Lessons from a Near Play-in Game Disaster (The AD Foul)


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For those who don’t follow professional basketball, the Los Angeles Lakers are a National Basketball Association (NBA) starring LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Recently, the Lakers participated in a “play-in” game against the Minnesota TimberWolves to decide if they would make the NBA playoffs and have a chance to reach the NBA Championship game. During the game, Anthony Davis committed what many NBA fans and analysts regarded as a costly, and unnecessary penalty with less than two seconds remaining.

Lakers player Dennis Schröder sank a last-second three point shot to give Los Angeles a very late 98-95 lead. Most fans believed that the game was about to close out with a Lakers victory. That is, until Anthony Davis hit Minnesota guard, Mike Conley, as he attempted an extremely difficult game-tying shot. By committing the foul, Davis put the victory in jeopardy in multiple ways. First, had Conley somehow made the shot, the Timberwolves would have had one free throw with 0.1 seconds remaining to steal back the win in regulation. Second, even though Conley missed the shot, Conley was awarded three free throws. If he made all three, he would send the game into overtime, giving Minnesota an opportunity to win.

Lessons Learned for Basketball Fans and Non-Fans Alike

So, what does all of the background and the game play and penalty have to do with you? Whether you are a basketball fan or not, the play and penalty provide a lot of lessons for Customer Service professionals, as well as for corporate leadership, management, and development teams.

Five Lessons for Customer Service:

Here are five important things that we can learn without committing a nearly game crushing foul with less than two seconds left to play.

1. The importance of communication
One of the initial comments Davis is rumored to have made regarding the foul at the end of the game related to the cause. He suggested that the reason for his error was due to failed communication or a miscommunication between him and his teammate. Perhaps the delay in communication caused Davis to panic, scrambling out to the corner for the closeout and defensive challenge on Conley instead of passing the assignment to his teammate.

Lesson: Communication is critical. When working with customers, teammates, executives or peers it is critical to communicate early, often, and clearly. Good communication is essential to avoid delays, penalties, and misunderstandings. Good communication also helps both the Customer Services Team and the customer avoid costly mistakes.

2. The importance of understanding time, place, and the circumstances
With precious few seconds remaining in the game, the Lakers led by 3 points. The only chance the Timberwolves had for a victory was to successfully make a three point shot and be fouled in the process. The only chance they had to extend the game into overtime was to hit an unlikely desperation shot or be fouled in the act of doing so. The entire Lakers team needed this information and should have understood it before taking the court to play defense. In reviewing the game footage, it is possible someone forgot.

Lesson: Knowing the time, place and circumstances during a game is important, but even more so during customer calls and cases. Be sure to understand the criticality of the customer’s situation, understand as much as possible about their organization, strategy, and other critical details. When responding to a case or issue, or helping a customer, be sure to understand the time, timing, place, circumstances, personnel, consequences of actions and desired outcomes. Being keenly aware of these details will help both the Customer Services Team and the customer avoid costly mistakes.

3. The importance of knowing what is at stake
A breakdown on defense at the end of the game could have cost the Lakers a playoff opportunity. Luckily for Lakers fans, the outcome only cost the Lakers extra minutes for overtime. Davis quickly and quietly admitted that he knew what was at stake in the game. He also understood the adjustments needed (see below).

Lesson: In addition to knowing the timing, circumstance, and critical details it is equally important to understand what is at stake when we make a decision, fail to make a decision or execute poorly on the plans and processes. Of course, we are all human and prone to make errors under pressure or at 2 AM on a Saturday morning. But, understanding the importance of our decisions will help us stick to the process, plan our work, and avoid costly mistakes as much as possible.

4. The importance of staying under control
Many NBA analysts differ on the cause of the error by Davis. Several agree that Davis and James miscommunicated. Several others agree that Davis was simply scrambling and trying to do the right thing. All these answers and assessments are possible, but there was still a key error in Davis’ action. Davis failed to stay under control. One analyst indicated that because Davis is more than seven feet tall, he did not need to get that close to Conley. Other analysts belay how Davis’ closeout lacked form and discipline typically taught to defenders closing out on a 3-point shooter.

Lesson: Remember to stay under control. As the pressure mounts to complete a case, finish a proposal, identify an RCA, or even close out a Support call, remember to remain under control. This will require balancing emotions, customer or internal tensions, and tempering frustrations so that you follow sound practices and discipline.

5. The importance of recovering well
But the most important takeaway from this game in the area of Customer Service, as well as the areas of personal and corporate leadership, management, development, and beyond, is the importance of recovery.

Davis committed a foul that took the Lakers from a win in regulation to an extra overtime period. Instead of the team hosting Dennis Schröder on their shoulders, or having sideline reports ask Dennis Schröder about taking and making the go-ahead shot, the team needed to continue playing. This meant that there was little to no time for Davis to continue lamenting the negative play, or discussing what went wrong with teammates. Instead, in Davis’ words, he had to recover from this mental lapse and do what was necessary to produce the victory in overtime. Davis and the Lakers would do just that, putting the bad play behind them they went on to win the play-in game and secure a playoff spot.

Lesson: Recovering from an error, bad call, downtime, critical issue, difficult case, or general blunder is important, necessary, and more productive than stewing, blaming, or hiding. Davis demonstrated the power of taking a deep breath, assessing the current situation and reality, and then focusing on producing the best possible outcome from this point forward. Mistakes will happen, but when they do, deciding to recover and move forward with the next right step is essential. Doing so will help your team and the customer’s business.

These five important lessons from the Lakers play-in game can help anyone or any team create positive outcomes and avoid additional costly mistakes.


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