Every two weeks, the gents at Free Darko will be taking a look at the deranged ecosystem that is the National Basketball Association in their own indelible fashion. Here's this week's entry, from Lawyer IndianChief.
With football on the nation's collective brain, allow me to reference a recent Sportscenter segment in which correspondent Rachel Nichols reported on the Patriots just before (I believe) their playoff game with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Nichols' commentary included the usual mechanical testimony about game strategy and current mindstate, some soundbites, a touch of conventional wisdom and then a smug closer, which I will paraphrase: "When I asked [Tom Brady/Mike Vrabel/Asante Samuel] about being undefeated, he responded, 'nothing has changed, we practice just like we always have, with Coach Belichick telling us how terrible we are."
[Groaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan]. Can somebody tell me how long I'm supposed to be impressed/surprised/captivated by this crap tactic? Or should I imagine that a common dialogue in most sports-watching households consists of:
SON: Hey Paw, I'm confused, Why would the coach tell the team how terrible they are? I thought the Patriots were the best team ever!
FATHER: Well son, that's the sneaky genius of Coach Belichick. He keeps his players motivated by making them think they aren't that good!
I mean really. Who is falling for this stuff? You're telling me that million-dollar guys like Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau whose glands synthetically manufacture swagger suddenly become all, "Gee shucks, I guess we can play better after all" when they hear that old "you guys are terrible" rhetoric during practice? And still this type of shaming is such a highly touted method of coaching despite relying on the oldest tricks in the book. I played high school basketball for the worst team in a pretty tough Minneapolis City conference. We won about six or seven games each of my varsity seasons, and without fail, our most asthmatic vomit-inducing practices came the day after those wins. After our toughest blowouts or our closest heartbreakers, the coaches would buy us donuts for our Saturday morning practices.
The bottom line is telling amazing professional athletes that they are "terrible" as a means of motivating them is neither novel nor effective. Worse, it conveys a sense of false humility, which is a characteristic worse than arrogance. And it underestimates the intelligence of the viewing public. Just once I'd like to see a coach step to the podium and tell the media that their team has the tenacity of some primordial ungodly sea creature and intends to dominate the opposing team in a torturous and unrelenting manner. Be straight with us.
Now what this all has to do with the NBA is that this faux "never good enough" style of coaching has become increasingly common in the Association over the past few years, and it is time for it to end. The Avery Johnson screaming about playing better defense to his perennially top-10 defensive team. The Gregg Popovich calling a timeout one minute into a game so because he doesn't like his championship squad's focus. Some may say these tricks are effective if you look at the success of the Mavericks and the Spurs over the past two years. I see it, however, as a luxury that these coaches have when in charge of such dominant teams. You can call them terrible, you can ream them in practice, you can feign disappointment that your team didn't go after one more loose ball (even in a win), because you are coaching an already competent and confident group of players.
The prelude to the demise of the "you guys are terrible" style may have come with the firing of Chicago Bulls coach Scott Skiles. Now Skiles was nowhere as bad an offender as Popovich or Avery Johnson when it came to overdoing it on the negativity. On top of it, Skiles was a damn good coach for Chicago's purposes. But could the guy give his team a compliment for once? The look on his face was one of constant misery and disdain, despite Chicago's increasing success from MJ-afterthought to serious Eastern Conference force. I'm certain Skiles loved his team despite clashes with players from Tyrus Thomas and Ben Wallace, but never did he publicly elevate that team, instead taking multiple opportunities to spout negativity.
In professional basketball especially, there seems to be an exacerbated concern over the expansion of players' egos to the point where "we-suck" coaching is advocated just to ensure no player is overstepping his boundaries. The thing is, you can't suppress true swag. Eventually the headband is going to get worn and the tattoos are gonna show. Tyrus Thomas will never truly become the freewheelin' Tyrus Thomas (He Shall Be Free) if he is constantly told how bad he is. The 2007 Warriors would have never defeated the Dallas Mavericks had Nellie harped on their poor shot selection. It is time for all false modesty to be dispersed, and instead praise to be heaped on the most dominant athletes of our time. You may think that the modern athlete is already overpraised, compared to say, the common schoolteacher. I want to see the explosion of confidence and skill that occurs when they are told they are god-like.