There is no worse fate for an NBA final than to be turned into a roundtable discussion on the brilliance of the coach. Someone please tell the Wall Street Journal: Stan Van Gundy is not the reason people are watching.
Prolific contrarian Allen Barra had a column in yesterday's paper in which he not only addressed the fact that Stan Van Gundy's looks fall somewhere south of the Greek ideal (maybe you've heard), but suggested that his average appearance was actually drawing in fans.
Stocky — the uncharitable might say portly — and with a mustache that appears to be borrowed from Dr. Phil, Mr. Van Gundy is pretty much indifferent to fashion and can often be seen courtside in a simple dark jacket and pullover knit shirt. His confrontational style owes more to perspiration than inspiration; his uncoiffed hair is tousled by the end of the game, as it was during Sunday night's thrilling overtime loss to the Lakers in the NBA finals.
But despite the absence of marquee superstars on the Magic, the ratings for the first two games of the finals have been surprisingly good, and early indications are that fans are finding a working-class hero in Orlando's coach.
OK, well, that's just ridiculous, not least because Barra seems to think so-so looks and an indifference to style are exclusively the domains of the working class. Most people identify with ugly (but fabulously wealthy) pro coaches just as much as they do with good-looking (but fabulously wealthy) pro coaches, which is to say, not at all.
But then Barra goes and talks to Pat Riley and things get really stupid. Maybe Riles feels guilty over stealing Van Gundy's first championship and wants to say nice things. Or maybe he, like every coach ever, thinks the job matters far more than it really does:
Mr. Riley, for whom Mr. Van Gundy served as a longtime assistant coach at Miami, calls him "the most important acquisition Orlando ever made. More than any single player, he's the one who turned the franchise around."
This story is as old as Clair Bee, and it isn't any truer now than it was back in those days. Coaches just aren't that important — James Naismith said as much. Far more important is having a very tall, very athletic man who can score 21 points on six shots. Enough about the guy in the bad suit.
UPDATE: Mr. Barra responds:
This is Allen Barra replying to Tommy Craggs. My piece in the Wall Street Journal was not, as you imply, a round table discussion on the brilliance of the coach. I did not, as you suggest, imply that Stan Van Gundy's "average appearance was actually drawing in fans." I did not suggest that "so-so looks and an indifference to style are exclusively the domains of the working class." These are things you seem to want to have a confrontation about with someone and chose to distort what I wrote in order to have that confrontation. I did not say these things, and I did not imply them.
I did describe Stan Van Gundy's appearance — accurately, I think — and quoted his brother, Jeff, to the effect that no one would confuse either of them with Brad Pitt. If you disagree with this, I'm afraid you'll have to take up the matter with Angelina Jolie.
My assessment of Stan Van Gundy as a working class hero was based at least in part on his own statement that he'd like to find a small school and "settle there."
I did suggest that people were tuning in after a lopsided Lakers win because they were identifying with Van Gundy's animated style. If I'm wrong, you will please tell me which charismatic superstars on the Orlando Magic people were tuning in to watch.
Finally, if Pat Riley's assessment of Van Gundy — that he turned the Orlando franchise around — is "really stupid" and that "coaches just aren't that important," please take time to present a reasoned argument instead of using the typical internet loud-mouth mode of yelling that something is so because you say it is so.