…relevant to the agency business and life
Every year around NCAA Tournament time, I think about my old coach, Jim Valvano. He’s become synonymous with the underdog. As one of my life’s great fortunes, I played for Coach V on his last two Iona teams after transferring from Wake Forest. In our two seasons together, we went 52-11, won two ECAC championships and made it to the NCAA Tournament both years. We beat the Kansas Jayhawks, Pittsburgh, St. John’s, Wichita State, Seton Hall and Mike Krzyzewski’s Army squad thrice.
We also beat the eventual tournament champion, Louisville, 77-60 in Madison Square Garden in February of 1980. They were nicknamed the “Doctors of Dunk.” We were a bunch of tough New York kids without a nickname. That season, we ranked in the Top 20 of the Final AP Poll.
Playing for V was an emotional roller coaster — such incredible highs and lows. There was no “normal.” Everything he did was a challenge to our manhood and our competitiveness. He and I had an unusual bond — we were both English majors and literary students. We often discussed the frailty of the human condition and the duty of the writer to make language new.
I learned seven key lessons from Jimmy that apply not just to basketball, but to the agency business and life:
- “The only two things that are real in this world are Achievements and Relationships.” V would finish this thought with, “and we get to have both.” 40 years later, this theory has withstood the test of time. Everything else just fades away, like cheap ink.
- “Never accept in victory what you wouldn’t in defeat.” Boy, does this apply to the pitch process. You might get away with less than your best occasionally; but it will surely come back to haunt you when you need it most.
- “Dare to Dream.” As usual, V usually had a subtitle to his headlines. For this one it was, “and then out-dream yourself.” Our dream was to beat the #1 team in the country in the 9 o’clock game at The Garden. What’s your team’s dream? Agency of the Year? What’s your personal dream? Marketer of the Year? A One Show Pencil? Go do it…anything is possible if you plan for it.
- “Always know the time and score.” Sounds simple, right? It’s not. Your shelf life as a professional has an expiration date. And your value is measured in wins. Never lose sight of the clock and scoreboard. LinkedIn is littered with expert losers.
- “Success requires a system.” All great coaches have a system. The system wins and the system loses. The players are just executors of the system. Great players in a bad system often lose. And good ones in a great system almost always win.
- “Basketball is a cumulative game.” Life is a cumulative game; so is your career, your agency or your brand: it’s ALL a cumulative game. It all counts — not just the last 2 minutes. A missed opportunity is a missed opportunity.
- “Make enthusiasm a habit.” Our industry attracts cynics…don’t be one. Train your enthusiasm, don’t curb it. Foster it. Develop it. Seek inspiration. Find and channel your inner Coach V; number 15 below did.