I have had the great fortune of being around both great managers in baseball and great directors in film and television and it always struck me how similar their jobs are. For every Billy Martin there is a Robert DeNiro, for every Casey Stengel there is a Ron Howard and on and on. Leading teams, and leading production are all about making sure you can blend personalities and tell a winning story. I remember a colleague of mine telling me that Thomas Kail, the Tony Award winning Director of Hamilton (as well as Lombardi and In The Heights, spent a good amount of time learning from the lessons of some of his favorite coaches like Tony LaRussa and Bill Belichick.
So with that in mind, we headed to the theater Wednesday night for CREED II, the latest in the “Rocky” series, but another great crossover story that goes beyond boxing into the drama of real life; a story of sons and fathers, husbands and wives and literally, life and death. Sport imitates the drama on screen, and vice versa.
Like the long line of successful managers that we have had with the Yankees, the directing mantle has now been passed un the series from Sly Stallone to Ryan Coogler to 30 year old Cleveland native Steven Caple Jr., who now had the task of delivering a winning product with an All Star lineup. Caple, a huge sports fan had to do what good managers do; blend personalities and styles that can be very different, from a promising rookie (actor Florian Monteanu plays Viktor Drago in his acting debut) to the brightest current stars (Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson) to the returning veteran (Dolph Lundgren) to the legend (Sly Stallone). How did it work? The audience will decide, but I think it does.
While he made his way up the carpet on Wednesday I asked Caple about the matchup between director and manager and he smiled at the sports analogy. “I always study how to get the best out of people to tell a story, and there is no doubt that coaches, the great ones, have to play that game as well,” he said. “What makes Steve Kerr such a championship coach, or Bill Belichick a supreme motivator? It has to do with listening and learning from everyone around you. That is really what we try to do as well as when telling a story. If you have a great team, you try not to screw it up, and I’m really lucky to have not just a great team, but to have the benefit to learn and adapt things from people like Sly and Ryan.”
You also see the greatest organizations with the best culture finding ways to always innovate and lead and stay fresh, be they the Yankees or the Patriots or the Golden State Warriors, and the “Rocky” franchise has had a chance to do that yet again. In a recent interview Jordan mentioned that the “CREED” films had opened up a new young audience to go back and learn about all things “Rocky,” which helped find a new legion of fans who may have missed out on the classic films in the series that date back almost 40 years now. Keeping the tradition going for a rising star like Caple may seem like a burden, but it is also a great opportunity, one which managers and coaches have embraced in successful sports organizations, and which this longtime Cleveland Cavaliers fan is enjoying as well.
CREED II is about championship fights for sure, but it is also about championship performances, and their young director, like the managers of teams he follows, is a star on the rise. He blends some great talent to deliver a winning performance. My old friend Billy Martin would be proud and our Boss, George M. Steinbrenner, who Michael B. Jordan said should be in the Hall of Fame, would have loved it also.