What this NBA Legend Taught Me about Entrepreneurship

As an entrepreneur, you probably follow many influencers within the world of entrepreneurship in order to glean insight, receive advice and gain knowledge to better equip yourself for startup success. I know I do.

Some of the best entrepreneurial lessons I’ve learned have been from Eric Ries, Tim Ferriss, Peter Thiel and…Allen Iverson. Yes, that sentence is correct, Allen Iverson. At first glance, it may seem shocking but with a closer look this future hall of famer has some valuable lessons to teach us.

Allen Iverson is an NBA legend. The former 76ers guard shifted defenders with his ankle-breaking crossover and captivated fans with his ability to score in bunches. He seemingly registered thirty points by the time he got off the bus and made it to the locker room.

Iverson had an accomplished career—he was an 11 time all-star (with 2 MVPs in those games), received the 2001 regular season MVP award and led the league in scoring four times en route to 24,368 points for his career, which places him 23rd on the all-time list.

When I was growing up, Iverson motivated me and showed me how to be a better basketball player. Now, as an adult, he is still teaching me lessons on being better—but instead of basketball, the focus is on entrepreneurship.

Be Yourself

 “I don't wanna be Michael Jordan, I don't wanna be Bird or Isiah. I don't wanna be any of those guys. You know when my career is over, I wanna look in the mirror and say I did it my way.”

Allen Iverson is one of the most criticized players in NBA history. He has been faced with many labels over the course of his career, such as ‘thug’ ‘selfish’ and ‘ball hog.’ However, no one can say that he wasn’t true to himself. He always did things the Allen Iverson way. Whether people loved it or hated it, everyone respected it.

As an entrepreneur, you should carry yourself the same way. In your career, you will undoubtedly face criticism, praise, failures and triumphs. At the end of the day, you will be much happier knowing that you were yourself. It is never fun, nor is it sustainable, to pretend to be something you are not to gain acceptance or get ahead in your career.

Authenticity goes a long way. Be yourself.

Be Passionate

“I play every game like it’s my last game. All that matters is that you go out there and play every game as if it was your last.”

Iverson gave everything he had to the game of basketball. Every time he stepped on the court, his fans, teammates, coaches, and competitors all knew that A.I. was going to give it his all. His effort was never in question. His passion drove him to give maximum effort toward his craft. This was best evidenced in 2001 when he took an undertalented Philly team to the NBA Finals.

Similarly, your passion should be your fuel for achieving the dream that you have for your startup. Treat each interaction as if it is your last, as if it is a make or break deal that determines your startup’s existence. 

Relentlessly go after your dream—it is there for the taking.

Be Fearless

Iverson is widely regarded as “pound for pound, the best player ever.” Listed at only six feet tall and 165 pounds, Iverson was consistently the smallest player on the court and had to navigate within the paint against players with monstrous statures such as Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett and Patrick Ewing, players that measure out to 7 feet tall or more. Despite the major size disadvantage, Iverson remained fearless and relentlessly attacked the basket to earn points or get to the free throw line. As a former basketball player, with the misfortune of only growing to 5’9, he taught me size doesn’t matter— and not like that!

As a startup founder, whether you are trying to make a major difference, shake up an industry or just sell cool products to people that like the same things as you, you are going to have to compete with the Shaqs of business—major corporations that have decades of experience, high operating budgets, and extensive industry knowledge--but you will have to overcome the size disadvantage to achieve success if you truly believe in your vision.

There was also the iconic moment in Iverson’s rookie year when Michael Jordan, the GOAT, switched onto him for a possession. This is an intimidating situation for any player in the league, no less a rookie, but Iverson was fearless and crossed over the NBA legend, shifting him one way and going the other to free himself up for the jumper—for what may be the biggest “Got heem” moment in NBA history.

You must be fearless and remain cool when dealing with investors and boards of directors or when pitching your product or service to a large audience. You must steer your company during tumultuous times because although you may not have experienced a particular situation yet, you are expected to have all the answers.

Like when MJ guarded A.I., there will be times when you are overmatched but if you carry yourself with the brash confidence that Iverson displays then you will overcome your fears and accomplish the goals you have for yourself.

Remember, “Only the strong survive.”

Other than watching the moves of the most successful entrepreneurs, I’ve been able to learn entrepreneurial lessons by watching Allen Iverson’s moves on and off the hardwood.

Entrepreneurship is a challenging road with low success rates.  You may not have instant success like Iverson—awarded the Rookie of the Year in 1997—but if you are persistent and adhere to the lessons that The Answer exhibits, you will be able to get your startup into the big league.

A.I. isn’t the only basketball player that taught me entrepreneurship lessons. To find out what entrepreneurs can learn from Lebron James read this.