What We Can Learn About Recruiting From the Cleveland Cavaliers

There are several recruiting lessons to be learned from the bomb that LeBron James dropped on Cleveland late last night about his departure to the Miami Heat. Before we get into those lessons, let’s take a quick look at some of the highlights of LeBron’s NBA career with the Cavs:

  • 2003: selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers as the first overall pick in the NBA Draft; signed a three-year, $12.9 million contract
  • 2004: named 2003–04 NBA Rookie of the Year
  • 2004-2005: selected to his first NBA All-Star Game
  • 2005-2006: named as one of the candidates for the NBA Most Valuable Player Award
  • 2006: negotiated a three-year, $60 million contract extension, with a player option for a fourth year, to begin in the 2007-2008 season
  • 2007-2008: won the 2008 All-Star Game MVP
  • 2008-2009: wins NBA Most Valuable Player award
  • 2009-2010: wins 2nd NBA Most Valuable Player award
  • July 2010: contract with Cleveland expires; becomes a free agent, meets formally with the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, and New Jersey Nets

Make no mistake about it; this guy is Talented. With a capital “T”. But it takes more than one guy to make a team, as Cleveland has surely learned. Just a couple of lessons to glean from this entire situation:

Don’t build your kingdom around one person. Whether you are hiring people for your office or assisting clients in their hiring needs, it’s important not to rely solely on one individual. For example: if you have a superstar candidate lined up to interview with a client, make sure you have others to present as well who are also excellent players. Remember – clients’ needs will vary and someone who might not seem to be the best candidate could turn out to be exactly what they’re looking for. Think of it this way – ever heard of a guy named Shaquille O’Neal? Yeah – he was also a Cleveland Cavalier last season (this is bound to change).

The best players aren’t always the right players. Think of the quote from Herb Brooks in the movie Miracle: “I’m not looking for the best players, Craig. I’m looking for the right ones.” In the seven years that James has been with the Cavs, he still has yet to win an NBA Championship. Sure, they’ve made it to the Playoffs five times, but as any winner will tell you, the ultimate prize is winning it all. When placing or hiring “A” players, it is important to take this into consideration. They may be a superstar, but is their working style going to mesh with your client’s company? When you’re hiring for yourself, these are also things to consider. For the Cavs, perhaps losing LeBron will be the best thing for the team as a whole. Only time will tell.

Money isn’t the only motivator. There is a billboard near Quicken Loans Arena that says, “Born Here. Raised Here. Plays Here. Stays Here.” Cleveland has been reminding James of his roots for quite some time now to encourage him to stay. He makes a lot of money, but as with most people who play at his level, sometimes the biggest motivators don’t have a dollar sign attached to them. In a Bloomberg Businessweek article written in June, Arizona State University president Michael M. Crow is quoted saying, “A world-class athlete is fundamentally no different than a world-class scientist…They are interested in finding a way to express everything that they have without limit so that they can gain recognition.” Recognition, proximity to family/friends, recreation, creative freedom, and so forth are all motivators that don’t necessarily have pricetags attached to them but can be huge deciding factors when working with candidates.

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There will always be new (and better?) talent coming up. When your superstar candidate decides to take an offer elsewhere, it is disappointing for sure. But keep in mind the old cliche that there are always other fish in the sea. James is not the only talented player in the NBA. He’s also not the last of the talent available out there – just look at the guys coming up from this year’s draft. Superstars come into their own all the time, which is why it’s always a good idea to track careers of promising individuals and take an interest in them early on. They will remember your interest as they become successful which could mean placements, referrals, and/or new clients for you.

What other recruiting lessons do you think can be learned from LeBron’s departure? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Amybeth Quinn began her career in sourcing working within the agency world as an Internet Researcher. Since 2002, she has worked in both agency and corporate sourcing and recruiting roles as both individual contributor and manager, and also served previously as the editor of The Fordyce Letter, FordyceLetter.com and SourceCon.com, with ERE Media. These days she's working on some super cool market intelligence and data analytics projects. You can connect with her on Twitter at @researchgoddess.


11 Comments on “What We Can Learn About Recruiting From the Cleveland Cavaliers

  1. There is no I in team, but there is a ME.

    One person can not do it by themselves, but the one person must also know how to work together with the rest of the team.

    One may never know from an interview which way this goes. Over a number of interviews you will or should.

  2. I’m curious what folks think of Dan Gilbert’s letter to fans afterward, too.

    Part of me likes it.

    And part of me wonders if Gilbert would have been better off saying, “LeBron, you did a great job here, we wish you the best, except when you’re playing us” and then promised fans he’ll do everything it takes to win without King James.

    So I’m torn.

  3. What we can and should learn about recruiting from the Cleveland Cavaliers is just like the body is made up of many members and all the members need to work together to function well or else it will fall apart. So too in an organization, one person cannot accomplish everything by themselves. All members are needed and must work together to win the game and no member should be elevated above the other (we all have different gifts we bring to the table).

  4. Just because LeBron is talented doesn’t mean he knows “the answer”, or is the answer. He missed out by not going to Chicago. He could of owned Chicago, ala Jordan.

    Remember, Jordan could not do it without Phil Jackson, and they needed Scottie Pippen and other players who Phil developed as role players.

    It will be intersting; and it will be interesting to see what lessons may be learned here. Some say this changes the balance from Managment to Players….maybe. It is publicity that David Stern could not buy.

    You want some lessons: Study the Chicago Blackhawks…..best turnaround in Sports History! Brought in the talent/coaching/and embraced the fan and the fan experience. The whole town loves them now. Just a few years ago, they were considered THE worst sports franchise of all. Father/Owner – poor manager died; son Rocky took over, brought Cubs Marketing Director over….WOW, what a difference a few years can make. Now….if only the change in CUBS ownership could work such a miracle. Watch out for those Bears….just maybe……

  5. Dan Gilbert responds to Todd Raphel’s comment.
    Todd, thank you.
    When i get angry i say stupid things.
    i slept on it.

    First, apologies to you LeBron.

    Second, apologies to our fans for my dive into the pit of low emotional intelligence. That is not useful to developing a winning attitude.
    So here is what i would like to say after i extract my foot from my mouth and my head out of my a–.

    “LeBron, you did a great job here. I wish you the best,except when you’re playing us.”

    To our fans
    “i will do a better job of doing what i can to do what it takes to build a winning Cavalier team. I hope you will give me another chance.”


  6. What Dan Gilbert said was spot on…no superstar is going to sign to go to Cleveland (in basketball, at least) Not glitzy enough. I really don’t think his comments turned off free agents, because they weren’t considering Cleveland.

    He spoke with passion and spoke to his clients. He defended his company the same way Steve Jobs does…”you’re just holding the new phone wrong.”

    Where Gilbert can be faulted is not holding his star employee accountable for 7 years. Sure, he performed, and performed at a high level…until he already had one foot in South Beach…but Gilbert treated him like a spoiled brat and in turn, LBJ acted like a spoiled brat. Cleveland loved James, but James didn’t love Cleveland. No tough love…just unconditional love…you need a combination of both. As a result, LeBron left with no consequence, no emotion.

    That’s not how you want your star employee to leave.

  7. Good post. I think Miami is in for an unpleasant surprise. Managing two superstars on one team is difficult enough,three will be almost impossible, especially in a league where egos are monstrous and a game where setting up plays (i.e, “sharing”) is necessary for success. Any manager in the search and placement industry who has had three or more super billers under one roof knows exactly what I’m talking about, and in our industry, you can keep them separated. In basketball, you can’t.

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