A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through Amazon looking for some books to add to the collection; when I ran across a few of Malcolm Gladwell’s masterpieces, Outliers: The Story Of Success and David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, And The Art Of Battling Giants. I’m subscribed to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History. I watch all of his interviews that pop up on the internet, and if we’re keeping it all the way honest, he’s one of the few people who I shut up and listen to when he’s speaking so I don’t miss a word. Ever since I have become an avid reader I’ve heard so many good things about these two books that I would have been a fool to pass up the opportunity to add them to the library. And boy, am I glad I did because it’s altered my fundamental perspective on life.
I used to think that being successful was all about how much of a chip on your shoulder you had. In order to succeed you had to be the smartest and most talented – eventually the cream rises to the top, right? I was under the impression that your sheer desire, drive, and will to win would lug you along to your wildest dreams. Now, while you do have to possess these characteristics to be successful, I learned more than anything luck plays just as big a role as anything else. Last but certainly not least, besides being conscious of the opportunity presented at hand, you must have the presence of mind to seize it and maximize that opportunity to its full potential.
Were you aware that for soccer and hockey players, that being born in January, February, or March drastically increases their chances of playing at the professional level? Did you know that in 1968 Bill Gates was sent to a private school that catered to the elites of the Seattle area? And at that school they invested $3,000 into a computer terminal? Let that sink in, it was 1968 and they had a computer lab for 7th graders. The terminal was equipped with state of the art technology for the time – Gates and his peers didn’t have to learn the complex card system that the majority of the world had to, oh no, he was gifted an ASR-33 Teletype. This terminal was capable of communicating directly to the mainframe computer in downtown Seattle. 1968!
I learned that the Beatles being sent to Hamburg, Germany was the reason their career took off. Sub-sequentially, the most important thing that could have happened to John, Paul, Ringo, and George was not being the most talented musicians, it was that they got the chance to put in their 10,000 hours in before the world got to see them. This is where the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” The sheer amount of time spent on stage, learning each other’s moods and style of play was taken care of before they ever arrived to the states. Plus, the kind of music The Beatles were playing wasn’t popular in Germany. They had to give their heart and soul on stage to win over crowd, that takes charisma and perseverance. It made them who they are.
“When Outliers become Outliers, it is not just because of their own efforts. It’s because of the contributions of lots of different people and lots of different circumstances, and that means that we, as a society, have more control about who succeeds— and how many of us succeed than we think.” – Malcolm Gladwell.
With every word I read—brick by brick—the wall of the way I looked at the world began to come down. I was taken on magical adventures all over the world courteous of Gladwell’s inimitable style, but at the end of each chapter my mind wandered to what I love the most on this planet: the game of basketball. That’s how I break life down, it’s what I know best and can relate my problems to. Spanish is my first language, basketball is what I’m fluent in. The other day I told my girlfriend Leslie that her and I were like Kobe and Shaq. I told her what made Kobe and Shaq arguably the most explosive tag-team of all-time was how different they were, but that really didn’t matter because together they were a fucking problem. Yeah, I’m that guy, I break down relationships with basketball analogies. I’m sorry, Leslie.
After my hyperactive mind wandered from point A to Z, it eventually ended up at the same place- Is Steph Curry, son of retired NBA player Dell Curry (this will be important later) the NBA’s most notorious outlier? He couldn’t be, could he?
A month ago, if you would have asked me the same question I would have told you it was Lebron James, but that was before. That was when everything I knew about success was wrong. Real quick, the best way I can describe what Lebron is doing this post-season is this:
You know how in the movie Space Jam the Monstars took everybody’s talent in the NBA and added it to the basketball? And after that the 5 Monstars divided the talent equally amongst them? Ok, now picture this, instead of the Monstars dividing the talent equally amongst them all the talent goes to one guy. That guy is Lebron James, this post-season.
How is it possible that Lebron – a guy who overcame every possible obstacle to make it out of the hoods of Akron, Ohio and becomes one of the greatest players we have ever seen pick up a ball – NOT the league’s biggest outlier? From growing up not knowing his father to the unfathomable amount of pressure that he’s dealt with since he was in the national spotlight at 16. How is that possible? Well, let’s talk a little about Wardell Stephen Curry.
Fresh off the Warriors game 2 win, and the finals record: Nine three pointers, Steph Curry has asserted himself at the forefront of the finals MVP race, even though Lebron is out there balling like the Monstar we discussed earlier. If the Warriors pull this series out it would give Steph quite the resume with 3 rings, 2 MVP’s, and most likely, his first finals MVP. Not bad for the skinny guard from Davidson who wasn’t supposed to amount to much in this league because “[He] doesn’t have the upside of Rubio, Jennings, Flynn, Mills, Teague – [who are] all more athletic.” LOL. I’m looking at you Doug Gottlieb.
One of the first rules of Outliers is the 10,000-hour rule. In short, the concept of the rule is that 10,000 hours or 10 years of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field. Before The Beatles arrived in the US in 1964 the band traveled 5 times to Hamburg, Germany between the years of 1960-1962. In that time frame the band was forced to play 8 hours a night, seven days a week. It upped their confidence and made them better. As Malcom Gladwell points in the book, “Incidentally, the time that elapsed between their founding, and their arguably greatest artistic achievements – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely-Hearts Club Band and The Beatles [White Album] – is ten years.)
What does all that have to do with Stephen Curry you ask? Let me explain.
By the time Curry put Davidson at the fore front of national headlines during their 2008 tourney run, he had been chipping down the 10,000 hours. In researching for this piece, I found this great story by ESPN’s Tom Friend where he recalls a story to told him by Dell Curry.
“It’d be me, Steph, and Vinny Del Negro, and we’d kill everybody.” Dell says. At 13, Steph finally beat his dad at a game of H-O-R-S-E on a deep 3.
Let’s break down the levels to the last two paragraphs. Before the age of 13 Steph, his dad, and his dad’s teammate would play other NBA players in H-O-R-S-E and they would crush them. Do you know how astonishing that is? These NBA players shoot like 99% from the field in warm ups. This is their job and they were getting beat by a 13-year-old, how?
Not only was Steph lucky to be born to an NBA player, he was extremely lucky that he was born to a remarkable shooter. Even though Steph is widely considered the greatest shooter ever, Dell was no slouch himself. Dell shot 40% from three, 46% from the field, and 84% for his career at the charity stripe, Papa Curry knew how to get the ball in the bucket in bunches. Steph took that innate talent and exploited it, catapulting himself up to the top of all-time list of great shooters in NBA history. He took countless minutes, hours, days, and years’ worth of being around the game as a young kid and figured out a way to become the most skilled player I have ever laid my eyes on. Who else’s brain would be better to pick and learn from than your sharp shooting father who would teach you anything you ever wanted to know? No one, Dell Curry and his teammates molded this guy.
Dell Curry’s insight, Dell’s teammates and coaches, and Dell’s ability to steer Steph into making the right decision on the court is his version of a soccer or hockey player being born in January, February, or March, or Bill Gates getting access to a computer lab in 1968, or The Beatles being sent to Hamburg where they used that time to play together for hours a night, forcing them to be hone in on their talent and make history. He got so extremely lucky and made the most out of every possible opportunity.
What did Gladwell say again? “When Outliers become Outliers, it is not just because of their own efforts. It’s because of the contributions of lots of different people and lots of different circumstances.”