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Serena Williams of US holds the Wimbledon Trophy after defeating Vera Zvonareva of Russia 6-3, 6-2, in the Women's Final at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships at the All England Tennis Club, in south-west London, on July 3, 2010. (ADRIAN DENNIS)
Serena Williams of US holds the Wimbledon Trophy after defeating Vera Zvonareva of Russia 6-3, 6-2, in the Women's Final at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships at the All England Tennis Club, in south-west London, on July 3, 2010. (ADRIAN DENNIS)

Weekend Workout

Executive lessons from the wild world of sports Add to ...

On the death of George Steinbrenner, legendary New York Yankees owner and the ultimate "boss" - we look to the sporting world for a little inspiration and declination. There's been no shortage lately of high-profile athletic examples that can be applied to the workplace. Whether you're the real-world equivalent of an owner, coach or player, the playing field is teeming with hard lessons.

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LEBRON JAMES

Résumé: Professional basketball player, age 25.

Career high: In 2007, led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the National Basketball Association finals for their first time.

Achilles heel: Not content with trying to build up the team that made him a star. Mr. James takes what seems to be an easier route to a championship by jumping with great fanfare to the Miami Heat, whose collection of free-agent talent promises - they hope - to create a dynasty.

Career blunder: Public relations, what relations? Mr. James dumped his team, his town and his fans on prime-time national TV, creating a furor among long-time supporters and raising vitriol bordering on violence from his former coach. His narcissistic display raised questions about whether he can tame his outsized ego enough to be able to co-operate with his teammates.

Second act: Stay tuned. The NBA season opens in October.

In his words: "Ask me to play. I'll play. Ask me to shoot. I'll shoot. Ask me to pass. I'll pass. Ask me to steal, block out, sacrifice, lead, dominate. Anything. But it's not what you ask of me. It's what I ask of myself."

Lesson: Don't quit your job on TV. What he should have done was inform Dan Gilbert, the Cavs' owner, before he announced his decision to head to South Beach. Mr. James also could have thanked the fans who supported him and bought his jerseys. His arrogance could cost him in the long run. Grace and humility go a long way at the office - and the box office.

PAT RILEY

Résumé: President, Miami Heat, age 65. Former head coach for the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks; NBA Coach of the Year with both teams.

Career high: Signing LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh as free agents, instantly making the Heat the best team in the East and arguably the best in the NBA.

Achilles heel: An intensity bordering on mania.

Career blunder: When he left the Knicks in 1995, the parting was so bitter he faxed in his resignation.

Second act: Looking forward to a new run at fame at an age when many others are deciding to ease into retirement.

In his words: "To have long-term success as a coach or in any position of leadership, you have to be obsessive in some ways."

Lesson: Go for the gold. You can reinvent yourself, as often as necessary.

GEORGE STEINBRENNER

Résumé: Shipbuilding magnate who bought the New York Yankees for $10-million (U.S.) in 1973. Died Tuesday at age 80.

Career high: Eleven American League pennants and seven World Series championships; franchise value of the team now $1.6-billion; signed the game's first free agent - pitcher Jim "Catfish" Hunter to a then-unheard of $3-million deal, essentially creating free agency as we know it today.

Achilles heel: Sore loser who is renowned for lack of patience, abruptly firing managers mid-season if they weren't meeting his expectations. He hired and fired Billy Martin five times.

Career blunders: Pleaded guilty to an indictment for making illegal campaign contributions to the committee to re-elect president Richard Nixon and was suspended by Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn for two seasons. Suspended again in 1990 for two years. Badly overpaid for players in the 1980s and the Yankees won only one World Series in the decade and finished last in 1990. Writer George F. Will once famously wrote that Mr. Steinbrenner "wrecked" the Yankees.

Second act: The Yankees reclaimed their dynasty tag, winning five World Series championships in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009.

In his words: "Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next."

Lesson: Stay focused on your goal and you can overcome your stumbles and snub your nose at the naysayers. (And for Billy Martin: Keep your options open.)

LANCE ARMSTRONG

Résumé: Road racing cyclist; cancer survivor, age 38

Career high: Won the Tour de France seven consecutive times

Achilles heel: Arrogance, which has put off some fans but hasn't seemed to limit his ability to land sponsorships and draw media attention.

Career blunder: He has been unable to shake rumours that he used performance enhancers, though he has never failed a test. This week he vowed to fight a new U.S. doping probe.

Second act: Announced in 2008 he would return to cycling and compete in the 2009 Tour after a four year hiatus, and finished third. This week, crashed three times in the 2010 tour and fell out of contention during Stage 3. But he did pick himself up each time and get back in the race, which he hints is his last. His Livestrong Foundation has become a major fund raiser for cancer research.

In his words: "Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, it lasts forever."

Lesson: Persistence in adversity is an admirable trait. But you also need to keep a grasp on reality and if you're hurting your team's chances, it may be better to move aside.

SERENA WILLIAMS

Résumé: Professional tennis player, age 28.

Career high: Thirteen Grand Slam titles; No. 1 ranking in the world.

Achilles heel: Emotions, although she says she learns from them. She is also known for her rivalry with sister Venus, and jealousy when other players rank ahead of her.

Career blunder: In 2009, in the U.S. Open semi-final, Ms. Williams screamed at a referee who called a foot fault. She shouted and cursed before threatening to shove the ball down his throat and kill him. Then she denied saying it. The blowup prompted critics to suggest she had sabotaged her career.

Second act: Last week, she came back from last year's meltdown and the $92,000 fine it brought, to serenely win her fourth title at Wimbledon.

In her words: "Luck has nothing to do with it, because I have spent many, many hours, countless hours, on the court working for my one moment in time, not knowing when it would come."

Lesson: Give it your all and the success will follow. But try not to lose your cool no matter how high the obstacles.

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