Get Schooled in Business…While Playing Basketball

Pickup BasketballMany of you know I am an avid basketball fan, but what you might not know is that I enjoy playing it as much if not more than watching it. Over the years I have played with friends or found a game to stay in shape, as it is much more interesting than running on a treadmill listening to music. Even if you are not a basketball junkie like me, stick with me as I think there is a valuable business lesson here.

Many people like to compare professional sports to business and there are some good analogies but there are some major differences. Pickup sports give you a much more likely crew of people you are likely to encounter in corporate America. You get to see a ton of people, old and young, all from different backgrounds. I am amazed at how well some people have taken care of themselves. While most of the groups I have played with are relatively young, occasionally I have played with people in their late 50’s and early 60’s and am amazed at how well they have stayed in shape. Perhaps I’m even more amazed that they can play at the level that they do. Talk about setting an example you would like to follow!

Over the years I have joked with friends about the different types of basketball players one encounters at most pick-up games as many of them have been stereotyped in movies and articles. I have come up with my own list and broken them down into 10 main categories below, though you could definitely come up with more, or combine some of these together.


1) Young Buck This kid has skills. He is often the smaller and perhaps the youngest one in the group. This guy lives off of speed and can handle the ball, which means team defense is normally needed to stop him. Since he is smaller, he has perfected driving to the rim and still getting his shot off by studying Tony Parker his entire life. When he gets hot he can often stroke it from deep, but offense is not the only thing he is good at. He disrupts the passing lanes, gets back on D early, gets a number of steals, is a better rebounder than you would picture, and is a general pest on the defensive end. He is still a bit raw and makes some bad decisions, but his athleticism and abilities cannot be overlooked.

2) The Logo This guy come to the gym in the best threads: he can be spotted with the newest sneakers, he often will wear an actual jersey from one of the flashiest players in the league such as LeBron, Westbrook or Bryant. These guys often look in shape so you’d think they probably should have some skills. This image all comes to a shattering halt when they launch their first shot that misses the rim by at least three feet! Don’t even get me started on defense, as they don’t believe in it. This guy falls under “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”


3) Big Man – Every game has to have at least one player on the court who is considerably bigger than everyone else. Regardless of how good this player is in terms of skills, he has the ability to cause match-up problems, set picks, grab rebounds, alter shots, and pick-up garbage buckets. He may have weaknesses, but in basketball you can’t teach size. If he is smart and has a good grasp of the game, he can dominate more on the defensive end.

4) And One – You know this guy. Every play is a foul…especially when he misses his shot which happens often. He routinely drives into traffic out of control and proceeds to throw the basketball over his head. Before he even picks up his dribble to shoot he is beginning to yell “And One”. Bottom line the reason he believes he didn’t make it or turned the ball over is because someone had to have fouled him.

5) JaG – This is “Just a Guy” that shows up to exercise or may claim to love hoops. He is not terrible but not really great at anything. He just doesn’t have the drive or the skill to make impact on a regular basis and makes little effort to improve. He may not lose the game for you but he certainly won’t win it for you either. Not the worst guy to have on your team by far but you are certainly not excited to be playing with him.

6) The Assassin – This guy for a variety of reasons never made it big time, but he is silky smooth and may have played some college ball. He is a match-up nightmare. The only good thing is that he normally plays at half speed as he is not trying to overly impress this group. He can fool you into complacency as he is more than willing to pass to an open man, but he can bust out a move at any time – often dropping a game winning 25 footer with nothing but net. Best signs for spotting an Assassin pre-game? While it can be hard to spot an Assassin until he starts playing a real game, he normally has a shot, and he’s often thinner or shorter than you would think they would need to be for the position he excels. Wearing high quality but older sneakers with a faded basketball camp T-shirt is a dead give-away. This guy often has more to give but you might have to coax it out of him.

7) Cherry Picker – This guy is often out of shape. He rarely gets back on D, and often decides to head back down court any chance he can. He puts tremendous pressure on the rest of his team to cover for him on defense. In his own mind he is an incredibly valuable player, as he scores every game he plays, but he does it at the expense of others.

8) The Hustler – This guy is all heart: Diving for balls, helping out on defense, runs the court, relentless on the glass, seems to have endless energy. His shot is hit or miss, but he gives you everything he has every game. Every team needs a guy like this. He is great at nothing but does a little bit of everything well, plus his energy is infectious.

9) The Black Hole – This guy has enough skills that he has determined in his mind that he is the best player on the team, and feels he should take every shot. He is good enough that teammates want to get him the ball, but they often get frustrated as he misses cutters for layups, forces ridiculous shots in traffic, or pulls up on a 2-on-1 fast break for a 30 foot 3 pointer. You get the picture – he can’t control himself even though he would be much more valuable to the team and a much better player if he would do so. These guys are dripping with talent but can’t harness what they have to make everyone else better. In the NBA they are often labeled “Coach Killers.”

10) The OG – This is the guy you hate playing against. You know you should be able to take him, but he is the only guy on the other team that actually plays defense every possession, understands the game, and is a bit crafty. He often doesn’t mind getting physical – you call it a foul but he grew up wanting to be one of the Piston’s Bad Boys. He never leaves you, as he is focused on holding you scoreless. Your teammates try and force you the ball as they see diminished athleticism due to the Cho-pats. Unfortunately you get your shot blocked or stripped, and while you sigh in frustration he beats you up court for a layup. You get ripped by your friends. He is often overlooked, but then becomes the player who ends up beating you. He is the most frustrating man in pick-up to play against – The Old Guy.

If you want to run the court all day, put together a Young Buck, a Big Man with skills, an Assassin, a Hustler, and an OG – this team will be hard to beat. There are a variety of combinations that will work, but the bottom line is that a mix of skills that complement each other is the best.

How does this tie into business? Re-read the types. Aren’t these the characteristics of people we work with each day? What is tricky about basketball is that it is a team game. No matter what your strengths are, one weak teammate can really hurt your ability to succeed. You can actually win some games with any number of these guys if everything goes right, but the better the competition, the more your weak links are exposed. Sometimes we get to choose who we play with, and sometimes we end up playing with who showed up. Which player are you? Who would you like to play with? Time to up your game? Time to improve your team?

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