It was late, but apparently not too late. The Cleveland Cavaliers had lost the first two games of the NBA Finals by a combined 48 points. The Golden State Warriors were dominating every phase of the game and LeBron James was looking for something, for anything, he could say to his teammates to help them believe a comeback was possible.
LeBron had spent the weekend watching old Muhammad Ali fights, in awe at the champ’s perseverance. His longtime friend and adviser, Nike executive Lynn Merritt, had suggested he study the way Ali carried himself in those epic 12- and 15-round fights. The way Ali took punches, knowing his opponent would eventually tire. The way he taunted opponents, flaunting his superior skill and talents, knowing he would get into their heads. His teammates needed something else, though. Something they could connect to that would make them believe this series was not over. And so LeBron gathered everyone in the Cavaliers locker room before Game 3 and played a portion of Steve Jobs’ commencement address at Stanford University in 2005.
The Apple founder, who died in 2011, had told a story about dropping out of college and how taking a calligraphy class ended up helping him design the elegant fonts and interface of the first Apple computers. “Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards 10 years later,” Jobs said in his address.”You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” For each member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, their dots connected on Sunday, June 19th.
Four other words Jobs shared during the commencement resonated with the team: Stay hungry. Stay foolish. The motivation and encouragement in this phrase was just what the team needed to hear to ultimately bring the championship trophy home to Cleveland – the Cavaliers were hungry for a comeback and ready to try new things to come out on top over Golden State. Teammate Kevin Love wrote it on his shoes as a way to remind himself to loosen up – to not judge his performances on the statistics he was recording, but rather by the effort and energy he gave for tasks like rebounding and defense.
They say there is always a lesson to be learned from every experience – the NBA finals were no exception. While on the edge of our seats we were witnessing more than incredible basketball games; we were able to see firsthand the value of leadership, importance of setting goals, and the significance of staying hungry and staying foolish.