In October 2012, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden, the Sixth Man of the Year, to the Houston Rockets.
The Thunder traded him in return for two role players and three draft picks. Harden was the most sure-fire player of the bunch, but Oklahoma City hoped that the combination of players could fill the role. Three years later, Harden has emerged as a superstar while the Thunder’s haul have been mainly marginal players.
This sounds like a conversation for basketball geeks, but what can we learn from this NBA deal?
In the NBA, there are five players on the court and only one ball to share, so one player can have an outsized impact on the game as compared to other sports. Superstars are the hardest to find, whereas decent bench players can be found very easily. To borrow a phrase from Bill Simmons, James Harden was a “dollar bill” (a great player) while the others were coins like quarters and dimes (role players).
Put simply, you never win when you trade a dollar bill for coins.
Yet, why do we give up focus on the main thing in our lives for 10 things that don’t matter?
In his book “The One Thing,” Gary Keller says to focus on the one action such that “by doing it, everything else becomes easier or unnecessary.” Focus on a small number of things, or even one thing, that gives you leverage.
As we see in the NBA, one great player will do more for a franchise than 10 mediocre ones. In your life, one deep friendship or deep skill will do more for you than even a dozen shallow ones.
In 2016, stop chasing nickels and find your dollars.