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NBA and team work

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I got chance to watch some NBA games lately. I am not a big NBA fan because I don’t have cable at home and I felt it takes too much time (usually 2.5 hrs) to watch a game. I told my friends who are big NBA (Yao Ming) fans that I only need to watch the final 5 minutes because that’s when a game gets decided most of the time.

Anyway back to the games. Last week there are a few superstars made steller performance in some games. Kobe Bryan made 62 points in 3 quarters against Dallas. Vince Carter scored 51 points against Miami. Both Bryan and Carter’s teams won the games. Then there is this amazing story, Allen Iverson scored 53 points but his team Philadelphia lost to Atlanta. I don’t know what exactly happened in that game. But I started to watch Allen’s game since 2000 and I can guess what happened. Allen, who is only 6 feet tall and 165 pounds in weight, is the most agile player in the NBA. I remember somebody (maybe his former coach Larry Brown) said “pound for pound, he is the best player in the league”. But at the same time, Allen sometimes relies too much on himself without passing the balls to his teammates. Basket ball is a team sport. Star player or team leader is very important. They make shots in the crunch time (final 5 minutes). Allen, Kobe, Robert Horry, Tracy McGrady and many others are those kinds of the guy. But superstars are not supermans. They can have injuries, illness or just bad days. During those times, their teammates’ help is more critical. Even if they are on the top of the game, they need to get their teammate involved. Because if you don’t make your teammate look good, they won’t make you look good too.

This can be applied to the software development and other businesses. In “mythical man month” I read an exceptional software developer can be as productive as 300 average developers. I believed it. I think the founders of Netscape, Yahoo and Google are those kinds of guy. That’s cool. But what’s more amazing is those guys are not running the show themselves. They know their limit especially in the business side so they asked some senior people to join the team. The results are obvious — success of the companies.

This does not means average developer (like me) are totally hopeless. First I think “exceptional developer” is very rare. My brother and I went to Google campus recently and saw some Google people at the packing lot. My brother’s comment was “they are average people like we are except they are lucky enough to be hired by Google”. So here is the hint: join a winning team. I am not saying “jump to the Google now” because they raised the bar very much. There are many winning teams including your current employer (you may not realize it). Do your work and help your teammates. Make your boss look good. They will make you look good too.

Back to NBA. My favorite team is Detroit pistons. In 2004 when they won the NBA champion they don’t have a guy in the All Stars game. The 5 starters are good players but are not at the level of Shaq and Kobe. But they beated the LA Lakers by the teamwork. 2005 Champion San Antonio Spurs is also that kind of team. Tim Ducan is a superstar but he is probablly most unselfish superstar in the league.

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