Steph Curry and the Warriors Show Humanity and Leadership

What's the winning formula for leadership? Compassion.

Posted Jun 11, 2019

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

I don’t have a regular history of idolizing sports heroes or looking to them for commentary. There are several over the years, though, who have really risen to the occasion, to speak out on civil rights, human rights, sexism, and other issues. It’s really wonderful when athletes use their celebrity to be positive role models.

I think Steph Curry’s post-game comments in the press room after game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals will go down in history as a model of exemplary leadership. He and other Warriors have been known for this in the past, but these 11 minutes should be required viewing not just for basketball fans, but for anyone on a team or in leadership. There are “task-oriented” and “people-oriented” leaders and organizations. Steph modeled the ideal balance, with the scale tilted heavily towards the well-being of his injured teammate, Kevin Durant, who went down hard early in the game, after pushing himself to support his teammates on the court despite prior injuries. You can sense the absolute love and care Steph has for KD. In the long run, Steph said, beyond the championship series, life is about relationships. (Video streams are appended below.)

In a difficult moment, Steph was asked what he thought of the Raptors fans in Toronto who cheered when KD went down. I was absolutely impressed that in the heat of the moment, the “Twitter reflexes” of the day were not in charge. He gave respect to the people of Toronto, characterized them as good people, and expressed his appreciation of Raptors players who tried to “check” their fans’ toxicity. He expressed first and foremost his basic trust in their humanity, while being perplexed at their reaction, and his hope that this would not happen again. He did not express anger. He never expressed a hint of retaliatory or antagonistic intent, something a lesser leader might have done. (Not naming names, but…)

He also did underscore his team’s intent to play well in the remaining games and do their best to win the title. A focus on humanity and relatedness does not diminish a team’s capacity to win games. Winning, for Steph, his teammates, and Coach Steve Kerr, is not a function of toxic masculine aggression, but rather is a product of commitment to excellence on the court, as well as a commitment to being “a good person,” as Steph said. 

As the saying goes, “We may go faster alone, but we go farther together.”

Bob Myers, General Manager of the Warriors, fought back tears in the press conference, discussing KD’s injury. This again modeled extraordinary humanity and compassionate masculinity, so necessary in our fraught times.

Watching all this reminded me of Greater Good Science Center Director and UC Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner’s principles of empathic leadership, discussed in his book The Power Paradox (see below).

Go Dubs! But no matter what happens, you are champions and role models already. Your words and actions call us all to our better selves.

Best wishes to KD for your health!

Update: 6/12/19: Kevin Durant injury fallout: Raptors fan’s GoFundMe page benefits KD charity, SF Chronicle

Photo by Ravi Chandra, words by Dacher Keltner
Source: Photo by Ravi Chandra, words by Dacher Keltner