New coach Bob Weiss takes over for Nate McMillan, but are the Sonics really his team? Owner Howard Schultz has a five-year plan that seems to be on track. Team President Wally Walker runs the operation, and General Manager Rick Sund has put the pieces together.
On the court and in the locker room, guard Ray Allen is the most visible player. But Rashard Lewis is an emerging star, and point guard Luke Ridnour controls the offense. So, who’s in charge here? Or does it even matter? There are several who can lay claim to running the team, but this much is clear: Weiss will be compared to McMillan, and he’ll be the one answering some tough questions if the Sonics don’t match last season’s surprising success.
Peacemaker > Allen is an all-inclusive type of leader, surprising teammates with catered breakfasts and starting holiday gift exchanges. He’s one to reward good work or progress and keep communication going so everyone remains on the same page.
All for one > “My leadership style is trying to bring everybody along, making everybody feel a part of the success and showing everybody they have ownership in the team.”
Mentor > His environment. “Growing up in the Air Force and then having to go down South [South Carolina], racism bore its ugly head and I had to decide which side of the fence I’m on and I really didn’t want to decide. I didn’t think there should be a fence, anyway, and I thought we all could get along.”
Creating change > Allen gravitates toward leaders who challenge wrongs, like Martin Luther King Jr. and Shirley Chisholm. “It’s easy to do the popular things, do what everybody does and do it well.”
Motto > “The best way to be a leader is to serve.”
Rather lead, country or company? “I’d rather lead a country because I think most countries have every single problem there is — poverty, illiteracy, homelessness — and trying to get everybody to care about each other, do the right thing, I would challenge everybody to step up even when there is no Hurricane Katrina.”
Not a GM’s role > Sund likes to surrender the leadership roles to the coaches and to the basketball staff with the Sonics. He says he believes players don’t need leadership from the general manager. He likes to be in the background as much as possible, and to keep the lines of communication open with all parties. He doesn’t go into the locker room at halftime or after games or travel often, but he does watch home practices. “I don’t want to be viewed as an extension of the coaching staff,” Sund said.
Chatterbox > “I’m more of a communicator. I like to reach the staff, players, agents and ownership through communication.”
Mentor > Wayne Embry, former NBA player/general manager. “He had a real presence about him with his leadership. He could do it with his appearance, he could do it with communication, and I would say that’s a very good example of a guy I tried to learn from when I was younger.”
Ask not > John F. Kennedy is a leader Sund idolizes. “I thought he was interesting.”
Motto > “Work hard to get lucky and then parlay your luck.”
Rather lead, country or company? > “I don’t think I would be capable enough to rule a country. I have a hard enough time trying to help the Sonics.”
LEADER BY EXAMPLE
Mimic me > Lewis has grown from barely uttering a word to taking control, if needed. With Ray Allen the elder statesman, Lewis is more of a walking example of how the Sonics all-stars want things done. He also reaches out to the rookies more and makes sure the team doesn’t take advantage of Bob Weiss’ relaxed manner. “Without Nate McMillan, I think that’s where me and Ray come in a little bit more — helping coach Weiss with these guys in the locker room when he’s not around.”
Worker bee > “Ray is more talkative. As the years went by, I’m starting to be more outgoing, but I like to get out on the floor and lead by example — by just putting in the hard work.”
Mentor > Lewis will always look to his mother for guidance. “She was always a hard worker, a single parent raising four kids. She always told me that you’ve got to work hard to get the things you want.”
Brotherly advice > Lewis’ older brother is an example of a leader. “He’s always real disciplined on himself. And when I first came into the league, I wasn’t a go-to player, but he always told me that I’ve got to be a leader out there. He stays in my ear to this day.”
Rather lead, country or company? “I’d rather lead a company. After being one of the leaders of this team, this is like a business and the way my mom raised me, she taught me to be a leader, not a follower.”
THE POINT MAN
Good point > Entering his third season running the point guard position for the Sonics, Ridnour is an extension of the coaching staff. He guides the team on the court. Ridnour has bulked up this season and has more confidence in his shooting to give him more options on getting the Sonics wins. But he remains demure in the locker room. He’d rather lead by example than be the most vocal player on the team. Still, if it needs to be said, Ridnour isn’t shy about asserting his position.
The quiet one > “I like to play hard and let my actions speak louder than words. If I have to say something, I’ll say something, but I mostly come to play hard and let that show what I think we should be doing.”
Mentor > None. “I’ve always been a point guard, so it’s natural for me to know how to lead a team.”
Speak up > Even though Ridnour hasn’t thought about world leaders he could idolize, he is partial to those who speak their mind about their passionate beliefs, like pastor Miles Monroe and Martin Luther King Jr. “They stood up for what they believed in and I think that’s what represents a leader — as long as they believe in a good thing and not something, you know, bad.”
In charge > Theoretically, Walker is responsible for everything that happens with the Sonics as the organization’s president and CEO. His leadership is from the boardroom, making sure the team is conducting itself as a money-making brand. Walker attends practices and might drop into the locker room after games, but he doesn’t have much contact with players.
Organized front > “You’ve got to set the right goals and parameters and reinforce them with words and action. But the most important thing is to hire the best people you can find and let them do the job.”
Mentor > Investment firm Goldman Sachs, where Walker worked for six years. “The place has a great culture where it supports people and reinforces the right kind of behavior. I learned a lot there. Our [Sonics] structure is not the norm in the NBA. In most places basketball and business are separate, but it helps that it’s integrated because that [the basketball] is the product. You can boil the business down pretty quickly — you gotta win games and sell tickets.”
Historian > “I’m the son of a history teacher. I’m going through a phase where I’m reading about all the founding fathers and it’s real instructive on a lot of fronts”
Motto > “Take responsibility and share credit.”
Rather lead, country or company? > Neither. “I’ve got my hands full here, so I’ll stick with what I’m doing.”
Boss man > It was Schultz’s idea to round up a bunch of businessmen to purchase the Sonics back in 2001 and the way the organization runs is purely from his blueprint, although he has learned to step aside from areas that aren’t his expertise. He put a five-year plan in place for the Sonics to become an earnest NBA contender and last season’s 52-win season is testament to that. As chairman, he has the liberty to make any changes he likes.
Balancing act > “What I try to do is demonstrate a level of support and involvement but, at the same time, try and recognize that I don’t want to be a deterrent to any of the coaches or Rick [Sund] and Wally [Walker] in the areas they are responsible for. My involvement is to help, support or advise, but not impose myself.”
Mentor > Legendary coach John Wooden and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. “Leadership is something that is your own personal style and it’s about building trust with the people who are working with you and for you.”
Noble leader > Schultz enjoys reading about Winston Churchill: “He is an historical figure I admire. How he was able to galvanize an entire country at their worst possible moment.
Motto > “Try to not embrace the status quo.”
Rather lead, country or company? > “Since my experience has been based on 25 years of building and leading a company [Starbucks], I’ll stick with what I know.”
The Whiz > Weiss might not seem like he’s leading when he’s wandering around practice, hardly watching the action on the court. But all the responsibility falls at his feet if the team loses and he’ll be the one held accountable if things go awry. He makes all final decisions and runs the show, but prefers a personalized approach.
Easy street > “My personality is more relaxed. But I’m relaxed as long as we’re working hard and we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. If those things aren’t being adhered to, then there’s a change. The key thing is, you can’t be afraid to make tough decisions or broach the tough subjects with people.”
Mentor > Alex Hannum, former NBA coach/player: “I was asked the question when I got the job, ‘How are you going to handle Danny Fortson when he goes off?’ And when Alex got the job in Philadelphia and Wilt Chamberlain was the center and notoriously difficult to work with, they asked [the same question]. His comment was, ‘You handle horses, you work with men.’ “
Keeping score > Vince Lombardi is someone Weiss patterns his style after. “The things he accomplished were so great, and I like his philosophies.”
Motto > “We’re all adults and I expect them to treat everybody else with respect.”
Rather lead, country or company? “I don’t want the responsibility of ruling a country.”