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Transition Game: Bob Pettit

2/18/2004 - Atlanta Hawks

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Dr. Jack Ramsay's new book "Dr. Jack's Leadership Lessons Learned from a Lifetime in Basketball." Ramsay interviewed many former NBA superstars who have used their athletic leadership capabilities to achieve success in the business world.

The Quiet Man: Bob Pettit

The voice on the other end of the phone didn't say "hello" or "good
morning," just the name, "Bob Pettit," spoken in a quiet, firm tone that
gave an immediate mental image of the person. It was a voice that implied,
"You placed the call and now that you've got me on the phone, tell
me what I can do for you." It was courteous, confident, and businesslike.
It was what I expected, but I knew that it represented a great transition
in a man who struggled early to attain his goals in life.


When I had asked Bob, one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history,
who has made a remarkable transition from team leader to business
leader, whether the qualities that made for success in basketball applied
to professional life, he replied, "Absolutely. The same things apply: The
preparation, the hard work, and dedication you bring to basketball produce
the same results in the business world." I did the same preparation for my life outside of basketball as I did
when I played. I think the proper mental approach is very important:
Know what you have to do and then work hard at the job - be very dedicated
to success."

As to his ability as a leader, Bob said, "I never tried
to be a team leader in basketball. I wasn't a guy who did a lot of talking.
I just wanted everybody to see that I worked hard, that I'd give my full
effort all the time. In business, I try to surround myself with the best
people and then let them do their thing." And if that doesn't succeed?
"Then we all sit down, talk it over, and work things out."

He also learned early to plan for his future: "Players weren't making
the money then that they make now. We all knew we'd have to find a way
to take care of our families when we finished our careers. I had done
some work in the off-season at the American Bank and Trust Company
in Baton Rouge, and the president indicated that there'd be a job there
when I finished playing."

So after the 1962-63 season, Pettit told Ben Koerner, the owner
of the Hawks, that he was going to play just two more years and then retire.
"I had the opportunity to join that bank in Baton Rouge as a vice
president and I didn't want to let that opportunity pass by. But I wanted
to let Ben know in advance, so that he could take whatever steps he felt
necessary with the team."

After leaving Baton Rouge, he became chairman of the board at the
Jefferson Bank in New Orleans and served in that capacity for 15 years.
He now operates his own consulting business.

Dr. Jack Ramsay coached the Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, he is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Click here to send a question for Dr. Jack for possible use on ESPNEWS.