05 Apr 10 Networking Nuggets I Learned from A Former Pro Basketball Player

A few months ago, I received a voicemail message from an administrator at Marquette University asking if I would like to attend the 100 Years of Marquette Basketball celebration. While I had been an MU staff member for two years, I wasn’t actually a player, so I quickly called back to confirm that they were calling the right person. When I found out that I actually was invited, I quickly RSVP’d with a resounding, “Yes!”

On Saturday, February 18th, it was National Marquette Day. Before the game, there was a pregame welcome reception that included many of the former players and staff members. At halftime, all of the attendees were honored on the court by having their name announced. The celebration was topped off with a 22-point Marquette victory over Xavier.

The Ultimate Connector

When I arrived at the welcome reception, I was able to spend a lot of time catching up with the players and managers that I had worked with from 2005 until 2007. I ran into a number of Marquette legends, including Bo Ellis of the 1977 NCAA championship team and Travis Diener of the 2003 Final Four team. It was a memorable night, but one of my former colleagues particularly stood out to me…and not just because of his 7-foot, 1-inch frame. Jim McIlvaine, former NBA basketball player, former Marquette star, and current Marquette radio commentator, inspired me because of his ability to network and connect with others. While I didn’t realize his impact on me during my time at Marquette, I do fully realize it now.

10 Networking Nuggets I Learned from A Former Pro Basketball Player

  1. Have an other-focused plan. Jim didn’t merely show up at the game to broadcast on ESPN radio. Instead, he showed up at the welcome reception two hours before the game with a 100 Years of Marquette Basketball poster. When our paths crossed, we engaged in some small talk. During our conversation, he said, “Will you sign my poster?” I chuckled and said, “Me?” While handing me a Sharpie marker, Jim replied, “Yes, you were a big part of Marquette Basketball. I can’t believe that more people aren’t getting autographs.” [Keep in mind that Jim is one of the best players to ever play at Marquette.] What an incredible example of making others feel important.
  2. Be authentic.  If you look on any of Jim’s social media pages, you’ll see that he is so very human. Jim talks about anything and everything…from  sharing his love for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, to posting his favorite childhood t-shirts, to writing an insightful blog post, to sharing his NCAA Tournament bracket, and  engaging with others about his passion for racing.
  3. Have a lot of fun. On December 6th, 2006, I remember Jim playing the drums with the Marquette band for our entire game against Delaware State. To this day, he dresses like the band members and jumps in to help them. Jim understands how having a good time helps you bond with others.
  4. Make others feel uniquely special. Besides asking for my autograph, Jim knew that I had just finished writing my book and that I speak nationally. [Note that we haven’t had a conversation in years.] Even though he is incredibly busy and everyone wants his time, he finds a way to value others.
  5. Ask great questions and deeply listen. I vividly remember seeing Jim in the hotel fitness center before every game during our Great Alaska Shootout championship run. He would ask about my job, our team, and my life…and then genuinely care about what I had to say. Jim is not above anyone or anything.
  6. Stay extremely positive. Whenever we had an upcoming opponent who had a team member that was over 7 feet tall, Jim dusted off his basketball shoes and physically got out on the floor to simulate the experience. During those practices, times would get tough and our players would get frustrated. Jim acted like an enthusiastic team captain who lifted us all up.
  7. Acknowledge others with a big smile. No matter what Jim is doing or who he is having a conversation with, Jim always recognizes others with eye contact, a smile, and a little wave.
  8. Walk slowly through the crowd. Jim is generous with his time. He does not rush from appointment to appointment. Instead, Jim understands that people enjoy his presence. His actions speak louder than his words as he graciously stops and takes a picture with anyone who asks.
  9. Consciously connect people to people. During one season, Jim invited Detlef Schrempf, his former Seattle Supersonics teammate and three-time NBA All-Star, to workout at the Al McGuire Center, the MU practice facility. Even though I was just starting in this career and was pretty low on the totem pole, Jim made it a point to introduce me to Detlef.
  10. Live in the present moment. I’ve been to hundreds of Marquette Basketball games and I have never seen Jim look at his phone while talking to another person. He is unforgettable because truly cares about what is going on right in front of him.


Be A Good Person

If you’re anything like me, you might be thinking, “Wow. Many celebrities or hugely successful people don’t take the time to say hello to anyone. How does Jim do it all when everyone wants a share of his time?” I’ve come to the conclusion that Jim “does it all” because, at the core, he is a really good person and deeply cares about others.

Jim, thank you for bringing back the memories of what makes you so special. Because of your extraordinary ability to connect with others, you are an incredible example for all leaders of people. Thank you for making a positive difference in the lives of so many people at Marquette…and well beyond.

ACTION: Every day this week, pick a different networking nugget to focus on. Together, let’s continue the connecting ripple effect that Jim has started for us.

Sign up for more of Derek’s insights!

Check Derek’s speaking availability for your next event.

Purchase Derek’s new book, SHIFT: Move from Frustrated to Fulfilled.