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“There’s no I in team.”

That old cliche. Bosses may say it after an employee refuses to stay late on day they had made plans. Coaches say it when a player asks for more touches or minutes. They say it as well when the players request more time to dedicate to homework or more rest and recovery.

I’d like to make a case that there is an “I” in team.

There are five basketball players on the floor at a time. When not referring to themselves in the third person they call themselves “I”. There are two to three times that many on each bench waiting for “my” shot at an opportunity, playing minutes, and perhaps one day stardom and riches.

There’s eleven on each team on the soccer pitch. Each one of those players will take a dive and stay on the grass to get a call while their team plays one “I” down until the whistle is blown and play is finally stopped. There are more “I’s” on those benches as well.

National Football League teams have eleven per squad on the field as well. The 32 NFL teams have only 53 roster spots for their “I’s” for regular season. Bowling teams have four “I’s.” Tennis teams have two. Volleyball teams have two or six “I’s” depending whether they play on the sand or in a gymnasium.

football team

Each team’s coach will say, “There is no I in team” without batting an eyelash. Anyone who has ever participated in a competitive tryout process knows how much pressure is on each individual athlete to make the team’s final roster cuts. There is an incredible feeling of individual accomplishment awaiting those who are selected. Inversely there are devastating and debilitating emotions of failure for those who are not chosen.

Making the cut elevates your social status. It increases the player’s access to higher quality coaching, to higher level competition, and to more dedicated training time. All three are necessary to the mastery of any skill or ability.

At younger ages each time an athlete makes the cut they receive additional exposure to coaches and scouts from the next and higher levels. This may include eyes of the decision makers who can pen the contracts for college scholarships or professional careers. These business leaders will not be at the games looking to take entire teams. They are there for the best “I”s. They hope to discover the future stars, but will settle for high performers that will make an immediate impact on there organizations.

Of course there are other opportunities for these “I”s. There are endorsement deals, closed door parties, beautiful sex partners, and business opportunities as well.

Then there is the preferential treatment. This comes down to “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Players who leave recreation sports clubs early to join pay to play travel teams and other competitive endeavors create not just a skill level separation from their less-fortunate or less diligent ex-teammates. They and their families create relationships with the coaches and boosters who have the ear and checkbooks of next level leadership. This alone allows an evenly matched skill level decision between two “I’s” to be decided by a coach or manager stating “I know that kid. I know the family. They’re good folks. Let’s select them.”

I believe this is where we first put the “I” in team.

Without the feelings of success and greatness cultivated at a young age or early in the learning of a new sport or skill there could be no path to greatness or mastery. There would be no Michael Jordans or Larry Birds.


jordan statue twenty20

Image courtesy of Twenty20.com

The “I”s are the cream that rises to the top. They become great and sometimes the greatest of all time. They become the masters of their sports and fields. They receive gold jackets at hall of fame induction ceremonies. They are remember for generations to come. They are the “I” on the teams that had to step on the their opponents and over their teammates on their journey up to becoming paragons of modern culture. At times they play nice and exist as teammates that push their fellows forward to grow and succeed. At the end of the game or the playoff series there is usually one player who will take the shot when it is all on the line. With .07 seconds left in a game, down by one point nobody wants the inbound pass headed to the player who always looks to involve his teammates before shooting. Everybody knows that the best player, usually named “I”, is the one who is going to get the ball, without hesitation shoot it, and will give the team the best statistical chance for success. The team will stand by and watch as the one individual takes all the weight on their own shoulders and decide the fate of the game.

I want to tie this “I in team” concept to the workplace, but before that I want punctuate the concept on competitive sports teams. If a player gets hurt or has personal life drama these same coaches who educate us on the spelling of the word team will find a replacement for the player in little to no time. That new transfer or the player who was on the bubble at tryouts will be willing to say “I will!” to filling in the vacated spot.

Coincidentally the coaches at the college level make millions of dollars each year. They jump at the next opportunity to make more money at another school as well. The college players cannot make profit while they play while their schools, conferences, and the television networks makes loads of money. The players face harsh penalties when they sell autographs, memorabilia, or even receive handouts of money or other gifts. At least they get that free education.

At work things are quite similar. Sales numbers are dipping? Fluid family responsibilities keeping an employee from working extra hours? A veteran worker getting too old to keep up with these younger, and cheaper, whipper-snappers?

boss points

Like our president says, “You’re fired!” They’ll fill the team with others who have way less “I” in their lives. The workplace needs commitment. How is their commitment to the employees? Let’s take stock.

Ground-level employees are the lowest paid in the company. They also clock in for more hours on average. Company’s create unique ways to limit or prevent paying overtime. They limit that earning potential while simultaneously figuring out how to get employees to work more than the hours committed at the job interview. That floor-level employee is most likely doing two to three people’s share of work with minimal training and investment on the company’s part.

The benefits suck, if they exist at all. There is no longer a standard of a pension or company match on retirement savings. Employees are paying ridiculous per paycheck portions of health, dental, and vision insurance. Lord forbid if they have a family they need to insure as well.

How are the company’s doing taking care of the workers’ families in all the time they keep them apart? The answer is not very well according to the front-lines employees in my network.


The bosses tell the workers, “There is no I in team,” as well as the coaches. How are the executives and ownership doing themselves? Let us examine. Their houses are large and expensive. Their cars are expensive and fancy. The vacations are lavish from what they share in the curated photos on their social media mediums.

They’re not complaining about being broke or struggling. They’re not living paycheck to paycheck. The only things the employees are likely to hear them complaining about is not making enough gross profit or the employees and departments not meeting quotas and sales goals.

The bosses do not seem too worried about insurance premiums, deductibles, or out of pocket individual and family maximums. They probably aren’t being offered those same fifteen to twenty percent interest rates on loans that create perpetual indentured servitude. The same loans that force a cycle of more work, more pay, more stuff, and finally more bills and interest charges.

These bosses need your “I” to keep their own pirate ships afloat. They just want the employees to say “I, I, captain.”


By the way their ships are all named “S.S.I”

By my count there are at least two “I”s on each team or at each company. There’s a player named “I” and a coach named “I”. There’s an employee, “I”, and their boss, named “I” as well.

Earlier I mentioned M.J. and Larry Joe Bird. They are the probable third “I” on any team. They are the high performers. No one reaches elite status or mastery without creating some separation from the rest of the players or employees on the same respective level. One employee will always sell more and achieve higher metrics than their other team members. Some will score more goals. They will take more shots and subsequently miss more goals than the rest of their squad mates.

Two current basketball players I am fascinated by are Carmelo Anthony and Nene Hilario. Melo is a super-star forward and perennial NBA All Star. He has a 98.18% chance of being inducted to the pro basketball hall of fame according to basketball-reference.com. Nene on the flip side is a role playing center with similar longevity. I would like to put forward Nene as a case of “No I in team” and Carmelo as the “I.”

From the years I used to follow them on the Denver Nuggets, the two players could not be more different. Nene approached the game selflessly. He banged under the boards for rebounds. He looked to get his teammates involved. He took charges and was unafraid of contact. He was known as a grit player and exhibited a tremendous amount soft-skills. These same soft-skills do not show up on any stat sheets as there is no process for measurement. Toughness is at the forefront of the list.

Melo, on the other hand, chose the jump shot over driving to the basket. He didn’t move around much to get open. He didn’t play any significant level of defense. Some said he is soft. Some said he played selfishly. Melo kept shooting and avoiding contact to protect his instrument from damage and secured long term investments toward future contracts.

Carmelo Anthony’s infamous sign and trade deal at the end of his tenure with the Nuggets completely dismantled his destination team, the New York Knicks. The Knicks traded four of their rising stars to free up salary cap space for the mega-star. He forced his new team to dismantle themselves to be able to afford his “I.” They awarded him a ludicrous paycheck of $77.5 million over the next four seasons.


Nene, a good teammate, would be doomed to the annals of mediocrity in the history of the game. During the same period of Melo’s first contract with the Knicks, Nene banked $50.4 million. He made $27 million dollars less.

Nene Hilario stands a .06% probability of making the Hall of Fame{1}.

Over the course of their careers Nene has had an almost ten percent higher shooting efficiency. Carmelo has 12.4 more points per game and shoots 11.1 more shots per game. Nene hits the high percentage shots. Anthony just takes a lot more shots with blatant disregard for his teammates being open and he himself being covered.

I always loved watching Nene play. I would get infuriated by Carmelo’s refusal to drive to the basket through a lesser defender. He often chose to take a lazy, off-balance, contested jumper. More often than not he would miss it, especially when the game was on the line.


Today I would rather be Carmelo Anthony. Sorry, Nene.
The coaches and bosses tell people, “There is no I in team.” I respond with a cliche of my own, “It’s just business.”

The bosses and owners want more profitability, return on investment, and golden parachutes. The employees want a generous paycheck, creature comforts, longevity, and opportunities for advancement. They want to become the bosses and owners one day.

You’ve got to have stars though. Golf hasn’t been much without Tiger Woods. Basketball hurt for a long while after Michael Jordan hung up his Wizard’s jersey.


The “no I in team” folks may not like it, but they need the divas. Odell Beckham’s hair may not win games, but it sure captures the imagination and imitation of the younger generation. One cannot go to a youth sports game today without a few of the young athletes sporting his signature faded frohawk. OBJ’s one handed acrobatic catches may yield inconsistent results, but they sure get the viewers to tune in. He is expected to make around $20 million dollars per season with his upcoming contract. That’s three million more than Antonio Brown, the NFL’s most productive receiver.

I would rather be Odell Beckham Jr. than any of the role players on my favorite team. For the record I don’t know the names of any of them.

So short of a lottery ticket or an inheritance how do you beat the system? Become the diva, the star, or the master. There are plenty of peons embracing the “no I in team.” They are all doomed to be outperformed by those unafraid of saying “me first!”

There is no security in the modern workplace. Just as there is no security in a spot on a sports team. They will cut, lay off, squeeze, pressure, and short-change at their earliest convenience. People should remind themselves of these facts the next time someone tells them, “There is no I in team.”


{1} Also according to basketball-reference.com.
{Thanks to everyone who offered their votes on the title of the article. I look forward to hearing what everyone thinks about my case. Feel free to comment and share the article.}

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