine that I’ll call Bob, mostly because that’s his name. Bob works in Vegas as a casino host, and Bob knows just about everything there is to know about betting lines, propositions, and numbers.

In fact, there’s not much that Bob doesn’t know about the science and magic of professional wagering.

Bob brought up a very interesting point: the most experienced bookmakers in the world don’t put a lot of stock in certain numbers, especially in high stakes games like the Super Bowl or the NBA playoffs.

While the average fan might chat endlessly about which player is on a hot streak, or which team has the most high-round talent, the men and women tasked with making money off the betting public aren’t interested in who’s hot or who’s hyped.

Instead, they’re looking for something entirely different.

“We’re looking to see which team has the most players with experience in high-pressure games,” Bob said.

If this sounds hard to believe, you’re not alone. I pressed him on his idea because it sounded ridiculous. Surely a player on a streak would impact the outcome more than a team with something as nebulous as “experience.”

“Nope,” he insisted. “When it comes to which team is going to perform in the clutch, we look for the team that has guys who’ve been there before.”

“What if they’ve been there and failed?” I asked.

“They’ve still been there,” he replied. “And now they know what it will take to get back and win. They know they are big enough for the moment.”

I’ve thought about Bob’s comment over the past few days as the Portland Trailblazers wilted in their Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors. Portland has an incredibly talented team, but they’re sitting home today after being swept in four straight games.

Now, Golden State is a monster of a team. Even without their superstar Kevin Durant, they still trot out a roster that includes Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. Those are three insanely talented basketball players, but what you’re seeing from them against Portland isn’t talent.

It’s the mental muscle built on experience. Curry said as much in an interview after his team’s Game Four Win when he was asked how they battled back from double-digit deficits in two straight games: “We’ve been here before,” he said with a shrug. “We’ve seen everything.”

Sure, Curry may be able to shoot the ball from the bleachers, and Green’s defense is so air-tight that a breeze couldn’t get around him, but if talent were all that mattered, the list of NBA—and all of professional sports—champions would be radically different.

Charles Barkley would have a ring. So would George Gervin. Or Steve Nash. Or Dominique Wilkins.

Dare I even mention James Harden? The Houston Rocket guard knows first-hand how little sway talent holds over experience—the Warriors dropped him out of the playoffs for the right to face Portland in the Western Finals.

Spending time on the big stage is important in sports, but it’s important in your field as well. You may not have a championship pedigree like the Warriors, but you can certainly develop one. It takes is a willingness to play big in big moments—to give your best effort when things are on the line.

You might lose, but that’s the value of experience: you can always go back and learn how to get better, do things differently, prepare yourself better for the next time around. My friend, leadership expert John C. Maxwell, says that evaluated experience leads to insight—and insight leads to breakthroughs.

And if you win, then you have a treasure trove of experience to draw from for the next project because you understand what it takes to succeed.

Maybe your resume doesn’t read like a champion’s, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value to be found there. Your failures, near-misses, and less-than-expected outcomes are full of potential insights that could catapult you to success if you’ll learn from them. Just because your numbers aren’t great, it doesn’t mean that you’re unworthy of betting on.

That’s my friend Bob’s message, anyway. The tangible intangible of experience is worth more than all the other numbers you might find.

Portland’s loss will be another layer of experience for Damian Lillard and his team. An experience that might just make the difference in next year’s playoffs.

You don’t have to be the most talented person on the court to play big in big moments. All you need is a little experience—and the ability to learn while gaining that experience—and you might just find yourself on the winning end of something special.

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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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