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The 700 Club

Childhood Michael Jordan Fan Now Coaching MJ’s Team

In a game of rebounds - James Borrego has the knack - for bouncing back! His resiliency and persistence turned heads.  After long success and two championships as a San Antonio Spurs assistant, the Charlotte Hornets hired him – and he became the NBA’s first Hispanic Head Coach. But the 3-time head-coaching finalist had to wait his turn.  

Question: “When was the wait most difficult?” 

James Borrego: “Believing I was the next guy! Being turned down. A finalist again – two jobs, again two ‘no’s’. But I kept being persistence, finding resilience, to keep moving forward. Being an NBA assistant coach for 15, 16 years, the wait was long but I knew if I continue to put my work in that opportunity would come again. And I’m thankful for it!”                                           

Question: “How do you fuel your disappointment rather than resenting it?” 

James Borrego: “I think you look at it as an opportunity. Through disappointments in life, on the court, in practice, in games – as long as you’re learning from it I think you get better along the way! I found a spirit of resiliency, reflected in my mother that she could get up and she could keep going through the ups, through the downs of life and I was given that gift at an early age of moving forward and seeing that example.”                                                                                        

Question: “An owner is an owner – unless you’re (laughs) wearing it, right? So you come here under the evaluation of Hornets owner, Michael Jordan. What made that memorable for you?” 

James Borrego: “First of all, never met him. Obviously, one of the greatest players of all time! Someone I grew up watching, admiring from afar. To walk in his home and be interviewed and spend time with him was surreal for me. Someone that knows basketball, extremely high level – he was interested in me, to hear my vision, what I could help bring his company, his organization! It was a wonderful conversation of basketball, life, moving this team forward.  And we spent a lot of time watching a basketball game, talking x’s and o’s. But he’s been a wonderful owner! Someone that brings great value, someone who I trust and someone who I know believes in me and this entire group” 

Question: “Was there a favorite questions he asked?” 

James Borrego: “‘Who did you grow up rooting for?’ (laughs) No!” 

Question: “You’re mandate was the Bulls?” 

James Borrego: “Bulls all the way! He didn’t know I was really a Laker fan.” 

Question: “Talent aside – what’s at the core of a champion?” 

James Borrego: “There’s a lot there! It’s effort! Effort in your consistency! Effort in your discipline! Effort to stay resilient! If you have those three things you have a shot! People look at NBA champions and they think it just happens because of talent or coaching or you add this player or that. You have to put the time in. You have to put the effort in everyday – and that’s a challenge!” 

Question: “What is it about JB, that makes him unique as a coach?” 

Kemba Walker: “First of all he’s a great guy! He’s helping me think a lot about the game and different situations and things of that nature. So, I think that’s what’s different – he’s really open-minded!” 

Tony Parker: “You know we had a great relationship, ‘cuz he’s been with me 10 years in San Antonio and – we trust each other! So when he asked me to come here and help him out I was just happy about the opportunity and I knew I could trust him.” 

Question: “Today’s NBA player – they’re getting younger, they’re global. What is a must-have to earn their trust?” 

James Borrego: “They are getting global. It’s becoming more and more of a challenge. You have to be authentic. Players today, they’ll see right through you and you won’t earn their trust. And I think that is what Christ is looking for in us – to be authentic and real. And that’s really what elevates an organization, when there’s real authentic connection-relationship. And I think that’s what players are looking for.”  

Question: “What has multi-cultural friendships, teaming taught you?” 

James Borrego: “Growing up in New Mexico, you know, Hispanic background -- it’s about family! We pull for each other. We’re there for each other. Just as the church should be! There’s room to disagree. To matter if I’m Hispanic, white, black, Asian – we’re just a family. And I think that’s what Christ would want us to represent and to be about. That’s something I value at my core. And something I want to be known for – long term!” 

Question: “You’re doing your doctorate now, but you have your masters in leadership. What do you think is most undervalued when it comes to moving people forward?” 

James Borrego: “One of the things I’ve learned over the years of watching great leaders and studying leadership is: listening to people, understanding people, empathizing with people. You can help move them forward but you’ve got to understand people and where they’re at to do that. Sometimes it’s a little messy. And I think it’s about listening. When you listen to them you value them. And when people feel valued they’ll keep coming back to you.” 

Question: “So you were brought in to help change, redefine the culture of this organization. But over your broad experience with coaching – what about the pushback that comes from leadership at times – where its like, ‘we don’t want to change. What’s your advice?” 

James Borrego: “Get over yourself. We’re not in it for the ego! I’m not standing up on a perch thinking that I’ve got everything figured out. But stepping in the muck, in the fire, in the arena, put ourselves in the battlefield together! Pull out the best in people. See what they do well and maximize it! The good leaders I’ve been around – they go tap into that!” 

Question: “Coach up the church, evaluate their mission, their game plan, what would your encouragement be to them to finish strong?” 

James Borrego: “Probably tell them something I tell my players often as they exit a huddle, exit a halftime: stay the course, stay together! This is a long game, this is a long season - we need each other! Stay together, stay the course, keep pulling. And ultimately, communicate, that’s talking, but it’s also, listen!” 

Question: “What do you borrow from Christ’s example when leading and coaching a team?” 

James Borrego: “I think of two things: sacrifice and resiliency! He was the ultimate example of that! The ultimate sacrifice, for us! Never giving in. Always getting back up! Always being there! Just realizing that you can’t do it on your own. You need a partner! And He’s the ultimate partner!” 

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