Sheldon Hirsch - April 15, 2015

NBA greats Gregg Popovich (“Pop”) and Phil Jackson fared quite differently this season. Pops won his 1,000th NBA game as a coach and his surging San Antonio Spurs enter the postseason poised to defend their title, having won 21 of their last 24 games. In contrast, team president Jackson’s New York Knicks will finish in last place in the Eastern Conference.

Almost everyone admires Pop; in part, for his humility. He does not present himself as anything other than ordinary. He never flashes or refers to his championship rings and always deflects credit for his success away from himself and onto his players. He also praises his opponents in victory or defeat.

Pops’ humility does more than endear him. His perspective that players (more than coaches) win games enables him to take a secondary role. For example, he has no qualms about choosing strategies tailored to his players’ skills, rather than insisting that players adjust their play to fit his ideas.

Thus, his last championship team (2014) played differently from the first four (1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007). The ‘99 team walked the ball up the court, threw it into the post to twin towers Tim Duncan and David Robinson, and led the league in defense. The roster subsequently evolved, but the Spurs continued to win with a focus on Duncan and defense.

However, by 2013, as Duncan aged and with several younger, faster, better-shooting players in his arsenal, Pop adapted. He revved up the pace, spread the court, unleashed the 3-point shot and the Spurs became one of... read more »

Sheldon Hirsch - April 10, 2015

Mike Krzyzewski deserves a ton of credit for Duke’s 2015 NCAA basketball championship, particularly the way his scrappy team overcame a nine-point second-half deficit in the final against Wisconsin. His fifth title cements his position as one of the greatest college coaches ever.

However, Dick Vitale (and several of his ESPN cohorts) took Krzyzewski-adulation to the extreme by proclaiming him the greatest of all and emphasizing his supremacy over UCLA’s John Wooden. That required some explaining, given Wooden’s vastly superior coaching record: 10 wins in 10 championship games over 12 years versus Krzyzewski’s five wins and four defeats over 30 years.

We can quickly dismiss the first point Vitale made in favor of Krzyzewski. He noted that the NCAA Tournament expanded from around 24 teams throughout most of UCLA’s reign to 68 currently, meaning that Duke had to win two more tournament games than UCLA each year -a fact of essentially zero significance. Increasing the field merely added patsies for championship-contending teams to trounce. No. 1 seeds have won all 124 games against No. 16 seeds in the expanded format. In the round of 32, No. 1 seeds have won 107 out of 124 games against teams seeded eighth or lower. UCLA won its 10 championship games by an average of 13.8 points. Wooden's Bruins would not have worried about additional preliminary games against far weaker teams that had no chance of defeating them.

Vitale then cited the greater pool of talent available today, emphasizing foreign players. But none of the... read more »

Dylan Gwinn - April 06, 2015

USC athletic director Pat Haden took to Twitter to do what so many have unfortunately done, and take exception to the passage of Indiana’s new law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Haden tweeted:

No word yet as to whether or not Haden will boycott the other 31 states that passed variations of the RFRA since signed into federal law nearly 22 years ago. Nor is there any word if Haden will allow USC to play their annual rivalry game this year against Notre Dame. Which is in Indiana - and Catholic - which to someone like Haden must mean that they want gays to be stoned (though Haden was once employed as the color analyst on Notre Dame football broadcasts).

But, Haden embraced something else here. Media Research Center’s Matt Philbin has said that homosexuals are “society’s most trendy and celebrated grievance group.” Therefore, those who come rushing to their aid from perceived persecution become society’s... read more »

Sheldon Hirsch - April 01, 2015

The Atlanta Hawks hold the second-best record in the NBA, having clinched the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Four Hawks made the All-Star team this season: three-time All-Star Al Horford, two-time All-Star Paul Millsap, the ascendant point guard Jeff Teague, and super-shooter Kyle Korver. They follow team-oriented principles espoused by iconic NBA thinkers such as Red Holzman (“hit the open man”), Phil Jackson (equal opportunity with the triangle offense) and Gregg Popovich (“pass up good shots for great”).

Yet despite their talent, playing style and success to-date, virtually no one believes the Hawks have much chance of winning the NBA title, or even making the Finals.

Their alleged flaw: No superstars. Many argue that classic team-centric teachings work only up to a point; that you need some hero-ball to win in the playoffs.

That thinking does not derive from solid basketball analysis. Instead, it reflects our love of heroes, on display in everything from comic books to classic epic novels; in our reaction to westerns, military figures, athletes, adventurers, and politicians.

First: the common misunderstanding about superstars and the playoffs. While the playoffs do differ from the regular season - playing rotations shorten, the pace slows and teams have more time to prepare for each other - that does not render team basketball (without superstars) inadequate to the task.

In fact, just last year (how soon we forget!), the San Antonio Spurs won without a superstar. Following earlier examples set... read more »