While Toronto is used to massive numbers of celebrities during major events like during the Toronto Film Festival, this year’s was unique. The NBA All-Star event attracted a gathering of both the young and old, people from all walks of life who wanted to catch a glimpse of these millionaire giants doing wonders with a basketball.

Tickets were expensive, the weather was extremely cold, and the traffic was intense, but none of these stopped thousands of people from hanging around numerous venues around the city with the hope of a celebrity sighting.

Who came up with this NBA All-Star idea anyway, and why? What is the selection process to participate in the NBA All-Star games? How are people like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and a host of others chosen to play in this clash of the titans?

NBA All-Stars

First and foremost, the game of basketball was invented in 1891 by a Canadian physical education instructor, James Naismith, in Springfield, Massachusetts as a less injury-prone sport than football. However, the idea of the All-Star games was birthed in 1951 by Haskell Cohen (March 12, 1914 – June 28, 2000) who was the public relations director of the National Basketball Association (NBA) between 1950 and 1969.


It was during a meeting with other NBA executives, he suggested that the organization should host an exhibition game featuring the league’s best players, with a purpose of regaining public attention to the league.

The starters in the game are chosen by fans through a variety of online platforms, while the reserves are voted in by the head coaches of each team’s particular conference. While they cannot vote for their own players, the coaches can select two guards, three big men, and two players regardless of positions.

Exceptional Leaders

After having being bombarded by news from mainstream and social media about the NBA All-Star games and activities, I could not help but think of an All-Star League of Exceptional Leaders, made up of people in our generation who would gather the most votes for their contribution to humanity.

And as a speaker, trainer, coach, consultant and mentor on leadership and management, I have studied the lives and achievements of people who fit this category.

In fact, in my latest book, The Mystique of Leadership, I cited instances of exceptional leadership from the lives of the following icons like Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, Dwight Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, John F. Kennedy, Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela.

Bill Gates

Using the NBA All-Star format, others that I also classified as part of an All-Star League of Exceptional Leaders are Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Aliko Dangote, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama, while the list of rising stars, based on the magnitude of their philanthropy, include emerging leaders like:

  • Jan Koum, who left Yahoo to co–found WhatsApp Inc. in 2009 and later sold it for $19 billion to Facebook Inc.
  • Elizabeth Holmes, the 30-year-old woman who dropped out of her sophomore year in the prestigious Stanford University to begin a blood testing company in 2003, later rising to Forbes’s list of billionaires.
  • Tony Elumelu, a self–made billionaire entrepreneur from Nigeria who recently pledged $100 million towards creating 10,000 entrepreneurs across Africa in the next ten years.
  • Dan Price, who, with his brother, founded Gravity Payments in 2004 at the age of 19. He was honoured six years later by President Barack Obama as the National Young Entrepreneur of the Year for his success.

Meanwhile, some of the coaches I would appoint to the conferences in the All-Star League of Exceptional Leaders are Peter Drucker, Stephen Covey, John C. Maxwell, Ken Blanchard, Tony Robbins, Robin Sharma and Myles Munroe, who was the one that inspired The Mystique of Leadership in me during a conversation with him in 2012.

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There are other exceptional leaders who would likely be voted into the All-Star League of Exceptional Leaders but no one book would contain case studies on them all. History is full of legendary leaders in the political, religious, corporate and academic spheres which I focused on in my book, but these selected few helped to ignite my leadership spirit during my days of self-discovery.

I selected these icons for the All-Star League of Exceptional Leaders based on a particular set of principles and precepts about leadership, which I have been speaking on globally for almost two decades.

I selected them with the mindset that leadership is a spirit that can only be ignited by purpose, guided by principles and sustained by passion, which is my definition of leadership.

10 Principles of Exceptional Leaders

Exceptional leaders:

  1. Consider everything as opportunities and possibilities and never use the word impossible to describe anything; not even what is truly impossible. In fact, exceptional leaders are known for always pursuing what others consider impossible.
  1. Are never concerned with being introduced with a title, and definitely does not take offense when their titles are unrecognized. They don’t think about titles, don’t aspire for it and definitely don’t brag about it.
  1. Consider positions of authority as opportunities to demonstrate leadership for others and thus expend all that they are and have to acquire the required knowledge to do so. In most cases, they are already doing what they are eventually hired to do.
  1. Have a burning spirit of progress within them which is unhindered by others and situations. In fact, when you fire an exceptional leader from an organization, he remains an exceptional leader even in the community because the leadership remains ablaze within.
  2.  Do not try to be someone else and definitely does not put up a show or drama just to demonstrate power. What you see is what you get today, tomorrow and always. It is their authenticity that attracts others to their vision.
  1. Exceptional leadership is based on purpose and purpose only. Many people may hold positions of authority, but exceptional leaders always have a purpose – clear, consistent and committed. They are known for their sharp-razor focus on their vision.
  1.  Take their vision personally, whether it is personal, corporate or government. People in positions of authority are often strictly focused on their realm of responsibility while the focus of exceptional leaders goes beyond their sphere into many generations after them.
  1. Always believe in people, regardless of the level of competence being demonstrated. Despite mistakes, struggles and challenges, they never doubt themselves or anyone else. They always trust, always hope and always believe.
  1. Are spiritual in their mindset and approach to things, whether they are religious or not. How they think, talk and act is consistently reflective of unabashed love for others and absolute respect for God. They don’t preach but rather teach. They don’t condemn but rather redeem.
  1. Strongly believe that the concept of servant leadership is a tautology, for leadership is serving and serving is leadership. In fact, they seek out opportunities to serve and would let no one deter them from setting an example of how things should be.

Who Would You Choose for an All-Star League of Exceptional Leaders?

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Alex Ihama
Alex Ihama is a global leadership and management consultant with over two decades of experience in enabling governments, corporations, churches, communities and schools to develop the capacity and abilities they require to achieve stringent goals and objectives.