It’s 1985. The Los Angeles Lakers have just won game five of the NBA Finals to take a 3-2 series lead against the uber-talented Philadelphia 76ers. They are one win away from being World Champions.
But their best player, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the greatest scorers in NBA history, has sprained his ankle. He’s out for the rest of the series.
“So even though we’re ahead three to two,” Lakers Coach Pat Riley remembers in Peter Guber’s Tell to Win, a powerhouse book about storytelling. “Players are coming to me saying, ‘We’re going to get beat.’”
But 19-year old Lakers rookie Magic Johnson didn’t see it that way.
“I know what the problem is. All of you guys are afraid because Kareem isn’t here,” Pat remembers Magic saying.
“Well, I’ll be Kareem.”
Seat 1A in the front of the Lakers place was reserved for Kareem. Even when he was sick, no one sat there. “He’d put a sign there,” Pat recalls: “DON’T SIT IN MY SEAT. I’M KAREEM.”
When the Lakers boarded their flight to Philadelphia, Magic was sitting in seat 1A.
“Hey, I’m Kareem,” Magic told his teammates. “I’m here.”
Magic was the team’s point guard. In game six in Philadelphia, he played Kareem’s position at center.
“In game six,” Pat shares, “the greatest game ever played by a rookie in the NBA was played by Earvin Magic Johnson. He had 42 points, 15 rebounds, 13 assists, 7 steals. We won 123 to 107.
“And he was Kareem.”
“IT’S MAGIC,” read the next day’s Los Angeles Times headline. The Lakers won the NBA championship and Magic won the NBA finals Most Valuable Player Award.
“The irony is, Earvin Johnson’s greatest act of magic was the story he told to move his team into believing he was their hero,” writes Peter. “He pulled it off because he knew he was up to the role and because his ultimate goal was to benefit them all.
“And therein lies the moral of the story for other purposeful tellers who dare to cast themselves as heroes,” Peter writes. “True teller-heroes are generous as well as powerful. They never lose sight of what’s in their story for their audience. And they only cast themselves as heroes if they know they can deliver.”
Reflection: Consider a current challenge. Is there a story I can tell where I can cast myself as the hero to inspire those around me and deliver?
Action: Tell it.