Great Basketball Quotes to Up Your Game

March Madness Inspiration


It’s March.

In the United States, that means basketball.

March Madness was born on March 27, 1939. The record for the most successful team ever is still held by UCLA with eleven championships. How many of those were directly under the leadership of legendary basketball coach John Wooden? An astounding ten. Still amazing. Pat Summit’s record is also one for the history books with six championships for Tennessee (and 1,098 career wins!).

As someone who collects inspiring quotes, there is an unending supply of great ones from outstanding players and coaches.


Here are a few of my favorites:


Quotes from Basketball Greats


“Confidence is what happens when you’ve done the hard work that entitles you to succeed.” –Pat Summitt


“Those who work the hardest are the last to surrender.” –Rick Pitino


“What to do with a mistake: 1. Recognize it. 2. Admit it. 3. Learn from it. 4. Forget it.” –Dean Smith


“Sports do not build character, they reveal it.” –John Wooden


“In order to achieve positive results, one must work for them, not hope for them.” –Bobby Knight


“Commitment separates those who live their dreams from those who live their lives regretting the opportunities they have squandered.” –Bill Russell


“Overcoaching is the worst thing you can do to a player.” –Dean Smith


“Coaches win practices, players win games.” –Pete Carril


“Good players want to be coached. Great players want to be told the truth.” –Doc Rivers


“Shout praise and whisper criticism.” –Don Meyer

16 Things High-Performing Organizations Do Differently

What Great Teams Do Differently

Don Yaeger is an expert on what it takes to cultivate a champion mindset. He was associate editor of Sports Illustrated for over a decade; he has made guest appearances on every show from Oprah to Good Morning America, and he’s also authored more than two dozen books. Now a public speaker, he shares stories from the greatest winners of our generation.

So when his new book, Great Teams: 16 Things High Performing Organizations Do Differently, arrived on my desk, I couldn’t wait to read it.

I wasn’t disappointed. Don’s insight on high-performance is evident on every single page. I recently had the opportunity to talk with him about his research into what makes a team great.


“Great teams are connected to a greater purpose.” -Don Yaeger


Use Your Why to Motivate

Don, you’ve seen the inside of great teams in the sports and the business worlds. Your new book focuses on 16 characteristics of great teams. Let’s talk about a few of them.

 Your first point is that great teams understand their why. Purpose motivates both individuals and teams. How does the personal “why” interact with the team “why”? Do they ever conflict?

In the business world, a “why” is often misunderstood as a company mission statement or code of ethics—which couldn’t be further from the truth. Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek has described a company’s corporate “why” as “always disconnected from the product, service, or the act you’re performing.” If an organization desires to become a Great Team in the business world, then it must understand how to utilize the “why” properly in order to galvanize support from its professional ranks. “When an organization lays out its cause, how it does so matters,” explained Sinek. “It’s not an argument to be made, but a context to be provided. An organization’s ‘why’ literally has to come first—before anything else.”


“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” -Simon Sinek



Companies that understand the purpose and philosophy behind the “why” are usually astute, high-performing organizations that tap directly into the pulse of those they benefit the most. When utilized correctly, this understanding can create a powerful sense of duty and purpose for business teams because the employees know exactly whom they are working for and to what end.


“Great teams build a deep bench at all levels of the organization.” -Don Yaeger


Let Culture Shape Recruiting

You talk about letting culture shape recruiting. In a large company, how do you make this a reality so that every single hiring manager is thinking about culture and not just reviewing a resume?

Purpose and leadership are essential to building a team culture. Once an organization determines its “why” and aligns its leadership style with the needs of its members, it is on the right path to becoming a Great Team. But culture building doesn’t stop there. A team must also recruit the right talent. If done well, recruiting will result in a highly competitive team that is consistently motivated to seek and claim success.

Great Teams recruit players who fit—who will thrive within the established team culture and add value to it. The talent of the employee or teammate is important, but fit trumps all. These organizations understand that Great Team culture establishes an environment conducive to success, but that success ultimately depends on the right kind of personnel.

In today’s marketplace, it is very easy to be wowed by decorated resumes. When the “ideal” candidate—the one with the outstanding CV—arrives, many leaders incorrectly believe that including that person will automatically better the team. A Great Team, however, understands that fit is more important than credentials. Someone who might be perfect for one environment—or might have been great while working for a competitor—will not be a guaranteed fit for another. That’s something hiring managers should keep in mind as they build their teams.


“Great teams realize that fit is more important than credentials.” -Don Yaeger


Successful Huddles Are Crucial

What makes a successful huddle? 

Successful huddles are all about open and consistent communication. Under head coach Bill Walsh, the San Francisco 49ers placed such importance on the art of the meeting that he had specific rules and procedures regarding how each one should run. Walsh analyzed and even recorded meetings to spot potential lulls and weaknesses in their process. He wanted to make sure his assistant coaches—who would sometimes change from year to year—were teaching his team in a consistent fashion.

Quarterback Joe Montana, who came on board right after Walsh did, shared Walsh’s high opinion of meetings. This legendary team leader—who won four Super Bowl championships and is tied for the most titles among all quarterbacks—was known in and around the NFL as “Joe Cool.” He had an uncanny knack for seeing all aspects of the game from his position on the field and was seemingly unflappable in the most pressurized situations. And there was a reason for Montana’s demeanor: like Walsh, he believed in a very diligent, orderly meeting process as a means of keeping players engaged. For Montana, the huddle was a sacred place and the ultimate comfort zone. There were rules to be followed when Montana was giving out information for the next play. If those rules weren’t adhered to, Montana told his teammates to take the issue somewhere else. The huddle was a place where everyone needed to be engaged and headed in the same direction.

Great Teams in businesses can take a page from Walsh’s and Montana’s playbook and conduct orderly, disciplined meetings. Such order makes a bigger difference than many leaders want to admit. A successful meeting revolves around clear communication. It can be pivotal to achieving greatness because it explains precise strategy and opens the door to new ideas. An efficient meeting allows an organization to remain one step ahead of the competition and forces it to remain consistent with any existing strategies. But these ideas must be streamlined by a process and guided by a leader who can filter out the good ideas from the bad.


16 Things High-Performing Organizations Do Differently

  1. Great teams understand their why.
  2. Great teams have and develop great leaders.
  3. Great teams allow culture to shape recruiting.
  4. Great teams create and maintain depth.
  5. Great teams have a road map.
  6. Great teams promote camaraderie and a sense of collective direction.
  7. Great teams manage dysfunction, friction, and strong personalities.
  8. Great teams build a mentoring culture.
  9. Great teams adjust quickly to leadership transitions.
  10. Great teams adapt and embrace change.
  11. Great teams run successful huddles.
  12. Great teams improve through scouting.
  13. Great teams see value others miss.
  14. Great teams win in critical situations.
  15. Great teams speak a different language.
  16. Great teams avoid the pitfalls of success.


Would you share an example of where one team missed “value” and another team spotted it and capitalized on it? 

John Wooden on the Difference Between Winning and Succeeding

Timeless Success Advice

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden shared some timeless advice for his players that not only applied to his team, but to all of us.

Though this legend has passed on, his many lessons and many quotes remain as timeless reminders of what success looks like. Some of his timeless advice:

  • Always be on time.
  • Be neat and clean.
  • Don’t use profanity.
  • Never criticize a teammate.
  • Have patience.
  • Have faith that things will work out if we do what we are suppose to do.
  • Don’t whine, complain or make excuses.
  • Do your best.

John Wooden didn’t cut corners, and he didn’t let his values slide in order to win. His consistency was legendary. I often read his inspiring quotes. He is known for winning ten NCAA national championships in twelve years. With his attitude and wisdom, I am certain he would have been successful at nearly any endeavor.

His many quotes continue to inspire. Here are a few of my favorite John Wooden quotes:


John Wooden Quotes


“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.” -John Wooden


“Never mistake activity for achievement. -John Wooden

Senator Bill Bradley on How We Can All Do Better

Record of Achievement

He has a record of achievement few can match:

  • Rhodes Scholar
  • Graduate of Princeton and Oxford
  • Olympic Gold Medalist
  • 2-time NBA Champion with the New York Knicks
  • Basketball Hall of Famer
  • Senator from New Jersey for 18 years
  • Presidential Candidate
  • Managing Director, Allen & Company
  • Host of American Voices on Satellite Radio
  • Author of seven books
  • Director serving on numerous charitable boards
  • And the list could go on and on.

I’m talking, of course, about Senator Bill Bradley.  Senator Bradley recently sat down with me to talk about a range of topics from his life growing up, his experiences as a pro basketball player, his life as a Senator, and the current issues facing our country. 

Senator Bradley’s latest book is titled We Can All Do Better.

Five words came to mind as I read the book, and we talked about them in the interview:

  1. Citizens.  It takes all of us to make a better country.  Citizen involvement is what spurred the greatest movements.  From abolitionists fighting to end slavery all the way to environmentalists cleaning up our air and water, the greatest changes occur when individuals get involved to make a difference.  These societal changes were not driven by the government.  They were driven by citizens.
  2. Compromise.  Compromise and negotiation is important.  Senator Bradley says, “It begins by giving respect to the other side.”