Book Club – “Return of the Gold: The Journey of Jerry Colangelo and the Redeem Team”

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Team HMA and the “Return of the Gold(fish)” – Alison’s visual aid during her book report. Sadly, there were gold medals made of chocolate planned, but Alison bought them in March – and by yesterday, they were stale.

Each month, one member of the HMA team reads a book of his/her choosing and shares when he/she learned from the book during one of our staff meetings. While the book does not have to be specifically communications focused, we do like for our team members to be able to share nuggets of wisdom within the book’s pages. (Here are a few for background)

This month was my turn.

I chose my book in honor of the NBA Lockout.


Well, sort of.

I chose to read Return of the Gold: The Journey of Jerry Colangelo and the Redeem Team by local Arizona Republic scribe and sports radio host Dan Bickley.

With the lockout seemingly months from being resolved, I wanted a little basketball fix while teaching my fellow HMAers about leadership, teamwork and overcoming unique obstacles. I also wanted to share the wisdom of my favorite Arizonan from my youth – Jerry Colangelo.

As you can imagine, the book details the dizzying fall from grace that Team USA – once our beloved “Dream Team” – took as a result of upsetting losses, frustrated and unprepared spokespeople and a total lack of team work. At its lowest, USA Basketball wives were being harassed during games at the Athens Olympics and the term “ugly American” was used on more than one occasion.

Enter Colangelo – who came this close to winning “gold” with the Phoenix Suns several times, including with Charles Barkley in the 90s and the Steve Nash team in recent years. Bringing the team back to glory was more than the USA’s redemption – it was his.

No surprise ending here – we all know the “Redeem Team” won the hearts of the world and acted as ambassadors on our behalf while putting on a classy show of basketball at its best. Yes, they won the gold. But they did so much more.

Below, I’d like to summarize my top 10 nuggets of wisdom from the book – be them focused on leadership, communications and teamwork:

1.       If you want to win; you have to research and plan

In 2005, Colangelo assembled the greatest players ever to be a part of Team USA (both players and coaches) including Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Clyde Drexler and many more. He spent an entire day picking their brains and taking direction on where the team was, is and needs to be. From this superstar focus group, he put together the start of a comprehensive plan.

2.       If you want to win; you need to have commitment

By the time the 2004 Olympics rolled around, Team USA had difficulty asking star players to “give up” six weeks of their lives to take part in the team. Colangelo refused to allow any player to be a part of his Team USA unless he got a THREE-YEAR commitment to play together, practice and even take part in non-Olympic tournaments.

3.       If you want to win; you can’t always be the star

During the 2004 Olympics, several players on Team USA were accused of playing “one-on-one” rather than as a team. Colangelo pressed teamwork to his guys – going so far as asking Kobe Bryant to just play defense and pass the ball. He convinced Jason Kidd to simply focus on assisting players rather than scoring at all in almost every game!

4.       If you want to win; set smaller goals along the way

Sure – a gold medal was the ultimate prize. However, Colangelo also set smaller goals for Team USA, including participating in “other” Olympic events to share camaraderie with other members of the Olympic teams and to remind the media over and over that “Basketball is not America’s sport – it’s everyone’s.” All of the members of the team took each small goal to heart, going so far as to start a cheering line for Michael Phelps during his Olympic races to show support.

5      If you want to win; connect with your team

This sounds silly, but Colangelo is widely known as the “Godfather” in many circles. He is known as the godfather of Phoenix for his mark on our history, but also as the godfather by basketball players worldwide. Why? In his slick suits and with his take-no-prisoners attitude, the self-made man draws comparisons to legal versions of Al Pacino’s character in Scarface and Marlon Brando’s in The Godfather – two seminal films to the current era of NBA players.

6.       If you want to win; recruit fellow leaders

This one is easy – Jerry Colangelo recruited Duke’s own Coach K for Team USA. Coach K is a leader that all of the young NBA players who skipped college dreamed of playing for and a leader that all college-educated players in the NBA always wanted to learn from (or beat).

7.       If you want to win; you must empower each other

Coach K has an amazing quote about this: “When you are a coach, leader or even company commander; there is something you have to remember. The higher up you go, the further you get from the action. As a coach (or leader), you’re never on the court. So the players (or employees) have to have a voice. They have to be empowered…”

8.       If you want to win; bring in reinforcements

Colangelo and Coach K realized that even their booming voices and wisdom may get a little stale over three years. So they brought in a stable of fellow leaders to rouse the troops on a regular basis, including beloved former (and now current) coach Doug Collins.

9.       If you want to win; you have to make it fun

I still don’t know how this happened, but Colangelo somehow made Kobe Bryant joke around – he even opened up. Yes, I still hate him, but the team had fun and it even showed on the infamously aloof superstar (did I mention I still hate him?).

10.   If you want to win; be prepared to be humble

One quote in the book from Doug Collins spelled this out: There are winners in life, losers in life and champions. Colangelo wanted champions, not winners.

Alison Bailin
Alison Bailin
Senior Account Executive Alison has a lot to say…about pretty much everything...all the time. From the current state of public relations to the social media impact on Shark Week to crisis communications in the sports world, Alison’s blogs are focused on “amusing through her PR musings,” and then some. Check out Alison's full bio

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