May 9, 2020 / VOLUME NO. 104
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

The Chicago Bulls dominated basketball in the 1990s, but not without tasting defeat first.

It’s a leadership lesson told in “The Last Dance,” the ESPN docuseries on Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

The Bulls drafted Jordan in 1984, and he quickly commanded the basketball court. But he was seen as a great player who couldn’t lead his team to a championship.

Things started to change when Phil Jackson became head coach in 1989. Instead of focusing on the superstar — Jordan — Jackson shifted to a team philosophy. 

Jordan wasn’t sold. When told “there’s no ‘I’ in team,” he responded: “There’s an ‘I’ in win.”

But losing a third conference final to the Detroit Pistons in 1990 convinced Jordan. The resulting changes turned the Bulls into champions. 

The Bulls toughened up by hitting the gym. The Pistons — the “Bad Boys” of the NBA — were more physical, knocking Jordan and his teammates around the court. “I wanted to start fighting back,” says Jordan. 

He also learned to trust his fellow Bulls, particularly Scottie Pippen. 

The new approach paid off. A year later, the Bulls beat the Pistons in the 1991 Eastern Conference Final. 

But Jordan’s evolution as a team leader truly emerged in the fifth game of the NBA championship that year, against Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers. During a timeout, Jackson told Jordan to pass the ball to John Paxson, a guard the Lakers left open throughout the game, rather than take the shot himself.  

The Bulls won, 108-101. It was the first of their six championships.

Every organization needs superstars — strong, confident individuals. But they aren’t enough to ensure success — even if one of those individuals is Michael Jordan.

As countless banks have been reminded in recent weeks — processing PPP loans, making loan modifications, easing customers’ concerns — it takes teamwork to make the dream work.

•  Emily McCormick  / vice president of research for Bank Director
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