I picked up basketball my freshman year of college, joining my friends and floormates at the gym to play a game of pickup. Since then, I’ve played a few hundred games of pickup and have been a part of several intramural teams. When I was younger, I would shoot around at the local outdoor courts, but never played competitively or invested my time into getting better.
Although I still don’t consider myself very good and believe I have a lot of room to grow, I’ve played basketball long enough to understand some of the underlying strategies and read a situation to make the right decision. Over the past five years, I’ve made some observations about the sport to draw some general conclusions about the way people play and act on the court. To be more specific, I’ve drawn several parallels between the characteristics of specific types of basketball players and people in a typical office.
For me, there are people I enjoy playing with and people I hate playing with. However, how much I like or dislike other players have nothing to do with their skill levels, but rather their mindsets on the court. Everyone has unique playing styles, characterized by their strengths, weaknesses, and attitudes. When five people who have never met each other play together, it’s interesting to see how their individual personalities and play styles boil down and mesh together in a team setting.
Although this might be a gross generalization, the main conclusion I’ve drawn is that the way someone plays on the court is a reflection of their personality off the court. In particular, I’ve noticed that it’s also representative of the way that person behaves in a professional setting, whether it be school or work.
Note: In this article, I’m not focusing on amateurs that have just started, but on those who have been playing for a few years now. I’m also not focusing on the stereotypes of players that you encounter when you play a game of pickup, although you can watch a video from Dude Perfect here, which perfectly encapsulates 99% of the people I’ve met on the courts. In addition, although I write about basketball in this article, this also applies to other team sports that require a high level of teamwork.
Most people aspire to be leaders. Upon hearing the term “leader”, my mind instantly conjures images of heroism and valor.
In the basketball world, Tim Duncan and Lebron James are regarded as some of the best basketball players of all time. Although Duncan and James have disparate play styles and demeanors, they share many similar traits. Both players are able to make their teammates better through their on-court coaching and ability to galvanize action in their teammates. Even though their teammates might not be the best players individually, Duncan and James are able to bring the best out of everyone and make sure everyone plays their role on the team.
Translated to a professional setting, a player like this takes on leadership roles in the classroom or office. Gone are the days where bosses are expected to drive results through carrot-and-stick incentives, but rather through their positions as a servant-leaders. In today’s highly competitive business world, the antiquated approach of purely bossing others around is in precipitous decline; it’s almost expected now that bosses work in close conjunction with their employees to ensure success. Through these leaders’ actions and interactions with others, you’re able to tell that they’re driven to succeed and want to help their organization succeed. A leader doesn’t overshadow others; rather, he or she drives results by example, serves as a mentor to others, and encourages others to perform their best.
Two specialists in the NBA today include Isaiah Thomas and Andre Roberson. Thomas is seen as an offensive asset, yet his defense is seen as a liability. His stature is short in comparison to other point guards on the court, making it hard for him to contend shots defensively. Although he might get an occasional stop or steal, teams rely on him to carry the team offensively to (hopefully) overshadow his defensive shortcomings.
Likewise, Andre Roberson lies on the other extreme. Some say his expertise on defense makes enough of a difference to win the Oklahoma City Thunder all of their games, yet others ridicule his inability to provide any offensive value. During Round 1, Game 4 of 2017 NBA finals against the Houston Rockets, Roberson only hit two of his twelve free throws at the line after the Rockets deployed their “hack-a-Roberson” strategy. However, he’s still a starter on the Thunder and plays valuable minutes because of his ability to consistently contribute defensively.
Specialists play to their strengths both on and off the court. They know that even though they might be lacking knowledge in a few areas, they’re able to more than make up for it with their focus in a particular area of expertise. For example, at my company, there’s an employee who is well-revered for his ability to create beautiful and amazing data visualizations. He has no previous experience in marketing, operations, finance, nor does he possess a deep understanding of how our company operates in the financial sector; however, many people in the technology department go to him when they need help creating visualizations. As many coaches tell their players, “You don’t need to score the ball as long as you’re able to play good D.”
Allen Iverson and Dennis Rodman have been exalted as some of the most driven to play the game of basketball. To see clips of them constantly diving for loose balls and performing stunts on the court that no one else will causes me to venerate their grit and hustle. The willingness to sacrifice ones body is admirable, although some might view it as foolish and stupidly selfless. Each time a player throws himself into the crowd in order to save a ball or plays when he’s sick increases the risk of sustaining season-ending injuries or poses a threat to the length of his career. These players want to win, and its definitely visible through the way they play and perform night to night.
In an interview with Iverson from the early 2000s, he harangues a reporter who questions him about his practicing habits, commenting: “[We] talking about practice. Not a game. Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last.” After hearing from Gary Payton that Coach George Karl sometimes made practices optional, Iverson started missing practices, wanting to prolong his career. Even so, towards the end of his career, Iverson was seen as washed up due the raft of injuries that had affected nearly every part of his body. Yet, his love and passion for the game still rings resoundingly in the hearts of NBA fans to this day.
Similarly, Rodman had a similar attitude towards the game of basketball. Aside from the substance abuse, the weird hair and attire, and his peculiar connection to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, Rodman’s hustle, ferocity, grit, and willingness to sacrifice himself on the court deserves accolades aside from his Hall of Fame induction. As this Bleacher Report article states, “He is the embodiment of a team player. He doesn’t demand the ball. He knows his role and performs it to absolute historic perfection.”
Perhaps it’s interesting how Rodman and Iverson were two of the biggest characters in the NBA, but on the court, Rodman and Iverson are prime exemplars of the type of people I love playing with and strive to emulate. Regardless of how poorly my teammates shoot or how mismatched they are, as long as they make a valiant effort, no matter the circumstances, they earn a page of respect in my book. In a professional setting, these are the people that take on additional responsibilities without complaining, get their hands deep into the work that no one else wants to do, or essentially do everything in their power to ensure that the team stays afloat. These are the people you want on your team; they are the unsung heroes who help propel a team forward.
In addition to respectable players I enjoy playing with, I’ll sometimes run into people I hate playing with too. Occasionally, I encounter ball hogs, players who either carry the team to victory through complete confidence or throw away the game through their selfishness and low basketball IQs. Regardless, in both cases, their behavior tends to err on the side of instigating animosity in their teammates. The first reason is because the ball is usually in the hands of the ball hog, so others don’t get as much playing time. This detracts from the overall morale and effort of others on the team. Secondly, by monopolizing the ball, the ball hog usually forgoes better decisions in place of taking lower percentage shots, making it more difficult for the team to win.
Some people only call a player a ball hog when he or she is the only person on the team that can score well compared to others on the team. However, when it comes to pickup basketball, these players struggle to see that others on the court also want a role on the team, so it doesn’t make sense to continuously dominate control of the ball.
In the NBA, two of the most notorious ball hogs of all time are Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant. Basketball is a team sport, not an individual sport, so even though individual skill plays a role to an extent, it should never overshadow the team dynamic. For both of these players, fans and teammates alike both revered and shunned them for the way they played. Some may say their circumstances made them behave the way they did. Kobe, for most of his twenty-year stint in the NBA, was the primary scorer on the Lakers. For some of those years, Kobe single-handed carried a struggling or injured Lakers squad to the finals. Similarly, Carmelo Anthony had to lead the New York Knicks for seven straight years. Nothing else to be said there.
In no way am I discounting the impact or incredible influence both of these players have had in the NBA. Both Bryant and Anthony were indispensable to their respective teams and have the skill and accolades to prove it. Yet, I’m using these two to illustrate the point that in a pickup game, nobody should be jacking up shots from half court or making consistent poor basketball decisions. The ball hog might think he’s a superstar, but to everyone else on the team, they see the ball hog as a star from the high school varsity team trying to relive his wonder years, a pernicious cancer siphoning energy out of the rest of the team.
The people who want to take control of everything and everyone in a professional setting mirror these ball hogs perfectly. You might hear them referred to as “power freaks”, something David Weiner writes in his book Power Freaks: Dealing With Them in the Workplace or Anyplace. “Coming in many guises — including the business psychopath (who may be working down the hall from you), the arrogant and status-obsessed, the messianic, and the perfectionist — they are all driven by an irrational need to dominate and to enhance their status, disregarding the consequences to others.” In meetings, these people demonstrate their selfishness and egotism by speaking over others during meetings; they want everything to go the way they want, regardless of the impact of their behavior and decisions on others.
This behavior is probably the most evident in meetings where there is a stark contrast between reticent introverts and the more gregarious extroverts in the room. When extroverts overpower a meeting and don’t take into consideration the fact that others in the room are less predisposed to readily speaking up, they run the risk of preventing others from sharing their ideas. Of course, not all extroverts are hoggish; not introverts are reserved. But a situation like this can exacerbate the tension that introverts feel in meetings.
The last and final group I’ve identified is not a single archetype, but rather an collection of individuals that no one likes playing with. I’ve chosen to clump these three separate examples into one category because I’m learned through personal experience that people who exhibit characteristics from one of these groups overlap and share traits with another group. They sometimes manifest themselves as the middle schoolers who play at the local YMCA.
In the NBA, there are countless individuals who exhibit traits from these three groups. Although their individual skills might be impressive, they’re scorned at by fans and teammates alike.
Unable to take defeat gracefully on the court, the sore loser is famous for throwing tantrums or refusing to act sportsmanlike after losing a game. Even though it’s natural to get caught up in the heat of competition especially when you’re passionate about the game, losing is always part of a competitive sport, so acting like a child does nothing to resolve the problem. Playing against sore losers is no fun because it ruins the friendly nature of the game and puts a damper on the win; playing with sore losers is also no fun because they blame the team members for not carrying their weight.
Two of the most famous sore losers include Demarcus Cousins, touted as being one of the most emotional and unprofessional players in the NBA, and Glen “Big Baby” Davis, who many speculate earned his nickname because of his large size and tendency to cry foul after getting hacked by other players.
In the office, sore losers appear as people who blame the success of others on their favorable backgrounds or inherited network of connections. These people are jealous of winners and will constantly doubt those who perform at a higher level. They do so by rationalizing to themselves that the winners did not have to work hard to get to where they are.
The trash talker is notorious for having the biggest mouth on the court. I personally think it’s fine to occasionally participate in friendly banter with your opponents on the court, but when you base your entire character on aggravating your opponents through trash talking and belligerence, it diminishes the underlying jollity and pleasure of the sport.
Kevin Garnett and Metta World Peace are two players in the NBA that became infamous for provoking their opposition. According to SBNation, Garnett was known for being insanely intense both on and off the court; stories (and perhaps myths) tell of how he blew in David West’s ear to draw a technical foul, pretended to bite Dwight Howard’s arm during a free throw, and even started doing knuckle pushups to taunt his opponents. Metta World Peace, in addition to arguing and fighting his teammates, also instigated a brawl with a fan who threw a beer at him. As a result, World Peace was suspended for the rest of the 2004–2005 season and was fined almost $5,000,000.
In the office, gossip substitutes trash talking as one of the primary ways for people to get in the heads of others. However, there’s such thing as harmless gossip and spiteful gossip. With harmless gossip in the workplace, coworkers usually just consensually tease each other about innocuous material. On the other hand, malicious gossip is usually spread with the intention to either attack or gain a upper hand over someone. Regardless of the type of gossip, any type of gossip can erode company morale, partition employees into separate factions, and cause increased turnover.
The last archetype is someone most people have encountered at some point in their lives. When it comes to the game of basketball, the showoff acts pretentiously and parades around as if they own the court. They confuse confidence with cockiness and value flashiness over good, fundamental basketball. This behavior probably stems from the plethora of videos on the internet where people are get crossed up, dunked on, or just get straight-up embarrassed on defense. However, this behavior sometimes backfires. Occasionally, the quiet but skilled player who takes the court shuts up the showoff with his playing.
The NBA boasts several showoffs who are known for playing selfishly and showboating. Most notably are Lance Stephenson and J.R. Smith. Although I think they’re two of the most entertaining players to watch when they play well, there’s no doubt that they’re prone to making terrible basketball decisions and engaging in selfish plays. Lance Stephenson acts as if he thinks every basket he makes is one of the greatest in NBA history, whereas J.R. Smith‘s ego causes him to take very questionable shots and decisions on the court.
In the professional world, showoffs will try to flaunt a variety of different things, ranging from their salaries, to their skill sets, to even their indispensabilities within a company. This isn’t only aggravating to other people but promotes a toxic culture of outdoing others to appear more venerable. Instead of playing or working to better oneself out of the motivation for self-actualization or autonomy, showoffs play for others.
From an early age, many children are taught to become accustomed to adversity and to celebrate success moderately. However, because their emotional intelligence has not completely matured, children are frequently unable to separate their feelings from their actions both on and off the court. As children grow older and mature into teenagers and adults, they are taught to separate their professional lives and personal lives; however, fragments of personal and professional will always mix in any setting, no matter how hard one tries to keep them isolated. Consequently, the way you interact with others in a quotidian setting directly influences the way you behave on the court.
From basketball, I’ve learned how to become a better team player — taking on responsibilities others won’t, inspiring others instead of demanding from others, and being a good person overall. Next time you’re on the court, take a few seconds to look around at your teammates and your opponents and remind yourself what type of player you want to be. People say sport is solely sport, but it’s so much more than that.