I Got Fired from the NBA – Here’s What I Learned

How to make the most of losing your dream job

It was the dream job. A job that almost any physical therapist would want to have.

That job was being an NBA physical therapist.

That one time I was on TV

It was like being a kid at a rehab candy store. We had time, resources, no visit limits because of silly insurance, and the ability to control so many more variables. 

I could influence so many different things for the players. In the D-League in particular, I was the PT, strength coach, nutrition coach, and sports scientist. It was an awesome experience.

And then I got the call.

I walked into the general manager’s office, and he broke the news:

“We’ve had to eliminate your position.”

Which is a euphemism for:

“You’re fired.”

I had seen it happen many times in the league as players come and go. And everyone was very cordial and matter of fact when their time came. 

“Hey, I got traded, I’m out.”

“Hey, they let me go. I’ll catch you later.”

“Yo, they waived me, man, I’ll see you around.”

And now it was my turn to do the same, and I exited in a similar fashion.

It sucked and was an immense low.

Yet, this experience was life-changing for me on many levels. Although it was a tough time, I ended up turning things around and haven’t looked back since. 

I returned to educating, which is what I believe my calling is.

I’m grateful for that experience, and the lessons I learned during that time.

Here are the big three:

Take ownership of getting fired

Though I was not given a reason for why I got fired, and our GM happily said he’d recommend me to another organization, I did a major post-Mortem to see what I could’ve done differently. 

This time involved lots of reflection, reading, and learning.

The most impactful book I read during this time was “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink. Basically, it’s a military spin on controlling what you can control, and forcing yourself to assume control of more things than you think. Don’t be a victim sort of thing.

It was after that book that I realized I was causing problems as an employee. I had an ego, didn’t play nice with others, and was poor at leading. 

Awareness was the first step, and I did a bunch of work to reduce these weaknesses that I have.

I couldn’t have done that if I had blamed everyone but myself for what happened.

While there is a lot that we cannot influence in our world, we can always take control of our actions, reactions, thoughts, beliefs, and more. The sooner we can realize this, the sooner we can change these areas to make our situations better for ourselves and others.

Don’t take the firing personal

If you are dating someone, and you know it’s not a good fit, and you’ve tried to work things out,  the best thing you can do is break up with that person. You won’t be happy because that person isn’t who you are looking for, and ultimately they will not be happy either because you aren’t all in.

More like new game+ (Photo credit: geralt / 23766 images)

Getting fired from a job is much the same. 

Point blank, the reason I got fired was that I wasn’t a good fit for where the organization was going. They needed something that I didn’t have the skillset for, and my skill set was better served for something else (like entertaining the fam).

And that’s okay.

Keeping me in the position I was in ultimately wouldn’t have fulfilled my personal wants and needs. I couldn’t teach, and I missed that.

Moreover, what I had to offer likely wasn’t what the team needed. 

It wasn’t a good fit, and Memphis did the right thing.

Recognizing that it’s not a “you” problem, but a fit problem, better helps you pivot to a place where you can leverage your strengths—whether it’s starting your own business or finding a different employer.

You don’t get fired because you’re a bad person (unless you are, fam), but because you aren’t the right person.

As the great philosopher Michael Corleone once said: “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.”

The power of spite

If you ever saw The Last Dance, you’ll notice that Michael Jordan used spite a TON as a motivator to make him great, often making up stories to keep him motivated to be the GOAT.

When I saw how much MJ used spite to fuel his desire to win, I felt that. Because I was always someone who would do the same when I was done wrong, or someone didn’t believe in me.

What is this, a goat field? (Photo credit – Alexandra Walt)

Even though you need to recognize what you could’ve done differently and change it, and you also can’t take being fired personally, that doesn’t mean you can’t “make up” that the people that fired you are your enemy.

Now is your time to say “You want to fire me? Okay, fine. So I took that personally.”

You can bet your bottom dollar that I did.

I sought to show those folks that they made a big mistake and used that story to fire me up, starting the reign of terror that is ZacCupples.com.

It was an immensely useful strategy, but user beware.

You can’t let spite lead you to bitterness. 

If you rely solely on spite, you’ll never be satisfied. You’ll always have to find an enemy, and you’ll never be grateful for what you have.

Throughout the last several years, I’ve had my moments where I didn’t feel like I did enough, or could’ve made things better.

At the same time, I’ve been grateful for what I’ve accomplished so far.

And gratitude is the way you don’t let something like getting fired break you.

Sum up

Those were the big keys that I learned from getting fired. To summarize:

  • Recognize and take ownership of what you could’ve done better
  • Don’t take being fired personal
  • Use spite and gratitude to motivate and stay humble

How did you handle a tough loss or being fired? Comment below and let the fam know!