NewCo Shift Forum Dialogs, in Partnership with EY

Steph Curry: You Win When Everyone Touches the Ball

“The job satisfaction at the Warriors is pretty high right now.”

Steph Curry at NewCo Shift Forum

The Golden State Warriors are a team full of superstars, with some of the best individual talent in the NBA. Much of the Warriors success, though, is due to their relentless focus on putting personal glory aside and working together as a team. Here’s the proof: they have led the NBA in assists the past three years by a significant margin, showing their ability to create opportunities as a team, not just as individual talents. The formula is working — it led the Warriors to a historic 73-win season in 2016, and an NBA championship in 2015.

Steph Curry, as point guard and reigning league MVP, is the chief evangelist of the team-first focus. He’s changing how basketball players are viewed on and off the court, especially given that there’s another side to him that you might not be familiar with: he’s also an avid entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist, and is actively involved in the startup world. He spoke about his recent success on and off the court during the NewCo Shift Forum. Below is the full video interview, along with a transcript, edited for clarity.

This is the second of many candid interviews held at the first annual NewCo Shift Forum (see our first, with John Podesta, here). Stay tuned for more from Michael Dubin, Robert Reich, Jennifer Aaker, and dozens of leaders from politics, entertainment, and technology.

John Battelle: When I told people that you were coming, many were like, “But you’re doing a business conference. Why? He’s a sports icon.” Look, I like basketball. We’re going to talk about it a little bit. But what I found extraordinary is when the team gelled a few years ago. It struck me that there was a different approach, a changing of the culture, a changing of the core KPIs that mattered inside the team.

What was it? Your first couple of years was OK, but then something happened. Was there a moment, a decision that changed the course of the team?

Steph Curry: It’s funny because there’s a lot of storylines that merge at the same time. It was the perfect storm of new ownership that came in and wanted to really invest time, money, a vision, and a perspective of how to make a great NBA organization from top to bottom.

A coaching decision that really helped us develop an identity on the court of how we were supposed to play and what it meant to win, the perspective we needed to have in that regard. It’s not about individual awards. It’s not about All‑Star appearances. It’s about winning a championship and doing anything you can to get to that level.

Then, at the base, there’s talent and character among the players and a chemistry that you really can’t force. Our GM, Bob Myers, did an amazing job of understanding the different pieces that he was putting in our locker room and how they would gel.

How they would get along with each other, and allowing myself and a couple of other guys to lead that charge, to forget about basically… Forget about days of the past even though it was an exciting brand of basketball, but it wasn’t anything that was championship‑driven. Those different story lines all merged into one theme at the right time, and we never looked back.

I’ve heard a lot of great stories about that team. It translates directly to all the people in this room, who are building companies, building teams, thinking about how to do it better. Like Jennifer (Aaker) was talking about rethinking the core purpose of a team, or a business, or even your life.

One of the stories I heard, that struck me as remarkable, is the way that the team thinks about everybody, not just teammates, but staff, friends and family, as part of an extended family. You don’t, for example, just have team dinners on the road. You have dinners for everyone associated with the team.

Where did that come from? Did someone just get that idea or did it happen organically?

It was our owner, Joe Lacob. Obviously, the bill goes to him at the end of the day.

[laughter]

It’s like, “Free food, right? For everyone!”

He understood what was important to us. Obviously, basketball is our job, but we have to sacrifice so much — our family and the supporting staff of the Warriors, and everybody behind the scenes that makes the games happen, and makes playing for the Warriors what it is.

Our people make us go, and we want to be able to include everybody in that process. Whether it’s having a dinner post‑game in a random city, having a party at my house where you invite all the players, staff, coaches and their entire families, so we can all get to know each other and understand when we come to work, everybody has a different story that they’re bringing with them, and it’s an important story. You want to value that as you go through.

That’s just not how I thought the NBA worked. It was so star‑driven. It’s like everybody on their own bus, really.

We hear that all the time. We play opposing teams, and they come in, hear about these dinners, hear about certain things that we do as a team, and they look at us like, “Are you all serious?” like, “we don’t get that.”

They think you’re like the squares of the league?

I don’t know. If that’s what a square is, then I’m enjoying being a square. That’s fine with me.

[laughter]

I want to talk about how you guys measure success, whether it was intentional. If you look at some of the stats that now everyone is talking about, the time that you hold the ball before you shoot for example, it’s very short. It’s like under two seconds, whereas in the rest of the NBA it’s all about show boating and having the ball as long as you can before you get it to the basket. And you also focus on the number of assists, or the number of passes. Do you guys consciously set these metrics and look at them after a game?

For sure. That’s come from the leadership of Coach Kerr. Some of these stats I didn’t even know that they counted, up until three years ago. Like you said everybody knows assists per game, and rebounds per game, and points per game. There’s analytics for everything, but for us we try to keep it simple.

We feel like something good is going to happen, if everybody on the team or everybody on the court touches the ball and feels involved. Whether it’s me shooting, or KD shooting, or Klay shooting at the end of the possession, if everybody touches it and has an opportunity to feel involved in that play, then something good is going to happen.

We feel like something good is going to happen, if everybody on the team or everybody on the court touches the ball and feels involved.

That’s just total passes that I’m pretty sure we’re one of the few teams in the league that actually come into the film room after a game and says, “Hey guys? Way to go, with 350 passes last night, with 30 assists.”

Some of these passes, the guy is right under the basket. He looks out and throws it all the way to the three-point line.

It’s contagious when you have that kind of philosophy that it doesn’t matter, everybody’s going to look good if everybody’s involved.

Sounds like a business motto to me.

We try to master that pretty well, and it’s been good.

Another thing is you guys play like kids.

Don’t let this facial hair fool you. [laughter]

You guys act like grownups, but you play like kids.

Got you.

Like when Klay was having the 60‑point night, you couldn’t contain yourself. You were running around up and down the sidelines, you were in the tunnel. You were like a kid at Christmas. You see that a lot. Everyone celebrates everyone else’s success. Did that just happen, or did you get a speech from Coach Kerr?

I think that really came from…I don’t want to brag. From leadership on the court. When you have guys that genuinely enjoy what you do single everyday…I know Jennifer (Aaker) talked about job satisfaction (earlier at Shift Forum). The job satisfaction in the Warriors is pretty high right now.

[laughter]

When you get to show up to a game and you see Klay, like you talked about a score of 60 in three quarters, it might come out a different way for different people. If you can generally enjoy somebody else’s success in that moment, and feel like as part of our culture and our identity as a team that that’s a result of who we are, it means a lot.

We do have fun, and we want to make sure that the games are light and not too serious, but also we’re focused. We have those outbursts on the bench where I’m running into the tunnel during the middle of a game and coming back, waking up and coming to my senses.

You understand you want to have fun, you want to enjoy each other’s successes, because we’re all involved in it and we’re all sacrificing. It’s a long journey. Those minor milestones and achievements are pretty special.

It is even more remarkable when like you, say, tie the NBA record for threes, but then you don’t play the fourth quarter, or Klay gets 60 points in three quarters and then Kerr pulls him from the game. Does it grate at all, even a little bit, when you could have done sixteen threes or scored 75?

We talk about that a lot in our locker room.

[laughter]

The “what if” conversations. Klay had 60 in three quarters, so he was on pace for 88 I think it was, which nobody has got over there since Kobe had 81. You think Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, Klay Thompson could have been right there, which had been crazy.

Two years ago he had 37 in three quarters and didn’t play the fourth quarter, so he had a hot hand that night. We don’t play with the basketball gods. Coach Kerr does a great job of keeping us humble, but also in the perspective of, “Let’s just win games and get to the next one.”

We don’t play with the basketball gods. Coach Kerr does a great job of keeping us humble.

How do you handle it when someone breaks the culture, when someone does something that you guys know is not within the cultural mores that the team enforces?

We’re all human, and it’s obviously that happens along the way. I think the major identity of who we are we all bring it back…For us as winners and as the way we present ourselves to the world, we try to do everything behind closed doors and not let anything creep out and where we are be able to handle situations like that.

Where it is important how we all represent each other because we’re all in this thing together. The good teams and the mature teams and the ones that are focused on winning championships don’t let that distract you from the major goal. You can handle everything in house and make sure if anybody’s stepping out, we bring them back in as quickly as possible.

One of the things that companies especially here are obsessed with is recruitment, talent. You guys go and win the most games in the history of the NBA. One would think you’d be pretty cool with your team. But no, you decide you need to go get some more talent.

You got to go to somewhere else.

Tell me the story of how the team, and I mean the whole team, not just the players but everybody, wooed Kevin Durant.

I’ll give you the short version. Obviously, how the finals ended up, it was a very, very sour taste, a tough ending to a phenomenal season that was record‑breaking and one that we’ll never forget. There was an opportunity presented that we heard KD might be interested in joining our team.

It kind of took a lot of people off guard because we had just played them about four weeks before in the Western Conference Finals. It’s hard to get your mind…

“Sorry for beating you…”

...It’s hard to get yourself in that mind‑frame. Myself, Klay Thompson, Draymond, Andre, Iguodala, our coach, Steve Kerr, our GM and our ownership, we all hopped on a plane, went to the Hamptons where KD was hiding out for the summer and sat in a room with him.

Basically, just told him about who we are as a team, kind of how I’m talking to you guys about our identity, how we have fun playing the game, how we try to play the game the right way, how, at the end of the day, it’s all about winning. Everybody will get the accolades and the notoriety and the praise along the process, but we have no egos.

We have guys that are all about winning, and basically just presenting him who we are and allowing him to make the right decision for himself and understand that he would be another character guy that would be able to fit right into the mold of who we are and who we developed to be.

After that, you can’t really bet either way — which way he would go — because it’s such a monumental decision he made. I’m in Hawaii that next week with my family on a vacation. I’m walking down the beach with my daughter. There’s a big old 300-pound seal sitting on the beach. I’m staring at it.

My phone starts buzzing. It’s KD. He’s calling me. I’m like, “KD’s never calling me. Why is he calling me? Maybe he’s telling me thanks for all the time you invested in me. Stay where I’m at, whatever.” I answer the phone, he says, “Hey, are you ready to play next year?” I said, “Wait, is Team USA stuff next year?”

[laughter]

“Playing against you next year? What do you mean?” He’s like, “No, I’m coming out to the Bay, man. We’re going to take this thing to the next level.” And at the point, all you focus is just on how to build a new chemistry under the same identity that we’ve established. It’s been an amazing journey so far, definitely a learning experience and going to continue to be that way. But anybody that knows KD, knows our team, it’s definitely a great match.

Seems to have fit in very well. You guys have lost eight games, so there’s room for improvement! (as of the interview Feb 8th).

[laughter]

There are a bunch of entrepreneurs here and financiers and marketers. You’ve started a company. I know you dabble in a little bit of investing here and there, but you’ve actually launched a company, Slyce. Can you tell us what the company does, and what’s its founding mythology like? What was the problem that you were solving?

Me and the co‑founder, CEO of the company, Bryant Barr who’s over there, we go way back, met in ’06, went to Davidson together, were roommates and teammates for three years at Davidson, had some great years there. Obviously I left to go to the NBA. He made the responsible decision to stay and graduate.

[laughter]

Great for him. Then fast forward a couple years, after he graduated from Davidson, he was working at Nike for three years. Then enrolled in the Stanford GSB.

Thankfully geographically we were close again. We started to talk a little bit about kind of my experience dealing with off‑court stuff, with my relationships with sponsorships and brand partnerships and how that relationship works.

We all know brands are in the business of creating content and trying to get that content in front of as many people as they can. They leverage their relationships with the influencers including myself to do that with the distribution channels that I have.

A part of our conversation was about how fragmented that relationship is. For me to get content that I’m a part of, a part of creating or a part of distributing, it goes through text messages, through emails, through Dropbox links. There’s agent approvals. There’s all sorts of different channels that are so fragmented. It’s a very inefficient process.

To make that more of an efficient process, we developed Slyce, which is a platform that all those approval processes and then distribution channels between the brands and the influencers live.

It’s been amazing working with some of my current brands. Bryant’s taken it to another level with some partners that we brought on. Now we have about 12 customers using it. We’re off and running. It’s been an amazing experience to not only solve a problem but one that we feel like we do it the best.

I have to say it’s a little stunning to listen to Steph Curry talking about his 12 customers and how stoked he is about his start‑up — because you’re busy.

[laughter]

How much of your time do you spend on Slyce?

A good amount. I’m principal user and tester obviously.

[laughter]

I actually am involved in the product and making sure we’re on the right track. Obviously, I’m involved in networking and getting in front of the right people.

Hopefully I can open a lot of doors in that respect. Then, going forward, just as much feedback as I give using the product and allowing the brands to get in so we can get deeper into the integration of Slyce with these brands, that’s kind of my role and involvement.

Where do you think it’s going to be in 5 or 10 years if everything goes as planned?

Definitely see Slyce as a platform that’s adopted and integrated across all companies and their marketing teams and how they go about leveraging their influencers that they use, enticing them and seeing the value in creating more authentic and unique content for their audiences and allowing that process of distribution be much more efficient.

It’s a pretty big market, the influencer market.

It is, very. We think we can tackle it.

This leads me to wonder…You’re a young man. In the last three to four years, you’ve been on something of a whirlwind. It’s kind of the equivalent of being Mark Zuckerberg and writing the Facebook tiger from 2007 to 2010.

You’ve become a global superstar. You get mobbed everywhere you go. You’ve got a multi hundred-million-dollar Steph Curry Incorporated business. Were you prepared for that?

Yes and no. I feel like it hasn’t changed me at all in who I am, I feel very prepared for that. My perspective over the course of the last four or five years in regards to the opportunities that are in front of me and presented to me on a daily basis has evolved.

The noise that’s around, the spotlight that you’re under, the ripple effect of certain decisions that I might make, how that trickles down. For me, it’s been an ongoing process, especially the last year to 18 months, to understand the perspective — we’re talking about the business of what brands I’m working with, trying to work with the best of the best, the short term versus long term perspective of where I want to be and how I can create a legacy, especially here in the Bay Area, which has been so good to me and my family for eight years, so that we can better the community, find more ways to be impactful here in the Bay Area, and leverage all the different opportunities and resources that I have to do that.

I didn’t know how big the sea was going to be in that regard, but it’s been really, really awesome to have the people in my corner to basically get me on the right track when it comes to that. I’m trying to take full advantage of it.

I have to say you’re doing a damn good job. There are a lot of people who get success like that and turn into another person.

I’m hoping to stay off that train for sure.

[laughter]

I want to ask you about your coach. Actually when I was preparing my questions a couple of games ago, Steve Kerr in his career with the Warriors was like 182 and 32 which is insane.

It’s unbelievable actually. Say the record again.

182 and 32.

182 and 32. He’s lost as many games as I won my first two years in the league.

[laughter]

What is it about him? You get a great CEO and everyone starts to think that he walks on water. What is it that he’s doing?

He’s consistent. He’s a great communicator. He’s thoughtful. I use the word caring, because I really feel like he has an investment in each person that he coaches and everybody on his staff all on the same playing field. There’s no favorites. There’s no totem pole at all with him.

It’s, if you’re on his team, you bring every single day, there’s a certain sense of accountability and responsibility for your role. He’s just a great people manager. That’s an underrated attribute for a coach, especially in this industry with so many moving pieces, the consistency of the message that he brings.

He’s just a great people manager. That’s an underrated attribute for a coach, especially in this industry with so many moving pieces.

For us, things are good. We’re winning a lot of games. It’s hard when you need to get everybody in a room and give a tough message. It’s kind of hard when you’re winning because it sometimes paints over the flaws. He does a great job of humbling us when we need it.

It’s been amazing just to watch his natural transition because, if you think about it, he’s only been coaching for two and a half years, but he’s been around some really, really great coaches, Gregg Popovich, Phil Jackson — he was paying attention. He’s brought the best attributes of those guys to his job. It’s been amazing.

Steph, would you be all right if we got a couple questions from the audience?

No problem. You got any more?

I’m looking at the time, and I want to make sure the audience has a chance to ask questions. There’s microphones here.

Audience Member: Hi. I have a question about technology actually. I saw something that as you were working on being able to shoot better with flashing lights and stuff like that. I don’t even know exactly what it is, but could you explain what it was and how that improved your game?

It’s a company called FitLight. They have these beams that are…Basically you set them up on poles right in front of me, and I do ball handling drills with them. For me, it’s a neurological drill, not only to work on my ball handling but decision making and the speed that I can make those decisions in real time to simulate a game.

I have four colors that are associated with different moves. As they pop up, I have to do that specific move and then knock the beam out. Then it just keeps going for about 30 to 45 seconds.

The whole point is to take my mind off the basketball. All I’m doing is thinking about what I see, letting it calibrate in my mind, and letting it come out in the move. It’s been great to just simulate all the different variables that you have to decipher through in a basketball game. The last thing I want to think about is where that basketball is. So it’s been pretty cool to see that development.

Audience Member: Hi, Steph. Some people say that great creators, people who create greatness, need to have some sort of reality distortion, almost delusional in a way. You definitely have captured our imaginations all across the country and the world. What is your delusion?

[laughter]

Audience Member: Assuming you are but maybe you don’t.

Steph: That’s a great question. I don’t know if this is the right answer, but my delusion is that no matter how many shots I miss, I haven’t missed a shot.

[laughter] [applause]

Audience Member: That’s a reality.

Steph: I create my own reality in that sense. I’ll take shots from all over the court no matter…Everybody’ll look at me like, “Why did you shoot that?” I have full confidence in what I’m doing now based off…It doesn’t really matter what’s happened. So that’s my delusion for sure.

Audience Member: Where does it come from?

I do not know to be honest. I guess my preparation builds my confidence so that when I’m out there I really feel like I can do anything. It might be just a stubbornness to take failure on the chin and keep it moving so that I can push myself. That’s basically it.

You weren’t exactly the prototype of superstar. You were too short, too scrawny. People didn’t want the body type. And you overcame that. Your dad was a player and a very good one. I saw him sink a three off the back board just the other night. That was pretty cool. Did it come from the father? You preparation is so ambitious.

A little bit, for sure. He opened the door to a world of basketball that I may have gotten otherwise, but it was obviously great to see your dad play a game that I love myself. He did a great job of not pressuring us, me and my brother, my sister, into his line of work, but also being there to encourage us in whatever we needed and whatever we were passionate about.

But developing the work ethic out of that was just, the time that you want to put in and how great do you want to be. Hearing scouting reports like that, I actually did a commercial about two years ago where I actually had to read the reports….I hadn’t done that before. I had to read what certain scouts were saying about me coming out of high school and college. It was an eye‑opening experience because I heard it in the time, in real time, but didn’t really let it bother me.

But as you get to this point and you hear it, it’s really inspirational. I don’t take that for granted, being able to overcome what people said I couldn’t do. I want to be able to pass that on. So hearing it and speaking it and moving on past it was a nice way to make that more real.

Another one over here.

Audience Member: Hi, Steph. The devotion that you must have developed for your craft and all the energy and the time, how did that emerge? Did it emerge as a child? At what point did you devote yourself so fully in terms of the preparation? What did that feel like, and where did that come from?

When I was 13, I decided that my passion was basketball and that’s what I wanted to do every single day and be great at it. My dad always told me, “Whatever you do, just work as if you want to be great at it.” It’s kind of a common principle, but that was something that I took to heart.

Everything that I did in my life was shaped and had that as a priority. That was the perspective that I worked through. When it came to choosing a college that would allow me to pursue my passions the way that I wanted to, with a leader and a coach that would bring the best out of me, I made that decision for that reason.

Leaving school when I did was one that was a very, very tough choice but was all with the perspective of I want to be great at my passion, and not looking back. I was very blessed to have some great advice when I was 13 to send me on my way. And it’s been an amazing journey to allow just every day trying to learn something new. The pursuit of perfection and being great, I’m still on it. Even with all that I’ve accomplished in the NBA, I feel like I haven’t reached my full potential yet. That might be another delusion… but that’s what I’m going to continue to do for sure.

Final question over here.

Audience Member: Hi. I’m sure like many of the business leaders in the room one of our biggest concerns is sort of not just creating great cultures but creating dynamic cultures that are capable of growing and changing. You mentioned something earlier that really resonated with me, the idea of bringing in people’s stories.

I wanted to ask you when you’re thinking about building a team, how do you bring in people’s stories, encourage people to bring their full selves, while also creating space to change and to shift and to have other people come in and do the same thing?

That’s a great question. In our locker room, it’s an open space where there’s no judgment, there’s no reservation to share your story, to share what’s on your mind, whether you’re mad at somebody for not setting a screen, or your kids kept you up all night, or whatever the case may be.

We have the environment, we have the settings where you’re able to bring whatever is on your mind to the table, and everybody values that. Even yesterday we had a meeting with our team through our Players Association. For about two hours we sat in our locker room and just talked. There was no agenda, there was no real backstory behind it.

Everybody gets in. We go through our daily routine so much, and you have to hit the pause button and just allow people to live life, and be able to have an environment where they can come in and share, and talk, and have that feedback that they need with people that they care about and that they work with on a daily basis.

We’ve started that culture, and we try to find…I know Bob Myers would say the same thing. We try to find people that reflect that same character, because we value what everybody brings to the table and what everybody’s role is as we go forward, because you can’t do any of this alone. It’s my best answer for it. I think we just create an environment where value everybody’s experience. I can learn something from teammate one, two, three, four, or five down the road, and they can learn something from me as well.