No Days Off: 5 Skills That Every Basketball Player With Big Dreams Must Master

  • LeBron James



    Leadership is one of those off-court skills that remains constantly up for debate. Are you born a leader or can you become one? Who’s to be sure? I just know it’s important. I’ve seen teams without leadership, and then others with leadership. The difference is insurmountable. It’s an important skill to carry because a coach can’t be on the court. They need someone who can hold others accountable, put people in line, encourage, keep calm, and all the while walks the walk. Good teams have several leaders. Great teams have a LEADER.

    Who else could I possibly be talking about other than King James? I’ve watched LeBron since he was 16, rocking that Fighting Irish jersey in high school. You just knew he was something special. The thing that has really set him apart now in my eyes is the way he is able to lead. Players WANT to play with LeBron. One of the truest signs of being a great leader is when great players want to play with you. He has taken mediocre Cavs teams from his early NBA days to the playoffs, to star-studded casts in Miami to world championships.

    Audiences see flashy dunks and long alley-oops to Dwyane Wade. What I see from LeBron is team management through his ability to stay calm, poised, and deflect attention, take criticism and block it out to focus on the task ahead.

    This season with the Cavs, in his long awaited return to his hometown has been interesting. Last year, the LeBron-less Cavs went 33-49. Once he arrived, he went about leading in interesting ways, subtle knocks at teammates (that Twitter feud with Kevin Love rings a bell), perhaps even undermining the head coach. Did I question it early in the season? Absolutely. It seemed as if he thought he was better than others. Yet, he did what he had to do to better the team. Sure enough, the Cavs are back and ready to make a championship run.

    Certainly there’s more talent than years before, but look how the Heat turned out this year (37-45)…that in itself speaks to just how valuable LeJames leadership was. He does what’s necessary for the benefit of the team, which is what the best leaders do.

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  • James Harden

    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Killer Instinct

    Did anyone practice as kids the end-game moment with the clock ticking down? I know I did. Relished it. Who wants the last shot? If you raised your hand without the slightest hesitation, I applaud you. This isn’t a physical skill. It’s a mentality. It’s the edge that makes you special. Owning the killer instinct can define legacies, create iconic moments, and stand you apart from even the elite players.

    If the game is on the line, there is no question who wants the ball. Someone who possess the killer instinct doesn’t care if they miss. The beauty of what makes the professional level so special is that normally any player on the court is willing to take the last shot. But, players such as Lebron James, Steph Curry, James Harden, and Tim Duncan, these are guys that routinely take the big shot and it’s why they are the absolute cream of the crop.

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  • Stephen Curry

    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images


    With modern technology and the naysayers just one click away, something that must always take precedent is your belief in yourself. Seems like a simple concept, right? Just believe in yourself and success will follow.

    It’s not that simple.

    Coaches will test your limits and drive you to quit, just to see how far you will go. The media will criticize your every move just to get a rise out of you for a 20-second soundbite. Now with social media, anyone with a Twitter handle can mention horrendous things about you behind a computer or smart phone. That self-belief, yeah, it just got a LOT harder.

    I’ve forever lived by the motto that the belief in oneself can propel you as far as you want to go. That’s never been more clear and more admirable than watching Warriors guard Steph Curry. The kid from Davidson College who was asked to walk-on at Virginia Tech has gone from “a long shot” to making the NBA–as Dell Curry, his dad once said–to one of the most celebrated NBA superstars of our time.

    When he was in college draining threes and leading the country in scoring, many people still doubted his ability despite his unparalleled success in crunch time moments. Could he handle the physicality? A few years of that can be used as motivation, but a lifetime in Steph Curry’s case…it could easily overwhelm a player’s psyche. Boy does that all seems like ages ago.

    It’s unbelievable how good this kid is. What changed? He added a little more size, quickness, worked on his overall game. What didn’t change? His consistent belief in his ability. It never wavered. He’s transformed the Golden State Warriors into one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA and legitimate contenders. He’s managed to launch himself into the MVP race and just last week he made 77 threes in a row in practice. Not so bad for a kid who was once deemed a long shot. If there’s ever a player to imitate now, it’s Steph Curry.

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  • Stephen Curry, Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images


    We live in a “what are you doing for me now?” society. Selfishness, egos, all the above are a common denominator. I see so much of the syndrome sometimes it’s discouraging. That’s why this skill is imperative and last to highlight because I think its becoming a rarity. Which team had the most talent in last year’s NBA Finals: the Spurs or the Heat? That can be argued. In my opinion, the Spurs’ unselfish style of play won them a ring.

    The greatest story this season has been the Atlanta Hawks. Who saw this coming? Not even anyone from the A knew they’d be this good. You should have heard people in the gym talking about the hawks preseason: “Man, maybe an 8-seed in the playoffs.” Good call, guys. Those who enjoy watching the Hawks play have to admire the team’s selflessness. It has been such an integral part of their success, not just as a team, but individually. It takes everyone buying into that philosophy, and checking egos at the door.

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  • LeBron James
  • James Harden
  • Stephen Curry
  • Stephen Curry, Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks

Behind every great athlete is an even better foundation. Why are they so successful? Take a look at their off-the-court makeup. Incredible athleticism and abilities will get you so far. There are other skills, non-physical skills that make up that foundation. Today we will discuss just this as I dive into the 5 Skills That Every Basketball Player With Big Dreams Must Master in the latest installment of No Days Off.

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When college coaches sit around and watch young players compete, there’s always one kid that stands out. The worker. The one that never stops. Their motor never runs out. College coaches fall in love with these players because you can’t coach a kid’s heart or drive. The best part about this skill is it has nothing to do with the physical. I’m not asking you to have a 35-inch vert. I’m asking you to find a way to either develop one, or just out-work someone to put yourself in position to win a battle where that would matter.

It is the willingness to never quit, to want to continuously get better each and every day, and to want to learn from others. You don’t make it to the highest levels of college basketball and excel without drive, and definitely put the professional ranks on the back-burner if you don’t want it bad enough. I was never the fastest. I was never the strongest. But no one ever questioned my drive. That’s what leads to success because it separates you from someone who maybe is physically more gifted but doesn’t want to work as hard.

Someone whose drive I admire is Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. D-Rose cant seem to stay healthy, everyone knows this. The average fan at home, they just want to see him on the court. Fair enough. But what’s missing is they don’t see the struggle, the agony of sitting on the bench when you just want to play. They see his return.

Some pity him for his struggle but Derrick Rose is a fighter. He has the drive. It’s why he is still in conversations as one of the best point guards in the game. There’s a cloud of doubt that continuously hangs over his head, yet when he falls down, he gets back up. It would be really easy to walk away, hang up his shoes, and yet D-Rose cant. Why? His drive keeps him going.

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