Dwyane Wade and Miami Heat Put the “I” in Win

Did the Miami Heat win the NBA Finals championship against the San Antonio Spurs June 20 because the Heat’s players acted unselfishly, on the premise that “there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’”?

That’s the view Magic Johnson—the former pro turned ABC sports analyst—expressed when talking with the Heat’s Dwyane Wade after the game. Johnson said that in 2010, when the Heat’s management recruited superstar LeBron James, Wade was the only star who would have taken a backseat to him.

“You’re the greatest unselfish superstar that has ever played in this game,” Johnson told Wade.

But Johnson’s comment, although a common view in sports, doesn’t make sense.

Wade and James agreed to play together because each wanted to win basketball games—and to enjoy all the fruits that come with that, such as enormous salaries and superstar status. Each man helped his team win for his own selfish interests.

Wade, who won his first NBA championship with the Heat in 2006, said that welcoming James to his team was “one of the hardest things I had to do.” But after he’d watched Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant win his fifth NBA title in 2010, he thought:

I want that again. . . . And that started the journey to say: how can I put myself in a position to be on a team that can compete for a championship every year? I knew that I was going to have to take a step back. It wasn’t easy; it’s still not easy but I wanted to win. I wanted to win big. That’s why I play a team sport.

Wade’s comment mirrors something Bryant said in an interview earlier this year regarding his efforts to refine his playing strategy: “What I’m doing now is being selfish. I’m trying to help the team because I want to win a championship.”

A player who thinks and strategizes and tries to win is by that fact a selfish player. A player who fails to think, fails to strategize, and thus really doesn’t try to win is by that fact an unselfish player. Unselfishness can manifest in several ways. For instance, if a player hogs the ball when other teammates could handle it better, he is not helping himself; he is harming himself. He is being unselfish. (To call that “selfish” makes no sense.) An even more unselfish player might miss baskets on purpose or pass the ball to the other team to help his opponents win. That would be pure unselfishness.

It’s time for athletes to adopt the correct language here—the language Bryant uses: “What I’m doing now is being selfish. I’m trying to help the team because I want to win a championship.” That’s the truth. Why not speak it?

Congratulations to Wade, James, and the Miami Heat for their championship victory. It was a magnificently selfish achievement.

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  • Kevin Douglas

    I was told that Bill Russell attributed his 11 championships with the Celtics to selfishness. But I do not know where this was said.

  • Anonymous

    One of the many fears I’ve had regarding Ayn Rand’s philosophy and the nature of both business and teams is that a business is – with very few exceptions – a group of people who are working together to achieve a common goal. Many times I have seen the effects of a group – a.k.a. Socialism – result from the businesses I have worked within.

    Only once have I ever seen the result of a team effort that was not driven by group/Socialist tendencies – as a captain of a team sport. The captain in this team has the right to decide what the members of the team will do – right or wrong. If the captain is wrong, then the team fails, and if the captain is intelligent and rational, the captain assumes responsibility for the failure. But if the captain is right, and the team succeeds, then the captain does not simply assume responsibility for the success, but lauds it upon the team. This is a strikingly important concept, and one that I believe business leaders should review and apply to their own situations.

    I do not know whether I have made my peace with Ayn Rand’s individualist philosophy – as I truly hope I have – but I would definitely appreciate more assistance in understanding the nature of being an individual who is part of a team – in business, and in sports, and in all aspects of life where I am not totally alone.

    • Anonymous

      I made an incorrect assumption regarding Ayn’s individualism when I was young (23). I assumed nothing good could come from group decision making/planning. Ayn used her close friends to bounce ideas off when writing “Atlas”. She did this individually and in groups. It helped her write a better book. The group did not decide for her, but it did act as a catalyst.

      It turns out that under good management a group’s diverse experience can be capitalized on to achieve a superior product. By superior, I mean better than the smartest individual in the group. The problem is that when it all comes together, the manager acts like a catalyst, and appears not to have had an important part. I believe Steve Jobs was such a catalyst. As such his part at Apple was not appreciated by all. That was a big mistake, but understandable. A good manager is rare and the managed often feel uncomfortable in his presence. He pushes using unusual techniques not conducive to friendship. His focus is not on socializing.

      And then there is brainstorming. A group tries to solve a problem or determine a course of action by bouncing ideas off one another. No one of them has a solution to start but as they proceed they feed on each other’s new ideas and varying experiences/knowledge opening up new possibilities until someone comes up with a breakthrough.

      All these interactions are voluntary, as a group, to achieve a common goal, despite any individual discomfort. No sacrifice is happening because each expect a net benefit. Everyone is acting selfishly.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks, voluntaryist. I appreciate the thoughts and the details you provide. I am hoping that guidance/education from other expert Objectivists can deliver the same amount of wisdom you have. I can’t say you’ve rested my mind completely, but I do understand where you’re coming from. And – as an individual – I know I can always leave my job if I feel that the goals I am directed to achieving do not match my beliefs regarding what is most profitable – i.e., best – to achieve.


  • Christian Cameron

    The author of this article is being obtuse. Yes, wanting to win a championship is selfish in a sense. But it it also requires unselfishness for a franchise player to cede a lot of his control to other talented teammates.

    Please look at your Kobe Bryant comparison more closely to understand. Kobe ran Shaq out of LA, and admitted he cost the Laker’s championships, because sharing the spotlight bothered him. He may have just driven Howard out, too by trying to do everything himself this past season. You see, Kobe was “selfish” in the wrong way. That is what Magic is saying.

    Why is this so hard to understand?

    • David Blankenau

      “…it also requires unselfishness for a franchise player to cede a lot of his control to other talented teammates”…

      No; unselfishness is, BY DEFINITION, destructive to one’s values. If you highly value championships, and “ceding control” helps achieve that goal, then it is profoundly SELFISH to do so.

      The author of this article is being crystal clear about this. Unfortunately, too many people cannot seem to grasp the difference, so they end up confusing (or reversing) the meanings of Selfish/Unselfish.

      • Robert Begley

        I agree David. The culture has bought into the false dichotomy of sacrifice of self to others (selflessness) and sacrifice of others to self (which they call selfishness). But sacrifice is built into each definition. The author is providing a third, rational, alternative. Voluntary cooperation in dealing with others, where oneself is the beneficiary.