Miami Heat, Jimmy Butler, Ben Horowitz, and Talent-Culture Fit

Context: as of writing this post, the underdog Miami Heat won a hard-fought series against the Boston Celtics and got into the NBA Finals, challenging LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Tyler Herro (14), Jimmy Butler (22), and Bam Adebayo (13) are the new faces of the Heat and their culture

I’m a huge NBA fan. I watch most of the games (including every single playoff match), and endless reels on Instagram. I read Bleacher Report every day, and I play NBA 2K on my videogame – a LOT. If I had unlimited money, I would for sure be a sneakerhead.

But along with the sport, I’m a big admirer of NBA’s culture: from the power of the Black Lives Matter movement that surfaced in the “bubble” this year, up to learning business and life advice from Michael JordanPhil Jackson, and Kobe Bryant’s biographies. 

I root for the Denver Nuggets (I lived in Denver, still have family there, watched live games at Pepsi Center, you know the drill), but I nurtured deep admiration for the Miami Heat recently. Analyzing why this happened, I found out a couple of things.

The Miami Heat has a Culture

“Culture isn’t a magical set of rules that makes everyone behave the way you’d like. It’s a system of behaviors that you hope most people will follow, most of the time.” 

HOROWITZ, Ben (What You Do Is Who You Are)

In his recent book “What You Do Is Who You Are,” venture capitalist Ben Horowitz (a16z) addresses culture not only from VC-backed-startups-that-grew-exponentially perspective such as Netflix, Google, and Facebook.

It uses examples like the samurai virtues on the Bushido’s CodeShaka Senghor, one of the most violent prison gang leaders ever seen, and Touissant Louverture, commander of the only successful slave rebellion (that expelled French, Dutch, and English colonizers from Haiti). 

One of the book’s fascinating findings is the setup of Shocking Rules, the standards and rules that make people remember, ask why, and encounter daily. Well, The Heat has its own set of principles and regulations – you can find terrific examples on this ESPN article

Grit and work REALLY hard 

Miami is the only franchise that has conditioning tests at the beginning of the season – and if you don’t meet the expectations, they will trade you.

They have a militaristic approach to fitness, training, and hard work ethic. Some players start to train at 3:30 a.m. and it’s a normal thing.

“Practices should be a war. Practices should be harder than the games”

David Fizdale, former assistant coach of the Miami Heat

The Heat are famous for their grit (watch this TED Talk to see how we can apply it to everything).

Find and Develop hidden gems 

The Heat has had their superstar moment, winning three titles with LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade. But what they enjoy is to find and develop hidden gems, and the ones who feel they have something to prove (remember grit?). 

“You had to go through something in life that put a chip on your shoulder. And that’s built grit inside you that you’re willing to go through extreme circumstances to get where you’re trying to go”

Udonis Haslem, who came to the league undrafted and spent over 17 seasons as a Heat player

The current roster is led by Jimmy Butler, who was one of the last Draft picks from Marquette, a college with no basketball tradition, Tyler Herro, and Bam Adebayo (late Lottery picks), and also has important role players such as Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn, and Derrick Jones Jr (all of them undrafted). 

All of them had a big stat and game development on Heat’s watch. “The thing about being here is everyone cares; they’ll do anything to help you improve,” Adebayo told Bleacher Report

Win, now and always:

The Heat’s president is Pat Riley, the only person who has clinched an NBA Finals trip for six straight DECADES. During the playoffs in 1999, Riley said, “You’ve got to want to win as much as you want to breathe.” 

The Heat always wants to win. They refuse to “tank”, popular word for losing on purpose during the season to get better draft picks in the next one. “We are not underdogs”, says the team star after being out 60-1 on winning. They do believe.

Talent-Culture Fit

Jimmy Butler: from disgruntled teammate to vital star and cultural banner (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

“Because your culture is how your company makes decisions when you’re not there. It’s the set of assumptions your employees use to resolve the problems they face every day.”

HOROWITZ, Ben (What You Do Is Who You Are)

Enter Jimmy Butler

I am a great fan of him since long ago – I have a particular preference for players who play their bottoms off on defense and take pride in having the most challenging assignments.

Butler was considered a bad teammate. A troublemaker. Problematic. A locker room wrecker.

The villain. 

He’s the one who disrupted a Minnesota Timberwolves practice, cursing the players, managers, and coaches while kicking the first team’s ass along with third-string players. He confronted the team’s star, Karl Anthony Towns, as soft

He had problems at the Chicago Bulls early on, and his tenure as a Philadelphia 76er was also short and challenging, with “no one saying nothing, and nothing getting accomplished.” 

Butler was bought cheaply by the Heat because nearly nobody wanted him, an expensive and explosive asset, and there was an enormous question mark on if any team could manage him. 

That’s not new, and that doesn’t happen only in sports. 

In the office:

In the startup world, we hear a lot about founder-market fit: if the company creators or leading executives have a clear fit with the market they are trying to build their company. 

But I firmly believe that talent-culture fit is also real: when a person finds himself (or herself) so identified with the company’s set of core values that they blossom both personally and professionally.

But the opposite is also true. We have all seen this on any sort in our professional lives: great talent who doesn’t fit the culture. And that’s tough and frustrating for all the involved. 

One thing is crystal clear: the person influences the culture, and vice-versa. If culture is a set of core beliefs, behaviors, and actions coming from a group of people, every single new person changes the outcome of the group. And it can be massively benefic or destructive to the core.

This is our ACE Code. Signed by the team, and lived by every day.

I have been the wrong cultural fit myself in a couple of companies. I also passed through the pain of hiring great people and fantastic professionals, see they flop, and then exit shortly, damaging both the person and the company.

At ACE Startups, the cultural fit plays a massive role in hiring, developing talent, and both company and contributor performance. We do not take culture lightly: it is one of our greatest assets (along with our people) and part of our secret sauce

We discuss it from times to times, always adapting to what we find right, pointing good and bad behaviors, and using the actions based on our values as the true north at the company.

It’s not just some cool stuff we wrote on our walls, but a true statement we have to live up to every single minute (here you can find our ACE Code). 

Back to Butler: he has been the “wrong guy” since always. Yet, it took only 5 minutes to convince him to become a Heat player, as this Associated Press piece brilliantly narrates. Instant recognition.

It turns out he had the same core values as the organization: fierce competition, speak its mind, chip on the shoulder, team-is-family, high work ethic, and lots of grit and grind. 

The success balling is massive: analysts predicted that the Heat would barely have any playoff time. They are now at the Finals after surpassing the Indiana Pacers, the #1 seed Milwaukee Bucks, and the Boston Celtics. 

Who knew, right?

Well, they did. And when against all the odds, they say they can “win it all” since day one (at 1m34s of the video). “We can win it and we don’t care what you say”.

But you can see that the real magic happens off the court. As of the AP’s article: 

“Dragic and Butler will talk about soccer all day; Butler has even learned a little Slovenian, his point guard’s native language, just to show him that he cares. Rookie guard Tyler Herro had a 37-point game earlier in the East finals; Butler showed up for work the next day wearing Herro’s high school jersey. The Heat had a little party early Monday morning to celebrate making the finals; Butler showed up for that in a University of Portland jersey bearing Spoelstra’s name on the back and the No. 30 that he wore there as a guard 30 years ago.”

Using the rookie’s high school jersey. Using the coach’s former jersey. Learning SLOVENIAN. Leading practices at 3:30 a.m. Sharing the ball during the game and being careless about who scores, but giving yourself the responsibility to have the “rock” and close the games in crunch time.

That’s the full embodiment of the culture.

Jimmy has even built Big Face Coffee, a whole new coffee brand created from his hotel bedroom, and got into a “barista battle” in Orlando, as this ESPN piece tells with delicious details

Butler and Erik Spoelstra (Heat’s head coach) have a saying: “We’re not for everybody, but here we are. What this whole thing comes down to is being wanted, being appreciated for what you bring to the table.” 

That’s true also about corporate culture, and how professionals can fit into it. You should pay close attention to your workspace, and even to your home. 

I have great pride in seeing that ACE’s core values are also my personal core values. That energizes me and drives me forward as a person and as a leader. 

As Ben Horowitz says, “what you do is who you are.

But how and with who you do it is also essential. 

PS: If you liked this post, you might want to subscribe into A Growth Mind. The next one comes… soon! I don’t have a regular schedule (yet) but often find myself intrigued and wanting to share.

PS2:Jimmy Butler, Ben Horowitz, and Touissant Louverture enter a bar“… I never thought I would unite such different universes! Hahaha. I’m thankful for writing. 

PS3: If you liked this post, if you have something to say, or if you want to tell me I’m completely insane… Just hit me @Linkedin. Cheers!

If you have a couple of extra minutes, this video explains well about Heat Culture.

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