Tag Archives: espn

The Choice Is Yours (Or, If the Horse Is Dead, Dismount; But If It’s Still Alive, You Might as Well Learn How to Ride It)

e20816c1dce70514b76bc07c6327d641--jimmy-v-quotes-inspirational-cancer-quotesPeyton Manning hosted the 25th annual ESPY Awards about twenty-five miles from my television set a couple of nights ago in downtown Los Angeles. The ESPY phenomenon was conceived as the MTV Awards for sports, but the original show in 1993 instantly became so much more when Jim Valvano — Jimmy V — delivered his heroic speech less than two months before he died from bone cancer.  He was 47 years old.  Guess which birthday I’m looking at?

I remember that inspirational speech quite well because I had just completed my first season as a high school basketball coach and was scheduled to attend a Nike coaching clinic in Chicago later that summer where Jimmy V was a featured speaker — legendary Villanova coach, Rollie Massimino, had to fill in following his good friend’s untimely death.

The entire clinic was a heady experience for a baby basketball coach from small-town Arkansas like me what with Rollie eulogizing Jimmy V, foul-mouthed John Chaney stringing together profanities like an auctioneer, classy Lute Olson sharing Arizona’s secrets, a potentially inebriated P.J. Carlesimo basically phoning it in, and upstart Cincinnati head coach Bob Huggins sharing a story that has helped shape the trajectory of my adult life.

Huggins was just a year removed from a shocking run to the Final Four in Minneapolis where his Bearcats lost by four points to the uber-talented Fab Five from Michigan. Following the loss, a dejected Coach Huggins walked the cavernous halls of the Metrodome and bumped into his father, who himself had been a successful high school basketball coach.  Huggins told us that he expected his dad to give him a hug or something but instead heard him say, “If you would have rebounded better you would have won.”

Thanks, dad.  Huggins reported that he was furious.  Until he thought about it and determined that if they would have rebounded better they would have won.  So that’s what he set out to work on instead.

I needed to hear that at the time and have needed to hear it again on many occasions ever since.  Feeling sorry for yourself is easy work that feels surprisingly good and well-deserved, but that and a dollar can rent you a movie on iTunes.  It is far more productive to figure out what you can control and get to work on that instead.

Personal Humility + Professional Will

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My least impressive resolution for 2015 was to finally read the ESPN history book that had collected dust on my nightstand for longer than I care to guess. Mission accomplished. Once I dove in, the 832 pages didn’t take long to complete.

The story that stuck out to me was that of George Bodenheimer, who started out in the mailroom at ESPN and ended up its president. I had never heard of him. Bodenheimer is the perfect example of what Jim Collins would call a “Level 5” leader (see above). Look no further than his tiny Wikipedia page for example.

Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN utilized an interview approach in its historical account of the wildly successful sports television network. Today, I simply want to share my favorite entry that describes Bodenheimer. It is from John Skipper, who came to ESPN after senior roles with companies like Disney and Rolling Stone, and who has since publication of the book succeeded Bodenheimer as ESPN president. Read it, and form your own conclusions.

George defines the culture now. Steve Bornstein [former ESPN president] was respected, admired, followed—and feared. George Bodenheimer is respected, admired, followed—and loved. George has been at his job since 1998. At some point, 1999 or 2000, he created this once-a-year strategy meeting. He gathers the top people, and what does he do? He says we as a group are going to decide our priorities as a company. And we now have this annual thing we do about shared success—it’s team-team-team. By nature, I’m a cynic and even a slight elitist—I moved to New York, I studied satire. That’s what I was studying at Columbia—eighteenth-century satire—so I’m of a sardonic turn, and I can tell you that this culture is not cynical. It’s “team.” It’s complete enthusiasm, Moonie-ism in a positive sense. People believe in it. And that priorities thing, which you can make fun of—it’s a little goofy, a little corny—we go together, we say the following four, five things are our priority. One year our priority is “Make ratings go up.” One year it was “we have to make dot com work.” So the whole company has been told, you might work in event production and operating camera and traveling around the country, but we’re also looking to you to help us figure out how to make ESPN.com work.

You get a little card. We print card with the priorities on them. You carry your card around. On the back is the mission and the company values. Really simple stuff, easy for a smarty-pants cynic who likes living in New York. But you can’t make fun of it, because it works.

There is a cult of George in our company. George would hate that. George is the most influential person in sports; he actually doesn’t care and actually doesn’t like it—he’d be happy if it went away. To the rank and file, George walks on water.