Adrian Wojnarowski did a fantastic interview with Hall of Fame basketball player and former General Manager, Joe Dumars, for his excellent podcast, Vertical Pod with Woj. Dumars was with the Detroit Pistons for 28 years as a player (where he won two championships) and as the architect of the 2004 championship team. He’s spent the past two years shadowing other basketball programs all over the world.
Here’s what Dumars had to say about wanting to build another team and the importance of building a culture:
What you look for in situations is the ability to build a culture as opposed to just the ability to build a team. For quite some time, part of building a really good team for us in Detroit, we also built a culture, a mindset, how everybody saw each other and how everybody saw us as a group, and I’m talking about everybody inside the organization. What appeals to me is to build a culture.
A culture is different than just building a team. A culture is everybody in the organization feeling a certain way about each other — from video to coaches to secretaries — everybody in this organization feeling it. I got that from my initial days of playing — guys like Chuck Daly, Isiah, Jack McCloskey, who was the GM at the time. You build a culture. There was a name for it — the Bad Boys — but beyond just that name, what I learned from that was, you have to have an identity. Not only do you have to have an identity, you have to embrace your identity. You can’t reluctantly accept who you are. You have to embrace it.
For me, that’s what appeals to building something next. To build a culture where everybody embraces who they are, are proud of it, and want to be a part of it. I think we did it as a player, I think we did that in 2000 with Ben, Chauncey, and all those goes, and that’s what appeals to me next. (00:58:47-01:00:35)
Woj asked Dumars what he’s taken away from his shadowing that he’d like to incorporate into his next team. Dumars’ response — participatory team-building:
The one thing I think I would take out of all this is some of the team-building things that teams do. You have to be careful with team-building. You can’t just come up with something that you want to do team-building wise that you and I come up with, but the team is like, “Uhh, we’ve got to go and do this.” A lot of time team-building, you’ve got to get the input from the players, what they want to do together. I’ve seen that in Europe, a little bit in college, a lot of people I talk to in the NBA.
I was so focused on, “Let’s build this thing to win the championship,” I was so focused on that, I never really paid a lot of attention to that. But for me, I like that. I think it does help in terms of the camaraderie, and it helps in terms of people seeing each other in a different light than just X’s and O’s, on the court, game, what’s your responsibility. I think it’s good to get away from that sometimes.
But I think it has to be done the right way. It can’t just be management-directed. I don’t think it can just be coach-directed. I don’t think it can be just organization-directed. I think it has to be maybe your captains and the coaches getting together as to what we want to do together. I’ve seen some of that, and I really like it. 01:01:35-01:03:05