Theo Epstein, who only brought World Series championships to the Boston Red Sox (who had waited 86 years before winning it in 2004) and to the Chicago Cubs (108 years before winning in 2016), as those two star-crossed teams’ general manager, was the commencement speaker at his alma mater, Yale, last year.
During his speech, he told the undergrads how he’d evolved as a manager of people over the years.
“Early in my career, I used to think of players as assets, statistics on a spreadsheet I could use to project future performance and measure precisely how much they would impact our team on the field,” he said.
“I used to think of teams as portfolios, diversified collections of player assets paid to produce up to their projections to ensure the organization’s success. My head had been down. That narrow approach worked for a while, but it certainly had its limits. I grew and my team- building philosophy grew as well. The truth — as our team proved (in the 2016 World Series) in Cleveland — is that a player’s character matters. The heartbeat matters. Fears and aspirations matter. The player’s impact on others matters. The tone he sets matters. The willingness to connect matters. Breaking down cliques and overcoming stereotypes in the clubhouse matters. Who you are, how you live among others — that all matters.”
If that was a lesson Epstein had to learn, it appears more innate in Bob Myers. The Golden State Warriors’ general manager is universally regarded as a genuinely decent person, not a small feat for a former high-powered agent who crossed over into management.
A former walk-on at UCLA, Myers worked for uber-agent Arn Tellem and Casey Wasserman before a recommendation from Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge to Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob — Lacob had been a minority owner in Boston before buying the Warriors — got Myers an interview with Lacob when he was thinking about changing careers and going into management. Myers has been directly involved in the entire being of Golden State’s construction as the NBA’s best team — and this isn’t about the players, because many of them were brought in before Myers took over full-time as GM in 2012. Former GM Larry Riley drafted Stephen Curry in 2009, Klay Thompson in 2011 and Draymond Green in 2012 and traded for center Andrew Bogut.
But Myers, along with coach Steve Kerr, has been central to the creation of the Warriors’ culture during this championship run. Golden State doesn’t just play; it plays with joy, with an esprit de corps in which none of its stars cares who gets the credit or attention. Neither does Myers, who navigated the acquisition of Andre Iguodala and was present at the creation of the Hamptons Five in 2016, when the Warriors’ contingent went to New York to woo Kevin Durant.
His ability to forge relationships with just about everyone in basketball and have them think highly of the encounter has come in handy as he handles his players’ disparate personalities — Green’s fire, Thompson’s stoicism, Curry’s hidden ultra competitiveness.
Myers and Kerr have become more than GM/Coach; their friendship is deep and meaningful, allowing them to view both the team and people the same way. There is no separation between them. And that allows for the best of an organization to flourish. And so the Warriors flourished again this year, even as they fought boredom and injuries in the regular season, and the hard-charging Houston Rockets in the Western Conference finals, and LeBron James in The Finals.
And Myers was present in Cleveland last week, at the creation of the NBA’s latest dynasty, as the Warriors won back-to-back titles and their third in four seasons, again soaking the carpet in the visitors’ locker room at Quicken Loans Arena with champagne and joy.
Me: I know it doesn’t get old, but is winning a championship still as much about avoiding losing as much as it is winning?
Bob Myers: I don’t know. It’s hard to find out what these things mean. I mean, the first one, it’s mythical. It’s the Holy Grail. For me, it was just too much, surreal, all these words that you use. ‘Cause I just didn’t think that was possible when we won it here three years ago. I’m not the guy that thought I’d take the job and win a championship. It’s hard to compare to that. And then, losing (after being up) 3-1 — it’s, I’m answering your question, ‘cause it’s kind of a holistic thing. You put it all together, when you’re winning these things — you look at the whole thing, ‘cause there was no break in it, even though we lost. The 3-1 one, that was the toughest emotionally, because — I told somebody the other day, for three (games), they probably had champagne in our room. Which is kind of crazy. And I remember driving to that game thinking, man. And somebody said ‘what do you think about the game?’ And I said ‘it’s a coin flip.’ And it was a coin flip. To me, it was a coin flip. And we lost that one. And the next one, with Kevin, it felt like, people judged 73-9 as, I heard the word ‘failure.’ And I said, that doesn’t have to be my word, or our word. But that’s how we judge. You have to do the whole thing, and we didn’t do it. So I felt like that whole year was, it legitimized the first one in some respects. ‘Cause people even called the first one lucky, which, I don’t know if you remember, people were saying, well, they got lucky —
Me: Doc (Rivers).
BM: That we got lucky. And then, it legitimized, and then to see Kevin kind of see what he went through, and to see it culminate in an MVP (at The Finals) and a championship. And then, this year, this regular season was tough. And the playoffs were tough. I mean, Houston was fantastic, there were some great opponents. But this one feels more exhausting. And maybe it’s because it was the fourth marathon. I told somebody, I said, for runners, for any monumental (physical) task, climbing mountains, usually you come back down, and you rest. But in this business, I mean, we started in September. We were in China in early October. It’s almost the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest together, and we come down, and I go ‘David, ready to go back up?’ And you go ‘we just got down, man; what are you talking about?’ And that’s what this feels like. It’s awesome, it’s exactly what you want to do. I don’t mean to demean it at all. But there is a fatigue to it. The thing I’m feeling right now would be a gratification. The first one was exhilaration. I’d say the last year, the fact that I can even talk about three of these things is hard to even fathom. But last year was more relief. This year is gratification, for a difficult year and ending how everybody wants it to end.
Winning is the only time you don’t have to answer questions. It’s the only time. Twenty-nine other GMs, you have to answer, ‘what if?’ ‘why didn’t you?’ Every coach, every player.”
Warriors GM Bob Myers
Me: Was there a time you thought you would lose the Houston series?
BM: Oh, yeah. Game 6 — well, when we lost Game 4, I feel like you can never give away a playoff game, especially at home. You just, then you feel like you have to beat the team five times, and that’s hard to do against a really good team. So, for us to lose our composure — and Houston had a lot to do with that, in Game 4 — and lose that game being up 10 going into the fourth quarter, I thought, maybe this isn’t it. And then to be down in Game 6 10 at that half — and not just being down, but being down and not showing the fight. I said to somebody, I said ‘we’re going to find out, right now.’ And that was halftime of Game 6. And we brought it, we came back and won. And then being down in Game 7 on the road, I didn’t know if we had another one in there. But, that’s where our guys, I mean, whatever words you want to use, the championship pedigree, the trust, the ability, the faith, the character, that’s what gets you to nights like tonight.
Me: Maybe the culture?
BM: Yeah. But culture is the people. You can use the word culture, but you’ve been in cultures, you think of who lives in that culture. And for me it’s Steve Kerr, our owner has his passion, it’s our players, it’s people I work with, it’s our fans. I told Steve after the game, I said, obviously you’re overjoyed. I said ‘my favorite moments are my conversations with you on a Tuesday night at 11 o’clock, and it’s Game 25 of the season.’ It’s just the day-to-day journey with people you respect that make it worthwhile.
Me: You said last week that you know that this isn’t to last, that this is going to end. And then Joe, of course, two days later, says ‘it’s not going to end; it’s going on for 20 years’.
BM: Steph Curry will be 45, 50 years old, shooting threes.
BM: Yeah, it’s obvious.
Me: So how do you bridge those two worlds?
BM: (Laughing) There is no bridge. You know, if you want to see where that divergence lies, it’s really, when I said that, I think a lot of people thought I was referring to, it ends now. I don’t think it ends (immediately). But everything ends. Teams end. They all do. But that’s okay; it makes you appreciate the moment you’re in. I think he was referring to, why can’t we be something akin to the Spurs, like the Patriots. And it’s 20 years. But I don’t know that in that 20 years … there’s a choppiness to that, too. I mean, you don’t go to The Finals (every year). I think the Spurs, between 2007 and ’14, their fourth and fifth championships, that’s seven years. So runs don’t mean a Finals every year. They don’t mean that. They meant it for us the last four. But I think he was referring to, it doesn’t have to. I was referring to this specific group. I don’t know.
Me: I know you can’t begin to process what happens next with this particular group —
BM: I go to Morton’s and have a beer.
BM: I know you weren’t asking that.
The scrutiny grows the better you do. How do you live in that? And I don’t know how to do that the right way yet. But that’s the challenge, right?”
Warriors GM Bob Myers
Me: Yeah, the next thing. You have Klay and Draymond down the road, and KD this summer. But do you feel like the argument — the fact — that this group has gone to four straight Finals is kind of a trump card over any possible object that anyone might have?
BM: Winning is the only time you don’t have to answer questions. It’s the only time. Twenty-nine other GMs, you have to answer, ‘what if?’ ‘why didn’t you?’ Every coach, every player. You only get to have this emotion once, and it means you have to win. It doesn’t mean, though, that you have a perfect team or that you have a perfect life by any stretch. But for me, it means that you appreciate these guys, you try to keep it together, you thank the people — for me, my family, my wife, the people that went on the journey with you. The sacrifice, the things that nobody knows about. That’s the part you try to keep your eye on. And as far as the group, you value the guys that helped you do it, the players, the coaching staff, people I work with in the front office. I don’t know. I think you treasure each moment with these people. Like I said, I mean, you’ve worked with a ton of people. They change. People come and go, for whatever reason — some good, some bad. It doesn’t matter. It’s life.
Me: So, how do you avoid burnout? This has been a long run.
BM: I don’t know. That’s a real question … it seems to be, more. Each year is more, if that makes sense. Not because we’re in The Finals. The game is growing, which is fantastic. It’s a global phenomenon. Everybody’s wanting to watch. The scrutiny grows the better you do. How do you live in that? And I don’t know how to do that the right way yet. But that’s the challenge, right?
Me: You’ve been talking about that for a while. And you still don’t have the right balance?
BM: No. I mean, you don’t ever, I think it’s one of those things that never ends. All you can do is try. I’ve got, we just had a baby, and I have three daughters that I’m trying to raise, and doing that in our society is a challenge. I don’t know. Talking about it, thinking about it is what you do, surround yourself with good people. Maybe you’ve got some advice.
Me: All I know is you’ve got the Draft in two weeks.
BM: That’s not what I’m talking about (laughs).
Me: So, I asked Andre (Iguodala) this. He talked about the journey being better than the result, which I understand. But how do you keep the journey from becoming stale for this group going forward?
BM: You’ve got to like each other. You’ve got to really like each other. You’ve got to respect each other. You’ve got to understand that some days, you don’t have it. And your teammates need to pick you up. It’s the houseguest that stays too long. Sometimes you just need space. And it’s nobody’s fault. You need to yell at each other; you have to tell each other how you’re feeling. There’s acrimony, there’s division, there’s everything. But as long as you don’t break. You have to view it almost as like a family — that no matter what happens, we’re blood, and we’re going to see it through. But that’s a challenge, because you’re really not blood, but you’re as you can get, ‘cause you’re with each other all the time. Sometimes you see people more than you do your own family. So you try to find people that are decent people in the worst moments, is all you can do. Because the worst moments come. For us, the scrutiny on our team is heightened, and that’s fine. So when you slip up, it’s documented. So who are you going to be when you make those mistakes? How are you going to react to them? And I think that that is the testament to our group. Like I said, we bend. And we really did bend this year. But we didn’t break.
BM: I never even had that! It’s funny; they said that on the show. I keep my phone on silent. No buzzers, nothing. My life’s crazy enough. That’s the people. I’m excited to get up from here and see the people. The joy I get is celebrating with these people. I’m so happy for their accomplishments. That’s what’s so rewarding.
Me: So you will not take any credit for this, will you?
BM: I don’t play. I mean, I help them try to get a team that can win. So that’s for them. I don’t, I mean, the joy I get is I’ll go home tomorrow and somebody on the street will honk their horn. And they’ll say ‘thank you.’ And I don’t know who they are. But I’ll say ‘you’re welcome.’ And who gets to have a job like that?
TWEET OF THE WEEK
— Giannis Ugo Antetokounmpo (@Giannis_An34) June 5, 2018
— Giannis Antetokounmpo (@Giannis_An34), Monday, 10:33 p.m., getting to the heart of what makes America America — lard-laden fried foods readily available to the masses — during his fast food tasting tour last week.
THEY SAID IT
“I went from getting snitched on to put a ring on.”
— Nick Young, as only Nick Young can, summarizing his journey from the young and troubled Lakers a year ago to his first NBA championship coming along for the ride with the Warriors this season.
“I’m always flattered and shocked by any kind of direct comparisons to Dirk because that’s my MJ, you know? I had his poster on my wall and it motivated me every day. He made me believe that this was all possible. He was just another boy from Germany as well. Shooting is something that I always enjoyed and I remember thinking, ‘if he can do it, why can’t I?’That was my mindset. He’s definitely an idol of mine and one of my favorite players of all-time.”
— Michigan forward Mo Wagner, a potential first-round pick in the June 21 Draft, in an interview with the website HoopsHype. The 21-year-old Wagner emigrated to the States from Berlin in 2015 after a successful recruitment by Michigan Coach John Beilein, who’d only seen him on film before he went to Germany to meet with Wagner and his family. Beilein pulled out of the Pistons’ coaching search last week after interviewing with Detroit for its vacancy.
“I wouldn’t be half the defender I am without Andrew Bogut. He taught me so much about defense that I owe all my success to him, defensively.”
— Draymond Green, to ABC, on how he learned the ins and outs of playing defense in the pros as a rookie after being drafted in the second round in 2012 from his then-Australian-born teammate.
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