1: The year was 1987. Michael Jordan was establishing himself as one of the best players in the National Basketball Association, if not the best.
And yet, during his first three seasons, his team, the Chicago Bulls, had been swept in the first round of the playoffs, write Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy in Who Not How: The Formula to Achieve Bigger Goals Through Accelerating Teamwork.
“It was clear to the Bulls organization that Michael couldn’t succeed at the highest level—meaning win championships—by himself,” Dan and Ben write. “Although he was the most talented individual player, he needed support.”
So, in the 1987 draft, the Bulls traded for Scottie Pippen, an incoming rookie. Scottie quickly became Robin to Michael’s Batman, and their first year together, the Bulls won their first-round playoff series. They were, however, “destroyed in the second round by the more experienced and more physical Detroit Pistons,” the authors write. The same thing happened the following year.
The Pistons implemented the “Jordan Rules,” where they would double or triple cover Michael each time he had the ball. With Michael out of the action, the Pistons dominated.
2: “By 1989, it was no longer an argument who the best player in basketball was. Michael Jordan, as an individual talent, had no rival. And with the help of [Scottie], the Bulls had broken past their former plateaus and gotten to their own next level. But even with [Michael’s] godly abilities, the Bulls hit another wall,” Dan and Ben recount.
They needed another Who, not solely more of Michael’s How, to achieve their desired outcome: the NBA Championship.
In 1989, the team hired Phil Jackson as head coach. Phil brought with him “a more team-based strategy, rather than relying exclusively on Michael’s superhuman talent,” the authors write. “Jackson installed the triangle offense—a strategy for creating space on the floor with more passing and cutting to get players the open shot.”
Phil asked Michael to share responsibility rather than shoulder it. “Michael blossomed into a brilliant all-around player,” note Dan and Ben. “His vision for what he could ultimately achieve expanded, and the Bulls realized that with an amazing team and coach, they could create something truly special and unique.”
In 1990, the Bulls advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they once again faced the Detroit Pistons. This time the series went to seven games before the Pistons prevailed.
The following year, the Bulls finished the 1991 NBA season with a 61-21 record, the best record in franchise history. This time they swept their hated rivals from Detroit 4-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Next, they defeated the Los Angeles Lakers (led by Magic Johnson). Michael won his second NBA MVP Award and his first NBA championship.
3: The Chicago Bulls won six of eight NBA titles between 1991-1998, “becoming one of the greatest dynasties in sports history,” Dan and Ben write. “Michael Jordan became, some say, the greatest basketball player–if not the greatest athlete–of all time.”
However, all of this success would not have happened if Michael had to do everything himself.
“Sure, he may have won one or two championships,” the authors observe. “He would’ve had an incredible stat sheet. But he would not have emerged as a legend in one of the most dominant dynasties in sports. Michael’s true brilliance was only possible as he transformed into more of a team player, built around a team system, led by a genius coach.”
Michael also partnered with Tim Grover, a strength and conditioning coach, for most of his career. “Tim’s expertise in human physiology and performance was exactly what Michael needed to exceed his own limitations and weaknesses,” write Dan and Ben.
Michael Jordan exemplifies many important lessons for all of us seeking higher levels of achievement and success. “However, the most crucial lesson may be that Michael Jordan was not a self-contained entity,” write Dan and Ben. “His’ potential’ was not innate or fixed, but rather, contextual and relational. Michael Jordan was literally changed and expanded through his team, coaches, and experiences.”
If one of the world’s greatest and most driven athletes needed a Who, not a How, then what about us?
Are we currently trying to shoulder all of the burdens alone?
What would be possible for us if our “capabilities and potential were expanded by other brilliant Who’s?” Dan and Ben ask.
Reflection: When faced with a problem or challenge, do I typically ask “How” or “Who”?
Action: Journal about my answer to the question above.