What makes a good NBA leader? Ask Danny Green

Leadership is one of those intangible qualities that always gets mentioned when people discuss the keys to success in team sports.

“Winning has a price, and leadership has a price,” Jordan says at one point, in defense of his methods.

The ends Jordan achieved may have justified the means by which he achieved them, but surely intimidation and fear aren’t the only motivational tools that can be used to get the most out of one’s teammates.

To get some insight into that question, I wanted to talk to someone who has won something.

In all but one of Green’s 12 NBA seasons, the team he’s played for won 50 or more games; in all but two, his team finished the regular season as a top-two seed in its conference.

He’s won three championships with three different teams: the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, the Toronto Raptors in 2019, and the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020.

“I’ve grown up under some leaders that did things I thought were effective, things that were cool, and things that were not cool, like bullying,” Green told me in a phone interview.

All of them have approached leadership in their own ways: some on the court, and some off of it; some with their voices, and others simply with their habits and their play; some through basketball acumen, and others via an interpersonal connection.

“Some of them spoke up and were more vocal, some led by trying to create chemistry.

LeBron, obviously, he’s one of those few guys who did it in all aspects of leadership, whether it was on or off the court, chemistry-wise, putting things together and making sure we, as a group, hung out.

There were many moments with each one of them when I’d say, ‘That’s a leader, that’s how a leader should be, and that’s how I want to be.’ But where it sticks out the most, the two guys mainly were Timmy and ‘Bron.

As for MJ’s more abrasive methods, Green declined to throw his fellow Tar Heel under the bus.

Now it might not be as effective, because we have a lot more sensitive players who grew up in a much more sensitive world.

Some people you get the best out of them when you push them, when you get them angry.

Green didn’t make a qualitative assessment of that cultural shift, but it’s notable that as he’s become a locker-room leader himself, his approach to the role as he describes it is a decidedly supportive one.

I’ve seen some of the most talented stars not be able to adapt because they didn’t have the right timing or situation, or because they just lost their confidence.

There’s an art to instilling that confidence.

If I’m gonna talk to Joel or Ben , I’m gonna approach them in a way that will help motivate them or help them get out of their own heads.

“As funny as it sounds with All-Star and MVP-caliber players, they all sometimes think about the game too much, sometimes get in their own heads.

And as he forged his own identity as a leader over the years, he was able to emulate and cobble together different qualities he admired from guys like Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili.

He and Leonard are two of just five players from the 2014 Spurs championship team who are still active in the NBA.

When he and Leonard were traded to Toronto, Green got a chance to fully apply everything he’d gleaned from his years in San Antonio.

But those two teams, I’ve had a bunch of guys I’ve seen flourish and grow, from OG to Norm, Fred … Fred was already on his way, and Pascal, all those guys were already good when I got there.

But the superstar guys know what they need to do; it’s not one of those things where they don’t know their role or how to make their mark in this league.

Green acknowledged that trying to lead a team as a role player is much different than doing so as a star.

“I think it helps that I have a younger group and I’ve been in the league long enough and I’ve been able to win.

“But it’s a harder route, and it takes a little longer to earn superstar players’ respect or certain coaches’ respect sometimes, and it’s hard to have that say-so power in the organization.

You can have all the talent in the world, you can have all the pieces, you can have a great organization.

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