Riddle of the Sphinx

As a youngster, I wasn’t much of a baller. In my CYO days, I was always 1st or 2nd off the bench but that was primarily due to my being infatigable, fast, and devoted to defense. I had no discernable basketball skills. I was a lock down artist, a veritable 4’8” Bruce Bowen without the one backbreaking 3-pointer a game. As I got older I developed a bit of a handle but that atrophied pretty quickly after I stepped away from organized ball in the 9th grade.

I mention this, not to delve into a bad ol’ days story, but simply to be forthright. I was not and am not a good basketball player. If I had practiced for 169 hours/week, I wouldn’t be 1/10 the player Rick Brunson is. That’s just not how I was configured. I’ve accepted that. That being said, I was one hellova of intramural (1st – 5th grade) coach. I’m not talking about good, I ‘m talking about prodigious. I started coaching the 6-11 year olds when I was 12. I continued to do so until I was 16 when my affinity for dirt weed took priority. In those 5 years; I won 4 championships, 3 Coach of the Year awards, and compiled a (including playoffs) record of 73-16. And for the kicker… I was the only teenager coaching in the league. All the other coaches were fathers of the kids. I relish the memory of these 40 year old, South Philly, wannabe mob-affiliated pricks walking away year after year withered and distraught, knowing that they had been strategically bested by some snot nosed, pubescent coon with nary a hair on my chest or chin. I’m getting a chubby just thinking about it now.

What infused my dynasty with grandeur was not the record or championships themselves. It was that I did it with a different team every year. This was no keeper league. At the beginning of every season all of the coaches got together with a list of the kids who were signed up for the league and we had a secret draft (so as to protect the feelings of the kids that were selected in the later rounds). Every year I had to start from scratch. Some may scoff and seek to diminish my achievement; to them I say “Fuck You! I’ll spit on your grave”. Unless your job is to insure the success of a firing mechanism on a spaceship, a 80+% success rate is good. Respect that!

That said, I harbor no illusions about my coaching success. I don’t believe that I’m a hoops strategy wunderkind or master child psychologist. If my run exhibited any aspect of genius, it was in two ways. I was smart enough to recognize my kid’s limitations, so I was able put them in situations in which they could be useful, and I didn’t simply assemble a team of the most talented kids left on the board. I made a great effort to draft a team that was made up of individual parts that made sense together. A great example of this is that I always drafted the worst 4th+ grader with my 3rd to last pick, it was usually a tall for his age, fat kid. The reason being, the kid knows that he sucks, but I can honestly string him along all season telling him how shocked all the other coaches were when I drafted him so high and that he was my secret weapon. Every season my fat boy would come through for me in the playoffs with a big block or a good, hard foul on the opposing team’s best player (Word to John Cheney). Other coaches saw a slow fat kid, I saw a wall of fury and an imposing hacker.

The point? Well, the point is that although I, as a human being, have some shortcomings, my GMing and coaching abilities are irrefutable. I’m certified, B. When I tell the uninitiated (that means all y’all) something in the realm of B-ball coaching is nonsense, then that’s that. Write it in stone.

Here it is. You ready? I know it might sound crazy but the Triangle Offense is not that complex and it is not the primary reason that Phil Jackson has 9 rings. Fin.

That’s it. I feel it beneath me, as well as you, to name the true reasons for Phil’s coaching success, it’s apparent.

Basketball is a game of motion and offensive recognition of defensive scheming. The Triangle has been lauded by many as the penultimate expression of these points. The successes of the ‘90s Bulls and ‘00s Lakers have clouded history and allowed the merchants of Zen to revise the basic elements of a winning system. In the past, tools came first and the application of such tools was ancillary. Zealots of the “Book of Phil” and the apocryphal “Book of Tex” have reshuffled the deck as a sacred offering to Phil, himself. When the Triangle (notice even I, the philistine, capitalize it) is exhorted, the images conjured are not of Bill Cartwright surveying the court from the top of the key nor are they of Ron Harper jump-stopping at the high post and hitting Horry in corner for a 3-ball. This is the image-

-Smugly smiling back at you with a complete certitude of his own superiority and slight disdain for the audacity of your gaze. The marketing of “The Zen Master” has affected the game detrimentally, because it has blazed the trail for the coach as a personality, even if the coach is lacking in personality. The elevation of Phil and his fraternal twin Bill Belichick has invariably diminished the luminescence of those that actually decide the outcome of the games. Their rise has validated the “Right way”-ism of Larry Brown and the “My Way”-ism of Bill Parcels. Indeed, the ground is trembling. I fear for the children.

Maybe it’s not their faults. Maybe with the modern world of all-access, around the clock coverage of athletes, the omnivorous masses needed a new story, a new angle, a new something and it just so happened that as the technology that allows this type of coverage formalized Phil and his Triangle just happened to be winning championship after championship. Maybe he is as much of a victim in all of this as we are.


But that still doesn’t excuse the hubris

Written by Rocco Chappelle with the contributing research from


At 2/17/2006 4:02 PM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...

YO. You just completely obviated my need to make this post about debunking nba truisms such as "These players are all just beginning to understand the triangle offense" and "Tim Duncan's foot really hurts this year" (last year's version was "KG's knees really hurt"). POINT BEING:

This whole built-in excuse for the Lakers that they are struggling with this new crazy scheme is the same thing as football announcers giving Vick the excuse, "Well he's only in his 3rd year of the West Coast offense, just wait till he masters it!" Also akin to Holmgren explaining Hasselbeck's success this year by stating that "the[Holmgren's] system really takes three years to get a grasp on." WRONG. Hasselbeck was always good, Seattle just had shite receivers.

Back on topic...the Lakers are mediocre and it has nothing to do with figuring out this obscure geometric form we call a triangle.

At 2/17/2006 4:53 PM, Blogger elandfried said...

I don't see hoe Belichick and Phil Jackson are used in the same sentence except when it involves "have coached teams to more than one championship". Belichick is almost the anti-Phil Jackson. And comparing coaches between sports is silly. Everyone knows that coaches in football are infinitely more important than coaches in basketball. I'd like to hear more about the comparison before I buy into that statement...

At 2/17/2006 5:58 PM, Blogger Rocco Chappelle said...

I completely agree that Jackson & Belichick's images are antithetical, that's part of the reason I used them. In no way did I intend to convey that they share an ideology. My intention was to say that they share an agenda. While Phil is outwardly perceived as a sage and master manipulator, Belichick is a structuralist and a tactician. Phil is a high priest while Belichick is a general. Phil is flamboyant while Belichick is may as well come to the stadium with a hard hat and a lunch pail. Yadda, yadda.

What connects them is the devices by which those images are sold. In my mind, sports primary function is myth building, this is nothing new. A sports writer's job is to turn a game into the trials of Hercules and travels of Gilgamesh. That's part of what I love about sports, the pretense of epicness. What I find objectionable about Jackson, Belichick, and their ilk is the self-serving awareness they have of those images and how they are complicit in their own deification.

Kind of a digression, but I have over 150 student employees. I have a stock speech that I use when I'm training new folks, in it I go to great lengths to make it clear to them that myself and the staff of student supervisors are there to serve them. Just because I'm their "boss", I'm not their superior when it comes to the work we do. My job is to make sure that they can do their jobs as effectively and comfortably as possible. I'm there to provide them the tools to be successful. I know is sounds like some bullshit that bosses say to ingratiate themselves with their staffs but I genuinely believe it.

Leadership should be a service to those you lead. I think many coaches (e.g. Phil and Bill) are working to serve their own legacies, or their own legends. I'm sure that other coaches in the past have done it. They just weren't as savvy about it. They weren't as tied into branding as we as a culture currently are (except for maybe Pat Riley, who I think is one the godfathers of the current age of coach self-promotion).

Just as an aside, I have no problem with athletes working to build their own myths, in fact I think that is their primary job to do so and I don't think there is anything hypocritical about that.

At 2/17/2006 6:49 PM, Anonymous White People Don't Know said...

I agree almost completely with the post, and i appreciate the call out to the original redman. sometimes its hard to rep boston on the freedarko boards.

however, i think belichick is of a completely different order than jackson. he came to my school to give a speech, and not only does he not have that air of self-conciousness that always hangs around phil, bill is barely concious at all. he was by far the worst public speaker i have ever heard in my life. he couldn't motivate me to brush my teeth. before that i wasn't sure if belichick was really as out of touch as people say, but i'm a believer now. he's a completely one-dimensional human being. i'd bet he's the last person to know what people think of him, or how he appears. i wouldn't be surprised if he's barricaded himself in the gillete stadium video room as we speak, pissing into mason jars.

At 2/17/2006 7:51 PM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

great post, Rocco. and timely. not to get all 'elegant universe' about everything, but i think the fetishizing of coaches is yet another moving part in the whole fall-of-the-player trend i can't seem to stop talking about - the need to define and legitimate success in entirely organizational terms. of course good coaches (or GMs, scouts, Laker girls) make a difference. yet ever since P-Jax, its like they're some sort of iron-chef virtuosos without which players wouldn't even know where to dribble. as if the only thing the bulls/lakers teams had in common was Phil's Buddhism. maybe the not-so-sacred hoops of his current crop will put an end to the lie. i doubt it, though.

At 2/17/2006 8:08 PM, Anonymous Smithers said...

Rocco, a word of advice: When you use the words "I’m getting a chubby just thinking about it now," don't post a picture of kids right after that. ;)

(You kind of rehabbed your graphical layout IQ with the Colonel Sanders, though!!)

At 2/17/2006 8:25 PM, Blogger Rocco Chappelle said...

After positioning the picture, I realized that could be a possible interpretation. Although that wasn't my initial intent, I felt that read might add some texture to the post.

At 2/18/2006 1:59 PM, Anonymous dallas p. said...

This is only the third post I have read on this site and I am hooked. FREEDARKO is internets crack!

Speaking of a coach as a deity... We in NYC were all enamored when Larry Brown chose the Knicks and a possible cardiac arrest over retirement. Here was a guy who had won basketball games everywhere, including the Alaskan Police Athletic League(1973, prior to ABA stint).

L.B. comes to the Knicks and players are in the locker room slitting thir wrists. STARBURY and his teammates can't seem to grasp the L.B. system.

The Knicks suck becaue they have sucky players. The Knicks look addled because they have been straddled with poor contract negotiations for the last 10 years.

We could use that C.Y.O. G.M. right now.

At 2/18/2006 8:16 PM, Blogger Rocco Chappelle said...

Did anyone catch the "Kobe loves displaced coons" segment before the skills competition?

I feel like I just witnessed a snuff film.

At 2/18/2006 11:16 PM, Anonymous T. said...

So last night, despite possessing tickets to the Ray Allen, TMac and Jordan XXI parties, I instead go to the very dull, but pleasant NBA NASA Welcome party which was at least lacking in the hos, boppers and hoochie department.

Driving back to downtown Houston at 2am. . . well that was interesting. It was a Paul Wall/Mike Jones video come to life. From the time I could see my parking lot until I got into my parking lot. . . 40 minutes.

Along the way I think I heard every Houston rapper being blared out car windows (my music selection - a mix of Black Sheep, Tribe and Young Jeezy), and, of course, the ubiquitious large rims.

I also saw a lot of body-inappropriate dressing.

Tonight .. . the NBA Player's Association Party.

By the way - Iguodala's off the backboard from out of bounds dunk - well, that pretty much ends dunk contests dunks for me. I'm now 100% sure I've seen everything.

At 2/19/2006 12:23 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

I just caught the dunk contest and was amazed by Iguodala's aformentioned out-of-bounds dunk. Having the best dunk of the night, however, doesn't seem to win the event for you. J.R. Smith had the best dunk last year and he didn't make it out of the first round.

I think players are running out of dunks and now they're trying near-impossible manuevers that require attempt after attempt until they get it right. Perhaps the NBA should revise the contest to include a 7 footer playing defense against the dunk. If they could convince Yao Ming or Frederick Weis to stand there and try to block the dunk, that would be priceless.

At 2/19/2006 12:56 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

that nate robinson shit was heart-warming and all, but isn't the point of having pros judge that they won't fall for that wet-with-tears routine?

robinson is a little dude who can jump ridiculously high. he jumped over another midget who everyone loves, basically combining josh smith's two most memorable dunks from last year. going over spud webb like he did is a lot of air (quick math on it says that his vertical had to have been four feet?), but all it does is attest to robinson tremendous athleticism.

iguodala's dunks were tricky AND freakish, not to mention more fluid than robinson's.. and THE dunk was absolutely unreal. complete with the head-on-the-backboard collision, that's instant basketball lore.

i know that numbers are numbers, but they were doing totally different things. iguodala even went with a variation on the cult fave of last year, j.r. smith's around-the-back mash-out. that might have been the purest display of dunking mastery since vince. jason richardson doesn't count; if vince was figure skating, richradson is competitive cheerleading.

and also, is it just me, or did smith try to go around his head at first in 2005? i need to know this, it defines who i am.

At 2/19/2006 2:41 AM, Anonymous Mr. Six said...

I had the exact same thought about Nate's crowd-favorite dunk: the only creative part of it was figuring out how to steal two Josh Smith's gimmicks. QUIT BITING HIS SHIT, NATE!

We have to destroy the dunk contest to save the dunk contest.

AI2 was robbed.

At 2/19/2006 4:00 AM, Anonymous dejan bodiroga said...

wow. even the knicks' small victories this season aren't without taint in the media & elsewhere (message boards, here, etc ..). just let us enjoy it dammit!

iguodala was great but mismanaged the contest by blowing his wad early and letting little nate steal his thunder. his last few dunks were retreads and just weren't all that interesting (although he did them well). not to mention ... nate had (current sixer employee) moses malone lowballing him all night so there shouldn't have been a dunk-off in the first place.

i can see why this is an issue though, and a lot of it has to do with the format of the competition. the guys have to come up with such crazy, off the wall shit just to keep it interesting that invariably they're going to miss more often than we'd like, which makes it all a little anticlimactic.

AI2 was nice, but not robbed. the dunk contest is all about that saccharine, tribute shit. there's nothing else to keep it fresh (iguodala's dunk was original and new but i'd be willing to bet that there are LOTS of guys in the league who could pull that off). as far as i'm concerned vince carter killed the dunk contest in 2000.

At 2/19/2006 7:53 AM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

My favorite dunk-contest moment: when Robinson brought Spud Webb out from the crowd and the camera momentarily cut to Kobe mouthing "what the fuck?" in all sincere bemusement. Did anyone else catch that? Priceless.

Also, what exactly qualifies Rudy Tomjanovich to judge a dunk contest. I guess the fact that he's a former player and presumably can at least jump makes him a more logical choice than, say, Stan Van Gundy. But it still seems weird to have a coach judging a dunk contest.

Clyde Drexler looks old.

And T. - I think I speak for all of us when I say, keep the updates coming.

At 2/19/2006 10:03 AM, Anonymous T. said...

I'll hold my Sprite '50' for anyone who can replicate Terence Stansbury's 360 Statue of Liberty

At 2/19/2006 10:22 AM, Anonymous T. said...

two last comments (i'm having trouble waking up).

1. It was Houston legends for the dunk contest judges. Supposedly Dream was supposed to be in town, but I haven't seen him at anything . . .and Rudy T is a 5 time all-star AND probably this town's most beloved ex-player and one of the 5 retired jerseys from the Rox (well, Dream aside). Poor Calvin Murphy - you know he was aquitted too!

2. Stu Scott is much taller than you'd think. Brother is 5'11"/6'. And all this time I thought he was like David Aldrige height. (Or my height). He actually talks like that off camera too. Appropos of nothing - while he was standing next to us - 4 different tailors came up and offered him business cards and he took them all. (no I wasn't with him, his group and my group just happened to be standing in the same area for 10 minutes)

At 2/19/2006 11:48 AM, Anonymous DB said...

it actually looks like kobe says "what's he for?" as soon as nate pulls spud out of the crowd.

At 2/19/2006 12:21 PM, Blogger emynd said...

AI2 got robbed.

The fuck is Kenny Smith doing throwing 10s around like he just went to an ATM in the hood?


At 2/19/2006 12:48 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

there are so few actually half-way original dunks left in the sea, they really need to change the format. your single best score advances you/wins it, and each judge gets 1-100. that way, there's more room to distinguish the earth-fusing from there merely accomplished, and if you land that one killer like iguodala did in each round, you get justly rewarded. because they really do need something epic in each round, but that's also probably about the number of those they have in their overall repertoire.

At 2/19/2006 4:00 PM, Blogger elandfried said...

All this talk reminded me of this:


It also reminded me that NO ONE has ever dunked with more force than Shawn Kemp. His eating binge is one of the saddest things ever.

If anyone finds a video of the dunk contest this year, please let me know (they don't tend to last long until the NBA finds 'em and takes them down).

At 2/19/2006 4:49 PM, Anonymous T. said...

elanfried - you can go online at nba.com and they'll have highlights - for free (i know this because I've seen the commercial about 200 times this weekend on NBAtv).

At 2/19/2006 5:25 PM, Anonymous d. bodiroga said...

i'm not sure if this link still works but it might be worth a shot:


At 2/19/2006 7:03 PM, Blogger paulwesterdawg said...

Spud Webb's only thought during that dunk....

"Please don't let this guy BallSackFace me."

Nothing worse than misjudging your jump over a guy resulting in your balls in his face. Ishmail Muhammed did that to an NC State kid a year or two ago at Georgia Tech.

BallSackFace is bad times.

Great dunk. Although the backboard was most ridiculous.

At 2/19/2006 7:07 PM, Anonymous Aaron said...

As a Knicks fan, I was rooting for little Nate to romp in the Contest. But while the Spud dunk was impressive, AI2 won that contest. I think everyone knows that deep down. Best dunk of the night, plus the rest of his dunks were consistently gorgeous.

It bothered me that they kept telling everyone that Nate was the crowd favorite, without actually asking anyone in the crowd who they were rooting for. As if someone is automatically the crowd favorite just because they're short.

It also creeped me out the way Cheryl Miller had her arm around Nate the whole time. What was going on with that?

But more importantly, what the hell was going on with Josh Smith? I think he sure as hell didn't want to be there.

At 2/19/2006 10:10 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

i'm not saying AI2 is on vince carter's level, but his dunking style was definitely reminiscient of vinsanity. if he ain't as good as vince, he's the closest one.

At 2/20/2006 12:29 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i said something similar to burns over the email. . . iguodala's got that same mix of technical perfection and near-spiritual fluidity that makes vince so unstoppable. nevermind pure inventiveness (e.g. richardson); they take the impossible and make it seem totally natural. maybe too natural, in this case, since nate's whole thing was "can he do it. . .he's so short. . he CAN!!!" burns pointed out that the do-overs allowed him to appreciate how absurd the backboard dunk was, but i'd say that they definitely helped robinson win. since so much of his appeal was the underdog, little guy trying to dunk with the kings, line. and then, when you thought it was beyond him, HE DID IT. though he did that spud dunk on the first try, right?

At 2/20/2006 3:27 AM, Anonymous T. said...

Just when I thought my weekend would be pretty low on celebrity encounters (Jerome Williams isn't a celebrity - as much as I like the guy) - during halftime, I managed to accidentally run into Darryl McDaniels! Then during the post-game dinner with some people . . .this large party walks out of the other private room while we're eating.

In that party were the following people:

Sean Combs
Shawn Carter
Beyonce Knowles

and a lot of other people I didn't know. Someone said 'Oprah' but since I didn't witness it, I'm not writing it down.

Honestly - I am more excited about DMC. I still listen to 'Raising Hell' (yeah, I listen to the Blueprint and Reasonable Doubt - but Raising Hell was the first rap album I ever bought)

At 2/21/2006 7:39 PM, Anonymous kenny ken said...

All these dunk comments and not one word about Dominique? What's that business about. He was the best dunker ever. Proof, after completely messing up his leg and sitting out a year, he comes back overweight with the spurs I think and procedes to sail sideways through the lane from a step inside the free throw line like triple pumping and waiting for everyone else to drop before putting a hurting on the rim. (he was the hardest dunker ever too). People can't stop disrespecting that man. He is the dunking god. Vince is the high priest. But I disagree with the pundits on the best dunk contest ever. I think it was the one between Desmond Mason and Richardson. Desmond was bananas in that dunk contest.

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