Data Driven Leadership

The Elam Ending: Data, Persistence, and a Basketball Revolution

Guest: Nick Elam, Assistant Professor & Ed.S./Ed.D. Program Director, Ball State University Department of Educational Leadership

In this conversation, Nick shares how he developed the Elam Ending and the dedicated years of perseverance required to see his vision from concept to the court. He explains the importance of speaking in terms of outcomes, incorporating feedback, and remaining patient in the face of resistance and disinterest—and how these concepts translate into leadership of any type.

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Ten years of determination led Nick Elam, assistant professor and program director at Ball State University and consultant for the  Canadian Elite Basketball League, to change the future of a 130-year-old institution: the game of basketball.

In 2007, he realized that over-reliance on the clock in the fourth quarter brought even the most exciting basketball game to a grinding halt. Nick introduced a (literal) game-changing concept based on data and focused on enhancing the excitement of the game's conclusion, which became known as the Elam Ending.

In this conversation, Nick shares how he developed the Elam Ending and the dedicated years of perseverance required to see his vision from concept to the court. He explains the importance of speaking in terms of outcomes, incorporating feedback, and remaining patient in the face of resistance and disinterest—and how these concepts translate into leadership of any type.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • How to overcome resistance and disinterest in implementing change
  • How to incorporate feedback while staying true to your vision
  • How to translate data into tangible benefits

In this podcast:

  • [10:24-22:05] How Nick developed the Elam Ending
  • [22:05-28:22] Embracing perseverance to implement change
  • [28:22-36:25] Supporting the Elam Ending with viewership data
  • [36:25-45:15] Evolving ideas and incorporating feedback
  • [45:15-55:55] Nick’s advice for bringing your vision to fruition

Our Guest

Nick Elam

Nick Elam

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Dr. Elam is best known for the Elam Ending concept in basketball. After persistently promoting the concept since 2007, the Elam Ending was implemented for the first time at TBT: The Basketball Tournament in 2017. Since then, the Elam Ending has grown rapidly throughout the basketball world, being implemented successfully at the NBA All-Star Game, Canadian Elite Basketball League, NBA G League, and countless grassroots-level leagues and events. Discussion about the Elam Ending has been featured on hundreds of outlets, including NBATV GameTime Live, Pardon the Interruption, Around the Horn, Outside the Lines, Sports Illustrated Innovation Issue, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Mensa Bulletin, Freakonomics podcast, and the book How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius by Nick Greene. Dr. Elam has been honored as keynote speaker at the Midwest Sports Analytics Meeting, Ohio State University Sports Analytics Association Conference, and by Wichita State University’s College of Applied Studies. He has also been a guest speaker at sport management/analytics courses and clubs at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio University, Indiana University, Wharton School, University of Wisconsin, and Syracuse University. Dr. Elam enjoys additional opportunities to share his inspirational story of persistence and positive thinking with audiences in school and business settings.


Jess Carter [00:00:01]:
The power of data is undeniable and unharnessed. It's nothing but chaos.

Speaker 1[00:00:06]:
The amount of data, it was crazy.

Speaker 2 [00:00:08]:
Can I trust it?

Speaker 3 [00:00:09]:
You will waste money.

Speaker 4 [00:00:11]:
Held together with duct tape.

Speaker 5 [00:00:12]
Doomed to failure.

Jess Carter [00:00:13]:
This season, we're solving problems in real-time to reveal the art of the possible. Making data your ally, using it to lead with confidence and clarity, helping communities and people thrive. This is Data Driven Leadership, a show by Resultant.
Hey, guys, welcome back to Data Driven Leadership. And on this episode, we are talking about sports. Nick Elam, who helped originate the Elam Ending in basketball, which is a new thing in the last ten years or so that's been slowly being introduced. He's here to share about how he created that, why he created it, the process, and what it looked and felt like, and walk you through it. What I really like about, and I guess I should explain really quickly that the Elam Ending is a change to the way the end of a basketball game is played. So that to really bring players back to a pure form of the game, to end it where they actually kill the clock and there is no buzzer at the end, they play to a target score.

Jess Carter [00:01:18]:
It depends on the game, what the target score is. And each team actually gets an opportunity to get to their target score and win. And so I have heard lots of things about this because I live in Indiana and Indiana loves basketball, but it's been really interesting to hear sort of why he created it and understand that it had nothing to do with sort of changing the game in this fundamental way, that was, you know, know just different. He saw all of the different things that were happening at the ends of all the basketball games. He saw a flaw in the sport where at the end of close games, you essentially had to break protocol with the rules of the game, then you're deliberately fouling people. There's sort of this mad rush to stall the game if you're up.
And so he walks through how he problem-solved a better solution and then how he walked through the process of researching it. And the other thing he shared that was really interesting is there was no data to leverage or mine some of the things he was measuring he had to go create the data and do manual research. And I thought it was so interesting. So this is a really inspiring story for any leader who's trying to implement change, where you kind of get a great story about someone who got to the other side of they got to the light at the end of the tunnel. He's now going to games, watching the Elam Ending play out, and I just think it's so inspiring to hear his journey and to contemplate how you could apply it to whatever journey you find yourself on and whatever change you're trying to implement. There's parallels to pull from his story, so I really hope you enjoy it. Let's get into it.

Jess Carter [00:03:04]:
Hi, Nick.

Nick Elam [00:03:05]:
Hi. Great to be with you.

Jess Carter [00:03:07]:
Yeah, thanks for being here. So, for those who haven't heard, which must be a very small population at this point, would you mind unpacking the Elam Ending, just like, in general, what is it? Because if you made me do it, it would be funny, but also probably not accurate.

Nick Elam [00:03:25]:
Sure. So the Elam Ending concept, it's a different format for basketball, and it's not meant to change basketball, really. It's meant to do the opposite, because so often during the late stages of basketball games, we see the style and the quality of play deteriorate so much. And so, the Elam Ending is a way to preserve a more natural and exciting and fluid style of play all the way through the end of the game. The way it works is that you play most of the game with a clock, but you play the last part of the game without a clock, and you're playing to a target score instead. And it's one of those things that just a simple change like that really has been effective in all the action that plays out on the court really looks like more like real basketball than what you would see under a time format. The concept itself originated back in 2007. That's when I first thought of the idea, and I really scrutinized the idea and tried to make sure that the idea was sound and necessary and had the potential to be cool, all those things.

Nick Elam [00:04:27]:
And once I convinced myself that the idea had merit, then the really tough part started of trying to convince others in the basketball world that the idea had merit. What I didn't know at the time was that it would take ten years before the Elam Ending was finally implemented for the first time and came to life at TBT, The Basketball Tournament, in 2017. And then from there, people in the basketball world finally got a chance to see what this idea was all about and that it worked. And so it's gradually grown from there. So it's been really exciting to see this concept take flight.

Jess Carter [00:05:02]:
Okay, I already have so many questions for you. One of them is, it's interesting that you made this comment that almost sounded, if I may, impatient. It took ten years to change a sport. I remember moments when I was in elementary school, standing in the gym with the weird long socks and the shorts, and they were teaching us how to play a sport that hasn't largely changed since then, Nick, it's amazing to me that's a change that's been implemented. And so, one of my questions is, would you describe yourself as a patient person?

Nick Elam [00:05:38]:
Actually, I would.

Jess Carter [00:05:40]:

Nick Elam [00:05:40]:
And I think the fact that I stuck with this for ten years is evidence of that. Because, again, when this first started of reaching out to people, I didn't know what the game plan was. I didn't have any blueprint, really, to follow. I was kind of developing this on my own, of who to reach out to, how to reach out, when to reach out, all those sorts of things. And for a lot of this, I thought that I really was just one day away from a big breakthrough. I never ran into that ultimate dead end, which I would have just moved on to something else. And when I did reach out to people, I got very used to not getting response of any kind. And a lot of the ones that I did get were just kind of politely saying that it wasn't their cup of tea kind of thing.

Nick Elam [00:06:36]:
But even the ones who didn't like it, no one could tell me a reason why it wouldn't work, other than just as a matter of taste. They didn't like it because if they had told me that there was some fundamental flaw for why it wouldn't work, then again, I would have just moved on to something else. So even these negative responses I was getting were still kind of fueling my interest in this project, my motivation, because it's like, well, even the detractors can't give me a reason why this won't work. And so, again, I felt like I was always just that one day away from a big breakthrough, it ended up being ten years’ worth of one days. But they finally came. Yeah, it was exciting.

Jess Carter [00:07:22]:
That's really interesting, because one of the things we've talked about on other sort of episodes of the podcast is when you do have resistance to something, it's really easy to get distracted by the people part of the problem, not the actual facts of the problem. And just the way you even phrased that to be like, does it not work? Is there a better solution? No. No one's saying that. There may be traditionalists or people who like the tradition or like the way it's played today or have other benefits where it's not saying it's fundamentally wrong or a bad way. And it's interesting that that just sounds like it's a natural drive for you. I have to work to be almost like, deliberately not reading the room of people and actually stay on the facts. That sounds like maybe it comes very naturally to you to say, like, I'm going to start with, is this a problem that's worth solving? And I'm going to keep asking that question.

Nick Elam [00:08:14]:
Well, again, yeah, that was a big part of the early stages of this idea, and exploring this idea was to figure out if it was necessary. And so that really required a deep dive into collecting data on what was actually happening in basketball under the time format and the extent and the effectiveness of different phenomena that we see there. And also, you talked about taking criticism and not taking it personally. There are a few things that helped me with that. One was that, again, I got so used to not receiving a response of any kind that I truly welcomed any kind of response, even if it was critical. And again, it was like, well, again, if somebody can tell me why this won't work, then maybe I can move on to a different hobby. This might save me a lot of time, truly, if somebody had that. And I looked at any criticism as a way to fine-tune the idea and possibly improve the idea, too.

Nick Elam [00:09:17]:
So, I was truly welcoming any kind of criticism I could find. And also, the other thing is that for much of this journey, I was in a leadership position myself as a school principal. And in that position, you learned very quickly not to take criticism personally. So, that was second nature for me. You don't worry about people being critical. You just hope people are being authentic with you. There's a lot of times you learn in the different discussions that whatever you hear, there's the part that's true, there's the part that's not true, and there's the part that's being left out, and you have to kind of filter and figure out what's what. So it's like, well, if somebody's critical, then you can be pretty sure that they're being honest with you.

Nick Elam [00:10:00]:
So, sometimes that's refreshing.

Jess Carter [00:10:02]:
That's a great point. Well, so I have this image in my head, and I'm going to need you to expound on it because I'm genuinely so intrigued. In my head, you were sitting on a couch working on whatever you were as maybe a principal at the time—I'm not even sure if that's what you were doing at the time. And you were watching this game end, and you were annoyed by the poor play, and you started creating some Excel spreadsheet, and it began. Is that any direction correct?

Nick Elam [00:10:30]:
That's not too far off. So, I absolutely do remember the day that the light bulb went on. It was March 10, 2007. I was a third-year high school math teacher at the time. I hadn't reached the principal chapter of my career yet, but yes, I was on a couch. It was kind of like a pretty ugly couch. It was tan, almost like orange-tan. I was watching a game on a Saturday afternoon, and I remember it was North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, and it was a game like so many others I had seen before.

Nick Elam [00:11:02]:
I mean, it wasn't like there was anything really distinct about this game. In fact, it was kind of the opposite. It was so familiar how such a really exciting and fluid, fun game got to the last few minutes—and pretty close game, too—and just all the air goes out of the arena. And I don't know what it was about that game, because I was actually pretty close to the idea that's now known as the Elam Ending. I was pretty close to that idea, actually, a few years before that. But there truly was a fundamental flaw in this previous idea that I had, and then just a light bulb went on about a simple fix to it that would make it more elegant and much more effective. All that, and I can remember being truly energized by this idea, which, you know me, I'm a pretty low-key guy, so it's rare for something to get me to the point where it's like uncontrollable energy.

Nick Elam [00:12:09]:
I remember this part, too. I literally had to go to the fitness club that I belonged to, which was not even a mile away. It was very close, but I went there and I ran. I literally had to run because I had so much energy. I was so excited by this idea. I also knew that here we was in March. I knew that there was a limited number of college basketball games that I could look into and try to study. So I had to kind of whip up a research study before I was really a researcher myself, I had to whip up a research study pretty quick.

Nick Elam [00:12:51]:
That began the following week when the NCAA tournament started. And I was dumb then because the idea kept growing and eventually would grow into spreadsheets. But at first, it was like Word docs that I was like, slapping stuff on to. But eventually, it did advance to the spreadsheet phase, so you weren't far off with that.

Jess Carter [00:13:15]:
Okay, that is fascinating to me because it is neat, and it's exciting to hear you describe what inspiration looks like often, where it's like suddenly there's this burst of energy, and I can't stop, and it's almost, it's adrenaline. Like, your body feels like you have to move, you have to do something because you're so excited. And a little birdie might have told me that maybe basketball wasn't even your first love in sports. Is that right?

Nick Elam [00:13:43]:
Baseball was absolutely my first love.

Jess Carter [00:13:46]:

Nick Elam [00:13:47]:
In sports when I was five years old, for sure, baseball. And then as a fan, football would be next. As far as what came along and then basketball just kind of got wrapped up into it. My mom is an IU grad. We were living in Ohio, but my mom is an IU grad. So I grew up on Bob Knight and the Hoosiers. But, yeah, the love for basketball came along pretty good. Pretty soon, too.

Jess Carter [00:14:11]:
I thought maybe you were going to know, well, those sports didn't have a flaw. There was nothing to fix. Maybe. Or maybe you're like, well, that's next on my list. I don't know.

Nick Elam [00:14:23]:
So that's the thing. Yeah. Actually, I can say what I would think, what I would call flaws in a lot of sports is just the problem is that I don't have a solution for them necessarily. And so that's another thing that makes me think back to my principal days, is that you also realize quickly in a leadership position, that identifying a problem, it's important, but it's not the finish line, either.

Jess Carter [00:14:55]:

Nick Elam [00:14:56]:
Identifying the solution is much more important than just being able to identify the problem. As someone who loves sports and consumes sports in lots of different ways, there are what I would consider flaws. But in a lot of the cases, I don't have an idea that would be any better than what's going on right now.

Jess Carter [00:15:17]:
Man, this is so interesting. So, I have waited 25 years in my life to find the right audience to talk about when I won my middle school second league basketball game through my left-handed layup and then my free throw shot after I got fouled and I did it. I'm here. Thank you. This is a gift for me. Thank you. I'm pretty sure that was my father's pride peaked at that point for me, in life.

Jess Carter [00:15:51]:
But for real, you mentioned. So I'm not like a huge, I don't watch every basketball game, but I am in Indiana, and so it's on often. You talk about how the Elam Ending changed the dynamics of the game. You talked about how you get to the end and the air is let out of the room. Can you share just a little bit more detail, like an example, like something specific that you noticed or that your research called to where you're like, if we change it in this way, here's the better-quality play.

Nick Elam [00:16:17]:
Sure. Yeah. You get to the late stages of a basketball game, and both sides become so preoccupied with manipulating the clock that the clock becomes more of the focus than what's actually happening on the court. And the ways that manifests are the first thing that usually happens is the team with a lead—who got that lead probably through some very assertive, fluid, aggressive play—they start to play in a very passive way, which is already less appealing as a fan to watch. But I see the one word description is that they start to stall. They start to stall the game away because, whereas up to that point, scoring points was the main priority, now it's just exhausting time.

Nick Elam [00:17:05]:
So they've settled into a passive phase. The defensive team then realizes, well, if they're just going to let time run out, then we're going to lose this game. So we have to stop the clock by any means necessary, even if we have to overtly violate the rules of the sport, which in basketball means committing a foul on purpose.

Jess Carter [00:17:24]:

Nick Elam [00:17:24]:
And again, they're so desperate to stop the clock that they're willing to allow their opponent to shoot one or two free throws and extend their lead. Well, what that does, then, is now it makes the outcome of the game much more predictable. It takes the suspense out of the game because you have a team that's already in front now being handed free points just on a platter. And so that whole combination of things, just again, makes the end of the game less suspenseful, less fluid, less all those things.
Well, okay, so now we're going to take this clock that's causing all these phenomena. We're going to let it do its job for most of the game, but we're going to say, sorry, see you later when it comes to the end of the game and use a target score instead. And so when teams play to a score, now there's no incentive to stall. You have to keep playing assertively when you're in the lead, when you're behind, you don't have this desperate feeling where you have to foul and hand away free points.

Nick Elam [00:18:30]:
You can continue to rely on legitimate stops. When you're on offense, and you're trailing, you don't have to rush and force up these ugly shots. You can get your best look. That makes the outcome of the game less predictable. It makes late comebacks more likely. And every game ends with the swish of a net. So you get all these great, amazing game-ending moments and celebrations. And so it's really cool how it works in so many different ways, and it's cool.

Nick Elam [00:18:55]:
Why? The reason people like it also varies, too. I know for me, I like it from a very practical standpoint that teams are just now adhering to the spirit of the rule, the spirit of the sport, I should say, the fundamental objectives of the sport. The offense is trying to score, the defense is trying to prevent them from scoring. And that's not true under a time format. I like it from that very practical stance. Others like it because it does have that winning shot at the end of the game. They like it for more of a kind of a sensational reason, which is cool, too. So, there's the practical side and the cool side, and I think that's what makes for a really great innovation, is that it's both practical and cool.

Nick Elam [00:19:40]:
And I think that's the way I would describe the Elam Ending, is that it's practical and cool.

Jess Carter [00:19:46]:
I think that that is awesome. And for sake of, at risk of sounding as naive as I am, I don't think until you just explained that, that I understood that the problem you were solving wasn't—I apologize for this, because it does sound naive—wasn't a “tied game how do you win at the end.” It's a “how do we solve for better play of the end of the game to get to the end.” And so, to me, there's this, I knew about of course, people are fouling each other at the end of a game. I didn't think about how repetitive that does get because I probably just don't watch enough basketball.

Jess Carter [00:20:22]:
But it does get to a point where you're like, okay, this is now the move. Everyone does this now. And I'm sure it is much, much more interesting to watch.

Nick Elam [00:20:31]:
And it's something that, whether you're a casual fan or a diehard fan, we've all come to accept in basketball, is the fouling at the end of the game. But truly that in itself is really a fundamental flaw that you really don't find in other sports where a team's only recourse, and I don't mean best option, I mean their only option, is to literally, just blatantly break the rule of the sport. That's enough of a fundamental flaw that if that happened in a board game, a card game, a video game, or certainly in a major sport, that would be worth addressing. And yet somehow, we've just accepted this in basketball for over a century now. Again, it's definitely a flaw, but it's not even a cool flaw. Nobody likes watching that. And sometimes when I get pushback, people will say, well, they like the strategy of the fouling approach. And I say, strategy is a grown-up word.

Nick Elam [00:21:43]:
You got to meet two conditions in order to call something a strategy. One is that it's got to work some of the time, and the fouling strategy hardly ever works, and you've got to have other options to choose from. If you've only got one option, then that's not really a strategy, either. So that's always my pushback on that by people who say that they enjoy the fouling strategy.

Jess Carter [00:22:07]:
Okay, you're going directly into one of my next questions I was going to ask you, which is, other than nonresponse, which you've already talked about a little bit, I'm still curious how you overcame some of that other than. And maybe you're just going to say, it's just, you know, did you have resistance and adoption to leagues? Because part of me is like Word documents turn into spreadsheets is one thing. Like Nick proved a concept could work, but then the leadership part of your leadership, your education, the way you're raised, kicked in, and it's like, well, how do I implement change? And that's a very different tool set. And so I'm intrigued by, did you have resistance? How did you handle the nonresponse? How did you go from, I got an idea in my head, I've proved it out, I've done the research to people want it, they're using it?

Nick Elam [00:22:54]:
Yeah, well, whatever I tried might have not been the best approach. That's probably why it took ten years for somebody to finally buy into it. But, yeah, I mean, here I was, a total basketball outsider trying to affect change. I had to get people on board who had influence in the basketball world. Trying to come across as being knowledgeable without being a know-it-all, I think, is a big part of it, because here you're reaching out to people who have dedicated their lives and make their living in a sport, and here you're going to come along and say that something really fundamental about the sport needs to change. It's hard to do that without just turning people off right off the bat, no matter how good the idea is. So that's kind of a delicate balance, but also somewhere in there, in the delivery, I had to be able to say that I'm not some knucklehead here. I've got some experience in math, very avid follower of sports, for whatever that's worth, really vetted this idea, and I've served in leadership positions, so I know how hard it can be sometimes and how many stakeholders have to get on board to get a change to come to be.

Nick Elam [00:24:17]:
And all those things have to be part of this delivery that I make. But then, yeah, it's a matter of, well, do I just have this avalanche of a 40-page whitepaper? Do I make it more short and to the point, and visually appealing? Do I start by talking about the problem, then get to the solution? Do I come right out with the solution and then explain what this is? And also the people that I was reaching out to. Who and how do I reach out? So I tried basically everything, and I heard someone else describe it this way. I'd never heard it this way or thought of it, but it was actually kind of good. Somebody described it as just like shooting arrows into the sky and hoping that something finally connected. And in a lot of ways, it kind of was. I mean, all the ingredients were there. It was just a matter of how to put it together into something that was actually going to connect with somebody.

Nick Elam [00:25:24]:
That was the bigger challenge than actually coming up with the idea itself.

Jess Carter [00:25:28]:
That makes sense. And I like even just hearing you play through this is sort of watching you build a strategy. Here are all of the different things I could do. Am I in a position where I can choose one, or am I in a position where the strategy is we try them all if we figure out what will work?

Nick Elam [00:25:45]:

Jess Carter [00:25:46]:
That's awesome. I think there are a lot of data-driven leaders who are trying to figure out how to implement change. And hearing another leader say sometimes the right answer is to do all the things, just to put some effort in there and get your elbows a little messy and roll up your sleeves and try and figure it out with some elbow grease. And you'll get somewhere, and maybe you'll get to the wrong spot, but you'll figure out where to turn and go from there. And it sounds like that's sort of part of the story, is you sent out a lot of stuff and you waited to see who would respond.

Nick Elam [00:26:18]:
Yeah. And I've also heard that to connect with people who are in a business setting, to get their attention, you’ve got to show them upfront how something is either going to make them money or save them time. It's something I have to communicate, but where does that go in this delivery here? It's just one more ingredient that has to go in there somewhere. But when? How? All those sorts of things. And when I say that I was trying everything, it wasn't that I was trying everything at once. I would try something for a while, and then when it just seemed like I was kind of running out of steam there, then I would move on to a different strategy. And then again, it took ten years’ worth of refining the argument, but finally got there.

Nick Elam [00:27:13]:
The best feeling was that the idea could speak for itself rather than me speaking on its behalf. That is such a good feeling when it plays out on the core, certainly when it plays out with a great flourish and looks great, but even times when it's kind of a ho-hum finish, but a sound finish, under the Elam Ending, still, even then, it's just nice that here the idea can speak for itself rather than me speaking on its behalf is very nice.

Jess Carter [00:27:51]:
That's another way to test that it's a sound idea right from your first. Is there something wrong with it? I don't think so. Down to, yeah, people are seeing it, they get it. Here's one of my questions. Those KPIs, because you're right. Does it save them time or make them money? Is there data around? Hey, people are staying and watching the end of the game longer, either in the stands or on TV. What are some of those metrics?

Nick Elam [00:28:17]:
Yeah, so one event that does a nice job of tracking this and even sharing this is TBT, The Basketball Tournament. This is a summer tournament that's on ESPN. They were the first to adopt the Elam Ending in 2017, and they'll post some data about viewership and how it changes it. Their event finishes up in August, but then they also will post throughout the year to stay in the public eye a little bit. And I know within the last few months they posted some data specific to the Elam Ending and how the viewership changed and went up. I forget what the percentage was. I'd have to dig back and find this graphic that they had, but a significant percentage that viewership bumped up when the game got to the Elam Ending phase compared to earlier stages of the game. So that was really cool to see.

Nick Elam [00:29:12]:
And so that would be one metric. And then for other leagues and events that have adopted this, sometimes I don't always get to see behind the curtain of what's going on, but yeah, I would love to be a fly on the wall sometimes on some of these discussions that go on.

Jess Carter [00:29:28]:
Yeah, that's super interesting. Well, because my other thought was, I don't know, you did all this research that was contextualized to basketball, but like you've said, there are maybe some fundamental flaws in other sports, but there's not a solution in your head yet. Part of me is wondering, are there other sports that are interested in, have you had pressure or intrigue from other sports outside of basketball? And how does that greet you? Are you like, hold on, I need three more years to research it and see if it's like, what does that look like if it exists?

Nick Elam [00:30:02]:
Basketball is certainly not the only timed sport that there is, and it's not the only time sport where teams manipulate the clock at the end of the game and become preoccupied with the clock. It's probably a little bit different in that how blatantly teams violate the rules to manipulate the clock. But anyway, the thing about all these other timed sports where the clock kind of overshadows the play at the end of the game, and you can go with football, soccer, ice hockey, field hockey, water polo, way on down the line, lacrosse, handball, all these other timed sports, the thing that makes them different from basketball is that the scoring rate in all these other sports is much lower than it is in basketball. Scoring is much more sporadic and rare in other sports. But what that means is that you can't really rely on scoring to take the place of the clock. Imagine playing a soccer match where you have to score one more goal. You could be there for two more hours. You could have players collapsing out on the field.

Nick Elam [00:31:10]:
That would be no good. Whereas in basketball, scoring happens much more reliably and frequently that, yeah, you can realistically get rid of the clock at the end of the game and just use points instead. And it's really the only one of thosed time sports where you could do that. And now this is also where I say, the inventor of basketball, James Naismith, I think he was actually right to govern basketball by a clock when he invented this back in 1891. But that is because basketball had a much lower scoring rate then. The first basketball game ever played was a one-nothing game. And for a while in basketball's infancy, it was a very low-scoring sport. It was much like these other sports that are truly dependent on a clock.

Nick Elam [00:31:53]:
But for many years, the scoring rate has risen drastically in basketball, and it separated itself from the other sports in that way. It has the option, like these other sports don't have. It has the option to kind of distance itself from its clock, but it continues to rely on it more than it needs to.

Jess Carter [00:32:17]:
Did you ever think about ways to change when you were creating the concept? Were there other ideas about things like, so if the scoring is getting so high that that makes the clock more of a play? Were you like, do we make the court bigger? Are there other things? Do we add obstacles? I don't know.

Nick Elam [00:32:37]:
I mentioned earlier that I was kind of close to what is now known as the Elam Ending. I was kind of close to that idea for a couple of years leading up to 2007, but there was a fundamental flaw in that, scoring early in the game could actually come back and backfire late in the game. And to me, that's like, okay, that's silly. It's just silly. That's too much of a flaw. This will never work. But then I finally tightened it up. But I think it's interesting to explore all sorts of different ideas.

Nick Elam [00:33:15]:
No idea is too crazy, at least at first. I mean, it might be too crazy to finally implement, but it's not too crazy to at least explore and discuss. I love hearing or even thinking all sorts of different ideas to promote a more exciting or more fair or safer style of play. Whatever the goal is.

Jess Carter [00:33:38]:
That's awesome. I am excited to hear. And I just anticipate the other thing I like about to your point about safer there's less fouling. Hopefully, there'd be less injuries, less pain. I think about the other, like, I think about football and how much it's been in the limelight for the last ten years about the understanding we have on brain injuries and things where it's like, if we can apply better solutions to the games that also help keep players safe, that seems smart and it's entertaining and fun.

Nick Elam [00:34:07]:
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, yeah, you've got the potential for injury anytime somebody is trying to foul someone else, and then also the wear and tear of just extra play. One thing that's kind of built in, I don't call this a flaw, because sometimes it could be pretty exciting in a timed format, is that it might lead to overtime. And I know we kind of romanticize about overtime, and even I get excited when an overtime period starts. But through research, I found that way more often than not, overtime fails to live up to the excitement that happened at the end of regulation. So it looked like you were set up for this really exciting finish, and then you go to overtime, and the game ends in a pretty routine way. But I guess what I'm getting at is that in that overtime, there's also just additional wear and tear on players.

Nick Elam [00:35:00]:
Wear and tear on players. And in most sports, it's not making them any extra money because the concession stands have already closed their doors and locked up. The broadcast has already gone through all their commercial inventory. They're not making any more commercial revenue on overtime. So it's just kind of like, honestly, kind of like dead time, but bringing you back to safety. Yeah. It causes more wear and tear on players. So that's one thing I think for players is really appealing is that under the Elam Ending, it's a race to a certain point total.

Nick Elam [00:35:30]:
Somebody's going to get there first, and there is no overtime. There is no chance that you're going to see an exciting finish fade away and turn into a routine finish. When you're headed to that exciting finish, you're going to get it, and you're going to get it without having to extend the game in an undue way.

Jess Carter [00:35:54]:
Yeah. So, similarly to your March 10 date, do you remember the first game that was played with the Elam Ending, and have you had to iterate since then? Have you had to make any adjustments to it, or hey, it's been fine, and it'll live on forever? I mean, what's that looked like?

Nick Elam [00:36:16]:
Yeah, great question. I'll answer the second part first. I always knew that the original version of the Elam Ending was not going to be the final version. I knew that it was going to evolve, and I think that's kind of really been fun to keep an eye on it and scrutinize it and think about how to fine-tune it and make it better. And there have been some adjustments to it. I probably have to get more into the weeds than you want me to on that. But yeah, there's been some minor changes here and there to it. But then, as far as the first game ever played, I absolutely remember that, it was a Saturday in June in Philadelphia.

Nick Elam [00:36:56]:
There is a Philadelphia University. I didn't realize this, I think in athletics, they're Division II maybe, but they were the host site for TBT for these preliminary rounds that they were going to try out the Elam Ending. And so they had seven games scheduled back to back to back on a Saturday starting at like nine in the morning. Eight or nine in the morning, yeah. And then they were going to have four more games on that Sunday and I was there, I was sitting at the scorers’ table and I was seeing ten years’ worth of work coming to life for the first time. I was beyond nervous because I didn't know if this was going to be the happiest day or the saddest day of my life in the top five of those, because there was a chance that this was going to just blow away in the wind and be gone, that it was going to happen and be a blur, but it wasn't going to be good enough to catch on and that was going to be it. So I knew that was a possibility going in. But that first game of the morning, it wasn't like the flashiest, most exciting finish, but it was a game that ended with, I think, the margin of victory.

Nick Elam [00:38:22]:
That first game was like seven or eight points, kind of like what I would call medium-sized margin of victory. But the game ended and it was smooth because a game has a margin of about seven or eight points. That's where you would see the worst, really halting, choppy play. And here was a game that was able to proceed in a smooth way, not a clunky way. So I thought, okay, that's good. Then there were a couple of games that still, everything's looking sound. Nothing spectacular, but that's okay.

Nick Elam [00:38:59]:
It was like the fourth or fifth game of the day that we had a game that came down to what I would call a sudden death finish where the next bucket wins. And one of the things that I had always wondered going up to this was, okay. In a really exciting, close game, when that shot goes through the net and there's no clock, is it going to be able to capture the same excitement, the feel of a buzzer beater? That's something that we love about timed format, and rightfully so. We don't want to get rid of the things that we already enjoy. Can we still capture that feeling? Well, here in the fourth or fifth game of the day, in the history of the Elam Ending with a game that came down to sudden death, we had a player, his name is Josh Selby, who had played previously in the NBA, made a tough, contested, kind of step back, mid-range jumper, and the team ran out from the bench. He had this great celebration where he untucked his jersey. The team ran out the court, embraced it, had the look, the sound, the feel of a buzzer-beater, even though there was no buzzer. And, wow, that was really cool to me.

Nick Elam [00:40:08]:
That was really important, too, because I had said all along that I really felt the Elam Ending was something that we could keep and enhance the things that we already do enjoy about the timed format, but get rid of the things that we don't enjoy. And so that was evidence right there in my corner. And then the next game also proved a point or addressed something that I thought was really important, too. I'd always thought, and I mentioned even earlier in our interview, that I feel like the Elam Ending makes the game more suspenseful. It gives the trailing team more of a chance to come back, but to do so in an authentic way. And in the next game, there was a 13-point deficit. Going into the Elam Ending, that's a deficit that at that stage of a timed format, truly the game would be over, right? Well, here the trailing team went on a 14-nothing run to take the lead, and then it was back and forth for the rest of the game. And finally, this is actually at a more reasonable time of the day, too.

Nick Elam [00:41:13]:
So, the gym was starting to fill up. There are actual fans in the stands now, and people were going crazy. I was going crazy, but I couldn't show it. I had to stay cool and calm.

Nick Elam [00:41:23]:
But that was really important to see that. And then the rest of the weekend finished out in pretty sound fashion. But I knew by the time I left Philadelphia that weekend and went home, I was like, I knew that this idea is going to live on somehow, some way. And I was hoping that it would be with TBT. I would hope they would continue to use it, but I was like, you know what? I'm not giving up on this idea after seeing it. I'm going to keep pushing until somebody else adopts it. And I was kept in limbo for a while. And it wasn't until the following spring in 2018, I kept in touch with TBT.

Nick Elam [00:42:05]:
But it wasn't until the spring of 2018 that TBT said that they were going all in with the Elaman, and it wasn't just going to be an experimental basis anymore. It wasn't just going to be their preliminary rounds. It was across the board every game, and they've used it. And that was a very affirming and exciting day. But I had to wait a long time to get that vote of confidence. But I knew in my mind that somehow, some way, based on that first weekend there, that the idea was going to going to live on somewhere.

Jess Carter [00:42:40]:
That is so cool. And I love hearing you walk through this because I think for, I don't know if you'll be surprised by this, but there aren't tons of basketball episodes on our podcast. And so what's interesting is you're kind of doing this great job weaving sort of leadership principles throughout this story. And to hear that you waited and worked and reached out for ten years to try something like most of most leaders have some, they're in leadership for a reason, and they're trying know, sort of engender buy-in to something they're trying to do. And there's this inspiration in your story, Nick. It's helpful for people who are somewhere on that journey, not quite at that point, or even who implemented something meaningful, but maybe didn't get those kinds of meaningful words exchanged. But it's like you actually took something that you've admitted that other people might love more than you and you actually helped bring it back to a more pure form. Maybe if I can sort of romanticize this a bit.

Jess Carter [00:43:44]:
And I think that's really cool. I think it's special.

Nick Elam [00:43:47]:
Yeah. And the word pure is also a word I've heard people who are complimentary of the idea is that, yeah, it purifies the game, and that's what you want to hear, especially from people who, you know where the game of basketball is really important to them. And for them to say something like that, for them to be, first of all, open to a change like this and then embrace the change like that really means a lot. So, yeah, those are some of the best compliments I could ever get.

Jess Carter [00:44:23]:
I love it. And then to push you a little bit outside of some of the sports comfort zone for us, that you've been a leader, you've been a principal, I don't know. The list of degrees I could mention. I don't know. When you look at the last decade, maybe a little more, do you have any thoughts on if somebody else is going through. They are a leader and they are in the middle of a journey that somewhat resembles what you just went through lessons like if you could go back and do it again, things that you would tell yourself now, not necessarily regrets, but any advice you would give to someone who's maybe in the middle of their research bit or in the middle of I'm not getting any responses, or, hey, they might actually adopt it. I'm so nervous. One of the things that stands out to me that you've already said without saying it, is getting to that point of adoption, like getting it to the point where end users or stakeholders can feel, can sense, can experience the change.

Jess Carter [00:45:29]:
And you did a lot. You didn't rush that. You didn't go do that before you made a bunch of tweaks. You were very thoughtful about kind of as you changed it and updated it, that the right thing, they felt the right thing, that if it was going to die, you gave it your best shot. That seems like an important exercise, is let's get it into their hands as fast as we can, but let's get the right thing into their hands. That's something that stands out to me.

Nick Elam [00:45:53]:
Well, leadership lesson, I would say one mindset I had all along with this was that, and I mentioned this before, that I knew that the original version of the Elam Ending was not going to be the final version once it was put into practice that I was going to see things that I wanted to improve. But then also just the fact that once this is in the hands of other people and it's affecting them in different ways and affecting their stakeholders in different ways, and people are going to want different things, you have to be open to evolving along with that and tailoring that. So I would say to a leader, if you've got this awesome idea that you want to introduce to your stakeholders, you have to know what you're willing to evolve with and take feedback with. And you have to know what elements are so fundamental to your original vision that you're going to fight for it and make sure that that's a lasting part of it. For any leaders out there, when you're trying to affect change, know what hill you're willing to die on and which ones you're willing to compromise on.

Jess Carter [00:47:15]:
Wow, I love that. And I hear that in your story of moments when it was like your why was fundamental to everything. And so as long as the why didn't change, you were willing to play with the other components. I think that that's super important. And it's interesting, too, that you had this commitment to the cause before you had a single stakeholder. And I think that's really interesting, too, is you were kind of working from the outside, if you will, and had to work your way in. And so those are leaders who aren't even leaders in their space yet. That's just somebody with a good idea, right?

Nick Elam [00:47:51]:
Yeah. So for a lot of this journey, I was a leader, but not in this project that I was doing, but, yeah, this totally parallel track I was on, an education world, and then this independent project, I was able to take lessons from one and translate it to the other. And in both directions, to. These pursuits in my life have complemented each other so nicely. And it's cool. I don't know what to compare it to, honestly, but, yeah, having these different dreams and ambitions, I think, is cool. And it's something that I would advise and have advised people if there's a creative way to follow two dreams for it, because, I don't know. I think it's been so enriching to have both of those in my life.

Jess Carter [00:48:52]:
Well, and you've paid attention to your interests, which is really important, too. Right? You paid attention to when you had to go jog because you were so excited. And I think that's really neat. Is there anything else that you wanted to share that we did not cover?

Nick Elam [00:49:07]:
Well, I guess one of the last things I mentioned there was. I do enjoy sharing this story because, again, there's a lot to unpack. It's very personal. I think there's a lot of, even for somebody who's not a basketball fan at all in the audience, I think there's a lot of lessons that translate. And so I have enjoyed the opportunity to go into schools and share this message, to go at different universities and speak about this idea, even in some businesses. So I guess if there is someone, I think I'm speaking, particularly the school leaders out there, someone listening to your podcast, but even somebody in the business world who you think this message would translate about this journey that I've been on and still am on, I'd love to come speak and something I really enjoy. I'd love to connect.

Jess Carter [00:50:03]:
How do they do that? How do they find you?

Nick Elam [00:50:06]:
Yeah, my email is would probably be the one way to connect, but also I'm on LinkedIn. People can find me there. That'd probably be the second-best way to connect. But, yeah, I would love to come share the story.

Jess Carter [00:50:28]:
Cool. Well, it's a great story to share. So, thanks again for being on the podcast.

Nick Elam [00:50:34]:
Yeah, I loved it. It was fun.

Jess Carter [00:50:36]:
Thank you guys for listening. I'm your host, Jess Carter. Don't forget to follow the Data Driven Leadership wherever you get your podcasts and rate and review letting us know how these data topics are transforming your business. We can't wait for you to join us on the next episode.

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