Basketball | HOOP SCOOP

Warriors an inspiration to Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani

by Ed Odeven

Effective leadership involves the ability to inspire others.

What’s more, organizational harmony creates the proper conditions to achieve — and sustain — success.

Looking at the Golden State Warriors and Rakuten, Inc., one can see parallels in how they operate, set bold targets and reach them.

Billionaire Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani, who founded Rakuten in 1997 and has guided its global rise to prominence as a giant of online commerce, recognizes that the Warriors are more than just a winning team (three NBA titles in the past four seasons, including two straight). He understands that team ownership, general manager Bob Myers and coach Steve Kerr have set the tone for the team’s joyful existence.

Tracing the success of the Warriors under current ownership and a nucleus of star players, Mikitani unpacked morsels of wisdom in an email letter to all Rakuten employees that was recently posted on the company’s website.

“When we see a successful season played out like the one the Warriors just delivered, we are inspired by not only their success but also the way in which they represent the values we prize, like teamwork, innovation and a passion for excellence,” Mikitani wrote. “We are excited to see those values so clearly demonstrated on the court and to see something of ourselves in the team and their achievements.

“And what a team the Warriors are. Through injuries and adversity, highs and lows, the Dubs never backed down. They never abandoned their revolutionary brand of basketball that asks All-Stars like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to put individual numbers aside for the sake of team success. The Warriors embody the motto: ‘Strength in Numbers.’ ”

Which is why Mikitani, an ultra-successful businessman, sees real value in associating himself with the NBA’s premier team and the league itself.

Rakuten is a prominent sponsor of the Warriors, its logo seen during every game on the front of the team’s jersey since the start of the 2017-18 season. (It’s a $60 million, three-year deal.)

And this is an appropriate way for Rakuten to promote its core values. After all, if Rakuten didn’t respect the way Golden State ran its business, committing to this deal could’ve become a lighting rod of bad publicity. For instance, businesses that developed close ties to ex-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

Mikitani is a smart guy. It’s helped him achieve great success at Rakuten and expand into the sports world as owner of NPB’s Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and J. League’s Vissel Kobe.

When the Warriors wrapped up their latest title by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in early June in the NBA Finals, the Rakuten logo completed its first season as an omnipresent figure on Golden State’s jerseys.

Mikitani took great pride in that fact, writing, “As we followed the team this season, we saw the Rakuten logo displayed on the jerseys of the greatest basketball players in the world, as a badge of honor for us as well.”

He continued: “Watching the Warriors, we at Rakuten saw something in ourselves reflected in their actions and their mindset, and as is often the case when in the presence of greatness, were inspired to reach greater heights ourselves.”

Mikitani gave three vivid examples:

1. “We saw our goal of working as one team in their selfless style of play.”

2. “We saw ourselves in their passion for innovation.”

3. “We saw ourselves in their global mindset.”

From 1994-2012, the inept Warriors made the playoffs just once. Under owner and CEO Joe Lacob, who took control in 2010, the laughingstock franchise was transformed. In 2015, the Warriors ended a 40-year championship round drought.

With their latest title, the Warriors have become a dynasty, not unlike the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls of the past.

Mikitani, for one, observes what the Warriors have accomplished, but more importantly how they’ve accomplished it. And he dispatches knowledge from what he’s seen to his entire winning organization.

“As we celebrate this win,” he wrote, referring to the 2017-18 NBA title-winning Warriors, “we should remember that our connection to this team is not just about business. There are many ways to generate business. In sponsoring a great team, we help to generate inspiration — for our customers, our users and for ourselves as a team. We are inspired because great teams demonstrate all we strive to be.”

Refreshing, intelligent analysis from a visionary leader.