Following a win over the Lakers in a regular-season game in February 2010, Doc Rivers took $100 from every player, coach, and team manager. He took the $2600 collected, put it in an envelope, and hid it underneath a ceiling tile in the visitors’ locker room. He had a simple message for the team: “We’re coming back to get our money.”
The thing is, the only scenario where that would happen was a Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals. The Celtics were 3rd in the East, not considered the favorites in the East. They beat the odds, came back in June, and collected their money. Being an NBA coach is as much about connecting with your players and motivating them as it is about strategy and player development. One of the best coaches ever to do that was Pat Riley.
In 2006, the Heat, led by Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neal, got to the Finals to face the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas shocked everyone by taking a 2-0 lead after the first two games in Miami. Everyone outside Miami remembers the 27 free throws Dwayne Wade got in games 3 and 4, Mark Cuban losing it, and getting fined a quarter of a million dollars. Everyone from Miami remembers Heat winning both games in Dallas and reclaiming home court. They won Game 5, took a 3-2 lead, and then Pat Riley made his move.
“We go up 3-2 and then Pat Riley comes in pissed off. 'We ain't practicing today, we're going there tomorrow and you better bring one suit. When you get to the airport tomorrow I'm checkin'. If you ain't got one suit, your ass ain't coming on the plane.' So we at the airport, he was checking people's bags and we had to bring one suit.”
Shaq played for great coaches in his career. Out of all of them, Shaq said Pat Riley (and Dale Brown) were the greatest motivators he ever played for. As he explained it, conversations were the thing that got the best out of him—getting him into the right mindset.
“When they tell stories before a game, you just want to go out and kill people.”
That’s why specific organizations and coaches keep showing up in Finals and winning championships. They start building a relationship in October so that you would trust them in June. (The 97 free throws Dwayne Wade shot in six games helped as well.)