Robinson, Falk dish on athletes as leaders

Once the men's basketball team cleared out after Monday afternoon's practice, Cameron Indoor Stadium became host to a different crop of sports celebrities, who talked about passion and the art of saying, 'no.'

NBA All-Star David Robinson, sports agent David Falk and Director of Athletics Joe Alleva participated in Monday's plenary panel discussion: "Leveraging Sports Leadership into Community Leadership." The discussion was part of The Coach K and Fuqua School of Business Conference on Leadership, hosted at Duke Oct. 19-21.

The three panelists noted that sports leadership translates readily into leadership in business or in the wider community, as all depend upon such qualities as competitiveness, drive, discipline and, most importantly, passion.

"I'm there as a role model and cheerleader," Robinson said, talking about his role in founding The Carver Academy in San Antonio, where he played 14 years for the hometown Spurs. "The same things I had to do in that locker room... are the same responsibilities I have today."

Alleva noted that many leaders in athletics do take the necessary steps to become leaders elsewhere.

Although sports stars are often chastised for not giving enough back to the community, all three panelists agreed that even the most generous celebrities must be disciplined enough to know when to turn down an opportunity for community service.

"I come from the school of 'less is more,'" said Falk, who has represented and advised many of the world's best athletes, including Michael Jordan. "You want to really make an impact, as opposed to just putting your name on a lot of letterheads.... You have to fight the temptation to say yes to everything that's coming along."

Falk added that athletes must, in community service, maintain the same intensity of commitment that gave rise to their popularity as athletes and role models in the first place.

Alleva noted that it is more important to give time than money when engaging in community service. "To give time to something, you have to have a passion for it," he said--a sentiment he shared with Robinson.

"Whatever I get involved in, I have to have passion behind it," Robinson said. "There are a lot of things that are really good... that I would like to do, but I've got to know exactly what my focus is."

Robinson noted that when turning down someone's request for community service, he just has to decline gracefully.

"You have to focus on particular areas and be great in those areas, and when people outside that scope come up to you, you acknowledge what they're trying to do but keep the focus on your goals."

Falk said that while many athletes do not like to disappoint those asking for help, they must "understand that to do a quality job, you're going to disappoint some people." He noted, however, that it is possible to strike a balance by remembering that although some people will be disappointed, others will be greatly touched by the help given.

The panelists also discussed issues of skepticism surrounding athletes trying to take on leadership roles outside of sports. Robinson said that, when founding The Carver School, some participants doubted his commitment and ability outside of basketball.

Falk noted that while businessmen might sometimes be unable to look beyond the tough exterior of a professional athlete, athletes and businessmen are often the same at the core. "Most people are the same way when they take off the uniform," whether the uniform be a jersey or a suit, Falk said.

The panelists also addressed the issue of skepticism about athletes' motives for engaging in community service, saying that to deal with accusations of selfish motives, athletes must simply do what they believe is right.

"It will drive you crazy if you live your life according to others' judgment," Falk said.


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