3 Startup Lessons We Can Learn From The 1992 Basketball Olympic Dream Team


I was on YouTube the other night watching videos on entrepreneurship when I suddenly landed on basketball videos– YouTube works like that for a lot of us I guess. I ended up watching a documentary on the 1992 Basketball Olympic Dream Team. I saw how they initially formed the team and why they specifically chose Chuck Daly as the head coach. As I watched Chuck Daly’s management style, and the process in how all the players came together as a team and won the gold medal; I couldn’t help but think, “this is like building a successful startup!”. With that being said, here are 3 lessons we can learn from arguably the best team ever assembled in the history of sports.

1. Have a leader that can manage different personalities and egos

One of the biggest factors in building a startup is to have talented individuals on the team. But naturally, putting together such high quality people in one place can lead to clashes in personalities and egos.

Chuck Daly was specifically hired as the head coach of the Dream Team because of his talent of being able to handle different personalities and egos. From 1983 to 1992 he was the head coach of the Detroit Pistons– a team known as the “Bad Boys” for their aggressive and “dirty” playing style. With a team filled with so many different characters, Daly was able to lead the team to three NBA finals and win two consecutive NBA championships. As Charles Barkley noted in the documentary, “if you can coach those assholes, you can coach anybody!”

Being able to find and manage a talented group of people for your startup is important as an entrepreneur. To paraphrase what Angel Investor Jason Calacanis told me in an interview, great entrepreneurs find people that are good at things they aren’t. Your goal after is to make sure that that team can come together and work towards the same vision.

2. No matter how good of a team you have, you can still lose

Coaching the likes of legends including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird is not going to be easy. It’s almost like putting Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs into one startup team. While having great talent in a team helps with confidence, being too confident can also have negative outcomes. Because of this, Daly orchestrated a game between the Dream Team and College All-Stars. Without telling anyone, he purposely structured the game where the Dream Team was going to lose regardless. After the Dream Team suffered the embarrassing loss, this was enough to get the team listening to Chuck Daly because he now had proof that no matter how good they were, losing is always a possibility.

One of the most important things to realize when running a startup is that no matter how good of a team you have. There is always a chance that you will fail, which is why EVERYONE needs to constantly be giving their 110% for the startup.

3. Check your ego at the door

While all partners will have specific positions and titles after forming the company, its important to understand that regardless of titles and semantics, everyone is equally important. This is because each individual contains a special skill set needed in order to fulfill the long-term vision. Chuck Daly may not have had the same basketball skills as Magic or Michael, but the team learned to respect and listen to him because of his coaching abilities. Same thing with Michael, it’s no secret that both Magic and Larry were past their prime, yet Michael didn’t let his ego get to him and supported Coach Daly’s decision to let the more experienced pair be team captains.

No matter how accomplished an individual has, it means nothing if they can’t work with other talents to build a successful company for the long-term.

Check out the documentary below, it starts getting interesting at 11:15.

Photo Credit: Life and Times

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