4 Recruiting Lessons From How the Warriors Signed All-Star Kevin Durant—and Won Two More NBA Titles

June 13, 2018

After the 2016 NBA season, the basketball world turned its collective gaze on Kevin Durant, the four-time scoring champion who had just become a free agent. A number of teams believed, with good reason, that Durant was the player who could bring them a championship. And over the 4th of July weekend, representatives from six NBA teams flew to the Hamptons to make a pitch for his talents.

Whatever decision Durant made would be earthshaking. He is 6-foot-11 with a point guard’s ball-handling skills and a silky shot that is nearly unstoppable. In the end, he signed with the Golden State Warriors and last Friday, for the second time in 12 months, Durant led his new team to the NBA title and was named the Finals MVP.

Golden State’s success over the last two years can be attributed to many things: a heated, sell-out crowd at every game; superior coaching; enviable team chemistry; etc. But no single thing looms as large as the successful recruiting of Durant. Nothing tops talent, which is of course why tactful recruiting is so crucial. With that in mind, here are four lessons all recruiters can learn from the Warriors’ well-planned and successful effort to sign Durant.

No one sells your culture as well as your employees (or players)

The culture of the teams he spoke with was critically important to Durant. The Warriors have a celebrated camaraderie and are famous for practices that included blaring music, full-court shots, and endless high fives.

When Durant opened the door for the Golden State contingent on that 4th of July weekend, he was astonished to see the team’s four biggest stars—two-time MVP Steph Curry and All-Stars Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Andre Iguodala. Durant was curious about whether the Warriors’ highly touted brotherhood was everything people said it was.

“Durant was most struck by the body language of the four players in the room,” Sports Illustrated reported, “Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala—their effortless conversation and easy laughter. He remarked that they looked as if they were holding hands, even though they were not touching.”

Not every group of employees will be able to make such a loud statement about company culture with nothing more than their body language. But they will always be one of the best and most authentic ways you can communicate your culture and values to candidates.  

In fact, one of the chief recommendations to come out of LinkedIn’s Inside the Mind of Today’s Candidate report was to make sure you give prospects a chance to connect in a real way with potential co-workers by making them part of the interview process. Almost half (46%) of Millennials say talking to other employees is the best way to learn about a company’s culture. And, nearly everyone in the Warriors’ organization believes that the one thing that most convinced Durant to come to the Bay Area was hearing from his future teammates.

People want to be part of something great, so don’t forget your BHAG

People want to be part of something bigger than themselves and, when you’re nearly 7-feet-tall like Durant, that’s going to be something really big.

“I was the second-best player in high school,” Durant told Sports Illustrated a few years back. “I was the second pick in the draft. I’ve been second in the MVP voting three times. I came in second in the Finals. I’m tired of being second. I’m not going to settle for that. I’m done with it.”

Understanding Durant's goals, Green said that Golden State’s “main pitch,” was about the team’s desire to win championships—year after year after year. In professional basketball, the ultimate Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is the NBA championship. And by joining the team, Durant would help them—and himself—come in first. 

However, Durant worried that he would spoil the team’s chemistry. Golden State had won one title and come within one win of a second. But the team asked him: "How many championships do you think we can win with the way the team is now?” Green told The Undefeated. "How many championships can you win without us? How many do you think we can win together?”

So, what’s your company’s BHAG? Maybe it’s not as high profile as winning the NBA championship or putting a man on the moon. But doubling sales? Building out a brand new department? Creating a product or delivering a service that truly amazes your customers? Share your story with prospective employees to get them excited about helping you reach those goals.  

Perks and swag are nice, but they aren’t what matter most to candidates

Some of the teams that courted Durant added razzle-dazzle to their presentations. The Boston Celtics, for example, brought along New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the most famous player in the NFL. The Los Angeles Clippers led with owner Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO, who broke into tears at one point in their presentation.

Even Golden State had spent a couple of days pulling together a multimedia presentation to highlight the Bay Area and the excitement of playing for the Dubs. But, ultimately, the Warriors never delivered that show. “Salesmanship,” reported one source, “was tossed to the side for natural, organic basketball talk.” The Warriors had two hours with Durant and they used most of it to let him speak with his potential teammates. Iguodala reportedly told Durant he would have the time of his life with the Warriors, and Curry insisted he would be embraced immediately.

While it’s nice for companies to offer things like ping pong, happy hours, and on-site massages, research shows that what candidates want most is to clearly understand their role, how they’ll fit in with the team, and the company mission and vision. So, be sure to address each of these at length—the perks and swag can wait.

Make sure to stay in touch, and use your follow-up to address key concerns

Curry texted Durant after the meeting to reiterate that he didn’t care who was the face of the franchise, who got the most recognition, or who sold the most shoes (Curry works with Under Armour, Durant with Nike). Curry said he really cared about winning championships and he’d like to do so with Durant as a teammate.

The Warriors also had NBA legend and team consultant Jerry West speak with Durant the following day. West spoke to Durant about his own career, noting that he played in eight NBA finals but won only one. He told Durant that all those runner-up finishes still gnawed at him.

The Warriors had left no stone unturned. “We wanted to feel like, if he said no, it wasn’t because we didn’t show him who we were,” Myers said.

Not every company has world-famous employees like Curry and West to help close a deal. But every business can embrace the tactics the Warriors used in their follow-up: 1) stay connected to your prospect; 2) address or re-address their most pressing concern, as Curry did by saying there wouldn’t be an issue with chemistry or sharing the ball; and 3) talk about the things your prospect needs or wants, as West did when he talked about Durant winning championships.

Putting on a full-court press for superstar talent could be your best move

The effort the Warriors put into signing Durant has clearly paid off—for both the team and for Durant.

“Life goes on,” Durant said, “and I’ve got a short amount of time left to play basketball. I just want to enjoy every single day of it.”

He called Myers early on the Fourth of July. “I just want to say you guys are a great first-class organization,” Durant told the GM. “It was great getting to know you but . . .” Myers waited for Durant to detour and head back to OKC. “But I just want to tell you I’m coming to the Warriors.”

Recruiting for big-time talent is a high-risk, high-reward effort. While there are never any guarantees, the Warriors’ recruiting of Kevin Durant shows that the right preparation and delivery are essential and that the hard work can pay off with extraordinary achievements.

There were high fives delivered all over Dub Nation the day Golden State signed Kevin Durant. And, two years later, the celebrating shows no sign of ending.

*Image from the Golden State Warriors

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