The Toronto Raptors are one win away from securing their first NBA championship. The team was leading the Golden State Warriors 3-1 but as it got ready to tip off for game 5 it was taking nothing for granted. Toronto was staying humble and focused on realizing results. It’s a valuable strategy not just for the basketball court, but also the conference room.
“We haven’t done anything,” said point guard Kyle Lowry, when asked about Toronto’s stone-cold disposition. “We won three games. It’s the first to four. We understand that [the Warriors are] the defending champs and they’re not going to go out easy.”
Teams that have led 3-1 in the NBA finals went on to win the title 33 out of 34 times. Coincidentally, Golden State was the only team to blow a 3-1 lead in the finals, losing to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. (Update: The Raptors went on to lose game five and now lead the Warriors 3-2.)
The Raptors are ahead, but (update: even before their game five loss) it was clear they respect the Warriors and recognize Golden State’s grit.
Earlier this month, British boxer Anthony Joshua experienced the consequences of getting ahead of himself while defending his heavyweight titles. Joshua—a 30-to-1 favorite against his challenger, Andy Ruiz—confessed to not being completely focused on the fight.
“I am not looking past [Ruiz],” said Joshua before the showdown, “but I know if I beat this guy what’s out there for me.” Joshua was defeated, in a spectacular upset, by technical knockout, during the seventh round.
Taking competitors seriously is critical for businesses, too. Blockbuster infamously decided against buying Netflix for $50 million in the early 2000s. At the time, John Antioco, Blockbuster’s CEO, didn’t realize the changing direction of the home video industry—or Netflix’s potential dominance—and laughed the company out of the room when it suggested running Blockbuster’s online brand.
By not celebrating their short-term success, the Raptors have shown that they’re mentally prepared for the long-term battle. They also realize that the return of Kevin Durant—who’s been hobbled by a calf injury—to Golden State’s lineup could swing the series. For Toronto, the party can wait.