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