Yesterday I attended Nike’s Icon Panel, “A Call to Greatness” at the Tiger Woods Center in Beaverton. I approached the event subjectively, knowing that I was simply there to write a recap. However, about halfway through, I realized that I’d been overcome by the inspirational stories shared by the speakers. The event had a strong impact on me, and I took away a handful of motivational keys to success that I will never forget.
TNT analyst and two-time NBA champion Kenny Smith moderated a panel of speakers that included Trail Blazers President and former Jordan Brand President Larry Miller, three-time WNBA MVP and four-time Olympic gold medal winner Lisa Leslie, world champion hurdler Lashinda Demus and former NBA Slam Dunk champion, Oregon Duck and Portland native Fred Jones.
The audience was made up of roughly 150 Nike employees, 50 local youth and video-conferenced audiences in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Memphis. The event was part of Nike’s Black History Month (BHM) celebration, put on by the company’s Black Employee & Friends Network (BEN). If you have an eye for detail - in particularly shoes - you may remember players around the NBA wearing custom shoes on Martin Luther King Day last month, which was part of Nike's BHM 2011 Collection. Additionally, yesterday's Icon Panel served as the first of five BHM initiatives that the Trail Blazers are taking part in.
The ever-comedic Kenny Smith, who couldn’t resist opening with a joke about the Portland weather or jeering Miller about what would have happened had he got into boxing like his role model, Muhammad Ali, asked the panel a number of questions about their background, career highlights and what it takes to achieve greatness.
When Miller answered “What do you love most about what you do?” he joked, “I get great seats to all of the games!” After a laugh from the crowd, he quickly followed with, “I truly enjoy seeing 20,000 fans at the Rose Garden, cheering for what our company worked so hard to put together. I enjoy people being able to leave the hard times at home, and get an escape when they come to a game.”
The panel was then asked, “What was your defining moment?” Lisa Leslie told a story about missing a shot to win a state championship in high school which drove her to achieve greatness, Jones said it was when he signed as an athlete with Brand Jordan and Demus spoke about coming back to compete at an Olympic level after having twins in 2007. Miller’s response: “In my first year at Nike, we launched the Air Jordan XV. We did our homework, put in a lot of research and prep work prior to the launch. While we were waiting for it to be released, I was actually very calm. I knew that all of the time and effort we put in to prepare ourselves would pay off. And it did. The shoe did very well. People within the company were actually surprised by how well it did. But not me.”
When the conversation turned to education and community, Leslie said it was important to not only give back with your company, but also individually. Jones spoke about how employees and everyday citizens can make an impact in someone’s life; that it doesn’t always have to come from a famous athlete or celebrity. Miller gave a very personal point of view: “I never played sports at a professional level. But I’ve gotten to know a lot of professional athletes, and I’ve had the opportunity to do some amazing things – because of going to school and getting my education.” Then he said something that I hope sticks with the kids that were in the audience, “You don’t have to be an athlete to be a part of the world of sports, and experience some of the things athletes get to experience – if you get your education.”
Leslie, perhaps the most accomplished person on stage, followed up by saying that you represent yourself and your family with every choice you make. She confessed that she used to greet every stranger on the street, every autograph-seeker with kindness and patience, but when she returned home she would snap at her little sister for very trivial things. She said it took a great deal of self-reflecting for her to realize this and has made it a very big priority in her life to, “Treat everyone the same.”
The final topic, before a handful of questions came from the audience, was about achieving goals. Leslie’s answer made achieving goals sound so manageable that she immediately received applause from the audience: “Write down your goals. Stick them to the mirror, or where you will see them every day. Recite them each time you see them and you’ll achieve your goals.” The rest of the panel pointed out that hard work, expecting to be great and not short-changing yourself are also all key in attaining goals.
A member of the audience presented a question to Miller, the only person on stage not known for his athletic ability, wanting to know who Miller’s ‘coach’ had been throughout his successful career. Miller responded, “I’ve had the opportunity to work with some very solid people in my career, and I’ve developed a network of people I can turn to for help with a difficult decision. A coach is someone you can trust, someone you can depend on, and doesn’t necessarily come from one particular person.” He added, “When making a difficult decision, you turn to people who have your best interests in mind, gather all the information you can, and make your own decision. I still do that to this day.”
Kenny Smith’s closing remarks, perhaps the strongest comments of the day, are some I will always remember. “No one is going to believe in you – or continue to believe in you – until you do. And if you’re the smartest person in your circle or if you’re the best athlete in your circle – you need to add to the circle, or else you won’t be continually challenged and won’t become great.”
In a room full of people captivated by the highly accomplished individuals on stage, Howard White, Vice President of Marketing for Jordan Brand, wrapped up the event by saying that you don’t need to look too far for a role model or a mentor. A lot of successful individuals, Lisa Leslie in particular, have said that the key to achieving greatness started with finding inspiration right at home – from their parents.