Every year before the season starts, Las Vegas sets lines on who they think will win next season’s NBA championship. There are 30 teams in the NBA, and the folks in Vegas say that the top 5 franchises have a ~70% of winning the Larry O’Brien trophy next year. That means people are saying that the other 25 teams collectively have a ~30% chance of snagging a title. The dirty secret of pro basketball is that in any given year, only a handful of teams in the league have a realistic shot at winning it all.
In the world of professional sports, a championship window is the set period of time in which a team has its greatest chance of winning its league’s title. Various factors come into play such as salaries, contract length, player health and age, and being in the right place at the right time. I use the NBA as an example because of the outsized impact that certain players have on the league. A quarterback in football is 1 of 22 starters on his team. But a basketball superstar is just 1 of 5.
Each team franchise has a general manager whose job is to maximize the team’s championship window. They do this by acquiring the best available players and coaches in an effort to win as many games as possible. That means trying to find good players on cheap contracts to complement your expensive franchise stars and also finding a balance between aging veterans and young rookies with room for growth.
In life, we have a finite amount of time to do as much as possible. Some people want to travel the world. Others want to get married, settle down, and raise a family. A few want to climb as high up the corporate ladder as possible. And a few believe that they can have it all. The crazy life experiences in their teens and 20s, starting a family in their 30s, and kicking ass at their careers in their 40s and 50s before finally riding off into the golden sunset of retirement in their 60s.
Unfortunately, the dirty secret of life is that having it all is completely unrealistic for the vast majority of people. Everybody wants everything. But because we can’t have everything, we settle for the next best thing: everything within our power to get. That second group of things can either expand or contract depending on how we treat our own individual “championship windows”.
If you want to climb the corporate ladder, you can maximize your window by kicking ass in K-12, getting into an elite college, working a white collar job at a big company (or a promising startup) for a few years, and then going to a top 5 MBA program. After that, snag a management consultancy gig at McKinsey, BCG, or Bain while building a deep professional network both at your agency and at your client companies.
If you want to start an awesome family with the best spouse possible, you can maximize your window by doing well in K-12, getting into a good college, develop healthy, well-adjusted eating and fitness habits, getting a white collar job, and putting yourself out there to friends, colleagues, and strangers. Find the person who best shares your own personal values, get them to fall in love with you, and start cranking out babies after you tie the knot.
If you want to travel the world, you can maximize your window by making as much money while you’re still in school, taking advantage of a college’s study abroad program, volunteering for various NGO and government aid organizations, and learning popular foreign languages such as Spanish, Arabic, French, and Chinese while finding ways to deal with the lack of air conditioning, sticker shock for name brand consumer goods, and getting the shits after eating strange ethnic foods the first few times.
Keep in mind that no two people have the same championship window. There will always be some people stuck in small market towns while others get burdened by atrocious contracts negotiated by the previous front office. Some of you may be stuck in a terrible situation. But complaining about it will never maximize your window.
Whether in basketball or in life, all you can do is make the best of your situation. Some people will start off with more advantages. Some with less. But everybody is striving to get as much they possibly can from life. To do that intelligently, you need to know what you want, know how to get it, put together a plan, and then execute that plan. In that order. If you maximize your life’s championship window, chances are you’ll get something that you can live with.