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Michael Jordan

When All Else Fails
They know how – and when – to adjust their game plan

It was June 14, 1998. The Chicago Bulls trailed the Utah Jazz 86-83 with 40 seconds remaining in what was game six of the NBA Finals. The Bulls held a 3-2 series advantage.

Michael Jordan took the inbounds pass, went straight to the basket and hit a lay-up over Utah defenders, cutting the deficit to one. The Jazz took the ball down court and passed it to all-star forward Karl Malone. Dennis Rodman was guarding Malone, but Jordan slipped behind Malone and swatted the ball away for a steal.

Jordan calmly dribbled the ball up court before stopping to pause at the top of the key. He eyed his defender and, with less then 10 seconds left on the clock, he made his move.

With complete grace, Jordan dribbled to his right before crossing over and stepping back to his left. He cleared his now off-balance defender with his left hand before pulling up from the top of the key. With pure perfection, the ball soared up and in, hitting nothing but the net. As the horn sounded, the Bulls won their sixth NBA title and Jordan his sixth Finals MVP.

Today, Michael Jordan is a living legend. His clutch performance in game six against Utah was just one of the many times Jordan’s late game heroics saved the day and left his opponents helpless.

But it wasn’t always that way. Yes, Michael was always talented, considered one of the most athletically dominant players of his era, able to dunk on nearly any defender. But for him, that wasn’t good enough. He chose to take his game from good to great, and from great to legendary.

jordan 2Some 14 years before, a 21-year-old Michael came into the league at 210 pounds, seemingly able to fly through the air — and hang there! He became an instant celebrity and was named Rookie of the Year in his first season. But it wasn’t until seven years later that he won his first NBA championship. And he was in his mid 30s by the time he beat Utah to win his sixth.

Jordan learned that high-flying dunks brought fame but not necessarily wins. He learned that he could score 40 points a game but, to win a title, he would need to get more out of his teammates.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships,” Jordan would often say as he matured.

The turning point came in 1991. Chicago’s rival, the Detroit Pistons, had knocked Jordan and the Bulls out of the playoffs in three straight seasons. But by this time, Jordan had adapted. Through constant practice, jordan 3he had developed one of the most deadly jump shots in the league. He had also learned how to use his teammates, and realized what he could do to make them better.

This time around, Detroit’s defense was no match for Jordan’s new-and-improved arsenal. He picked apart their double teams by finding open teammates, and when they didn’t double him, he stepped back and hit tough shots.

By changing his game — giving his teammates what they really needed rather than what looked great on television — Jordan took his game, and his team, to the next level. That year, he won his first championship ring.

Tips from the Great Ones

Yes, Michael Jordan could still dunk with the best in the NBA, but for the Bulls to begin their championship run, it couldn’t be the center of his game any longer. To win, the Bulls needed a floor general, and Jordan took on the challenge. When his team needed him most, Jordan adapted. He turned weaknesses into strengths and elevated his game and his team to an elite level.

Jordan knew every season and every game would require him to do something different than before. His talent was tremendous, but it was Michael’s ability to adjust his game plan that made him unstoppable and the greatest player of all time.

jordan 4Because, WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, the truly great, like Michael Jordan, KNOW HOW AND WHEN TO ADJUST THEIR GAME.

In the game of life, adapting yourself and your skill set to meet new challenges is equally important. In a fast-paced world that changes by the day, you can’t afford to be one-dimensional…or to simply do the things you were good at last year.

Depending on the talent that is around you in your organization, you might be asked to do something different than before. The great ones know how to handle that. They are team players, they are not afraid to learn and they are open to taking on new roles.

The quest for success and longevity is everywhere. Tennis players who at 21 are serving a 120 mph aces, learn to develop a great baseline game in their 30s. When veteran football players begin to lose their blazing speed, they work harder at exploiting the angles of the game.

All of those things are what allow you to be successful over an extended period of time. It’s about making yourself part of a championship organization and winning – for the long haul!

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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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