Posts Tagged ‘Basketball’

How David Beats Goliath

The New Yorker – May 11, 2009 – Annals of Innovation – When Underdogs Break the Rules – by Malcolm Gladwell – When Vivek Ranadivé decided to coach his daughter Anjali’s basketball team, he settled on two principles. The first was that he would never raise his voice. This was National Junior Basketball—the Little League of basketball. The team was made up mostly of twelve-year-olds, and twelve-year-olds, he knew from experience, did not respond well to shouting. He would conduct business on the basketball court, he decided, the same way he conducted business at his software firm. He would speak calmly and softly, and convince the girls of the wisdom of his approach with appeals to reason and common sense.

The second principle was more important. Ranadivé was puzzled by the way Americans played basketball. He is from Mumbai. He grew up with cricket and soccer. He would never forget the first time he saw a basketball game. He thought it was mindless. Team A would score and then immediately retreat to its own end of the court. Team B would inbound the ball and dribble it into Team A’s end, where Team A was patiently waiting. Then the process would reverse itself. A basketball court was ninety-four feet long. But most of the time a team defended only about twenty-four feet of that, conceding the other seventy feet. Occasionally, teams would play a full-court press—that is, they would contest their opponent’s attempt to advance the ball up the court. But they would do it for only a few minutes at a time. It was as if there were a kind of conspiracy in the basketball world about the way the game ought to be played, and Ranadivé thought that that conspiracy had the effect of widening the gap between good teams and weak teams. Good teams, after all, had players who were tall and could dribble and shoot well; they could crisply execute their carefully prepared plays in their opponent’s end. Why, then, did weak teams play in a way that made it easy for good teams to do the very things that made them so good?

Ranadivé looked at his girls. Morgan and Julia were serious basketball players. But Nicky, Angela, Dani, Holly, Annika, and his own daughter, Anjali, had never played the game before. They weren’t all that tall. They couldn’t shoot. They weren’t particularly adept at dribbling. They were not the sort who played pickup games at the playground every evening. Most of them were, as Ranadivé says, “little blond girlsâ€? from Menlo Park and Redwood City, the heart of Silicon Valley. These were the daughters of computer programmers and people with graduate degrees. They worked on science projects, and read books, and went on ski vacations with their parents, and dreamed about growing up to be marine biologists. Ranadivé knew that if they played the conventional way—if they let their opponents dribble the ball up the court without opposition—they would almost certainly lose to the girls for whom basketball was a passion. Ranadivé came to America as a seventeen-year-old, with fifty dollars in his pocket. He was not one to accept losing easily. His second principle, then, was that his team would play a real full-court press, every game, all the time. The team ended up at the national championships. “It was really random,â€? Anjali Ranadivé said. “I mean, my father had never played basketball before.â€?

David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time. The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases. That is a remarkable fact. Arreguín-Toft was analyzing conflicts in which one side was at least ten times as powerful—in terms of armed might and population—as its opponent, and even in those lopsided contests the underdog won almost a third of the time.

In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,â€? he said (in Robert Alter’s translation), and picked up those five smooth stones. What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.â€?

Consider the way T. E. Lawrence (or, as he is better known, Lawrence of Arabia) led the revolt against the Ottoman Army occupying Arabia near the end of the First World War. The British were helping the Arabs in their uprising, and the initial focus was Medina, the city at the end of a long railroad that the Turks had built, running south from Damascus and down through the Hejaz desert. The Turks had amassed a large force in Medina, and the British leadership wanted Lawrence to gather the Arabs and destroy the Turkish garrison there, before the Turks could threaten the entire region.

But when Lawrence looked at his ragtag band of Bedouin fighters he realized that a direct attack on Medina would never succeed. And why did taking the city matter, anyway? The Turks sat in Medina “on the defensive, immobile.â€? There were so many of them, consuming so much food and fuel and water, that they could hardly make a major move across the desert. Instead of attacking the Turks at their point of strength, Lawrence reasoned, he ought to attack them where they were weak—along the vast, largely unguarded length of railway line that was their connection to Damascus. Instead of focussing his attention on Medina, he should wage war over the broadest territory possible.

The Bedouins under Lawrence’s command were not, in conventional terms, skilled troops. They were nomads. Sir Reginald Wingate, one of the British commanders in the region, called them “an untrained rabble, most of whom have never fired a rifle.â€? But they were tough and they were mobile. The typical Bedouin soldier carried no more than a rifle, a hundred rounds of ammunition, forty-five pounds of flour, and a pint of drinking water, which meant that he could travel as much as a hundred and ten miles a day across the desert, even in summer. “Our cards were speed and time, not hitting power,â€? Lawrence wrote. “Our largest available resources were the tribesmen, men quite unused to formal warfare, whose assets were movement, endurance, individual intelligence, knowledge of the country, courage.â€? The eighteenth-century general Maurice de Saxe famously said that the art of war was about legs, not arms, and Lawrence’s troops were all legs. In one typical stretch, in the spring of 1917, his men dynamited sixty rails and cut a telegraph line at Buair on March 24th, sabotaged a train and twenty-five rails at Abu al-Naam on March 25th, dynamited fifteen rails and cut a telegraph line at Istabl Antar on March 27th, raided a Turkish garrison and derailed a train on March 29th, returned to Buair and sabotaged the railway line again on March 31st, dynamited eleven rails at Hediah on April 3rd, raided the train line in the area of Wadi Dhaiji on April 4th and 5th, and attacked twice on April 6th.

Lawrence’s masterstroke was an assault on the port town of Aqaba. The Turks expected an attack from British ships patrolling the waters of the Gulf of Aqaba to the west. Lawrence decided to attack from the east instead, coming at the city from the unprotected desert, and to do that he led his men on an audacious, six-hundred-mile loop—up from the Hejaz, north into the Syrian desert, and then back down toward Aqaba. This was in summer, through some of the most inhospitable land in the Middle East, and Lawrence tacked on a side trip to the outskirts of Damascus, in order to mislead the Turks about his intentions. “This year the valley seemed creeping with horned vipers and puff-adders, cobras and black snakes,â€? Lawrence writes in “The Seven Pillars of Wisdomâ€? of one stage in the journey:

We could not lightly draw water after dark, for there were snakes swimming in the pools or clustering in knots around their brinks. Twice puff-adders came twisting into the alert ring of our debating coffee-circle. Three of our men died of bites; four recovered after great fear and pain, and a swelling of the poisoned limb. Howeitat treatment was to bind up the part with snake-skin plaster and read chapters of the Koran to the sufferer until he died.

When they finally arrived at Aqaba, Lawrence’s band of several hundred warriors killed or captured twelve hundred Turks, and lost only two men. The Turks simply did not think that their opponent would be mad enough to come at them from the desert. This was Lawrence’s great insight. David can beat Goliath by substituting effort for ability—and substituting effort for ability turns out to be a winning formula for underdogs in all walks of life, including little blond-haired girls on the basketball court.

Vivek Ranadivé is an elegant man, slender and fine-boned, with impeccable manners and a languorous walk. His father was a pilot who was jailed by Indira Gandhi, he says, because he wouldn’t stop challenging the safety of India’s planes. Ranadivé went to M.I.T., because he saw a documentary on the school and decided that it was perfect for him. This was in the nineteen-seventies, when going abroad for undergraduate study required the Indian government to authorize the release of foreign currency, and Ranadivé camped outside the office of the governor of the Reserve Bank of India until he got his way. The Ranadivés are relentless.

In 1985, Ranadivé founded a software company in Silicon Valley devoted to what in the computer world is known as “real timeâ€? processing. If a businessman waits until the end of the month to collect and count his receipts, he’s “batch processing.â€? There is a gap between the events in the company—sales—and his understanding of those events. Wall Street used to be the same way. The information on which a trader based his decisions was scattered across a number of databases. The trader would collect information from here and there, collate and analyze it, and then make a trade. What Ranadivé’s company, TIBCO, did was to consolidate those databases into one stream, so that the trader could collect all the data he wanted instantaneously. Batch processing was replaced by real-time processing. Today, TIBCO’s software powers most of the trading floors on Wall Street.

Ranadivé views this move from batch to real time as a sort of holy mission. The shift, to his mind, is one of kind, not just of degree. “We’ve been working with some airlines,â€? he said. “You know, when you get on a plane and your bag doesn’t, they actually know right away that it’s not there. But no one tells you, and a big part of that is that they don’t have all their information in one place. There are passenger systems that know where the passenger is. There are aircraft and maintenance systems that track where the plane is and what kind of shape it’s in. Then, there are baggage systems and ticketing systems—and they’re all separate. So you land, you wait at the baggage terminal, and it doesn’t show up.â€? Everything bad that happens in that scenario, Ranadivé maintains, happens because of the lag between the event (the luggage doesn’t make it onto the plane) and the response (the airline tells you that your luggage didn’t make the plane). The lag is why you’re angry. The lag is why you had to wait, fruitlessly, at baggage claim. The lag is why you vow never to fly that airline again. Put all the databases together, and there’s no lag. “What we can do is send you a text message the moment we know your bag didn’t make it,â€? Ranadivé said, “telling you we’ll ship it to your house.â€?

A few years ago, Ranadivé wrote a paper arguing that even the Federal Reserve ought to make its decisions in real time—not once every month or two. “Everything in the world is now real time,â€? he said. “So when a certain type of shoe isn’t selling at your corner shop, it’s not six months before the guy in China finds out. It’s almost instantaneous, thanks to my software. The world runs in real time, but government runs in batch. Every few months, it adjusts. Its mission is to keep the temperature comfortable in the economy, and, if you were to do things the government’s way in your house, then every few months you’d turn the heater either on or off, overheating or underheating your house.â€? Ranadivé argued that we ought to put the economic data that the Fed uses into a big stream, and write a computer program that sifts through those data, the moment they are collected, and make immediate, incremental adjustments to interest rates and the money supply. “It can all be automated,â€? he said. “Look, we’ve had only one soft landing since the Second World War. Basically, we’ve got it wrong every single time.â€?

You can imagine what someone like Alan Greenspan or Ben Bernanke might say about that idea. Such people are powerfully invested in the notion of the Fed as a Solomonic body: that pause of five or eight weeks between economic adjustments seems central to the process of deliberation. To Ranadivé, though, “deliberationâ€? just prettifies the difficulties created by lag. The Fed has to deliberate because it’s several weeks behind, the same way the airline has to bow and scrape and apologize because it waited forty-five minutes to tell you something that it could have told you the instant you stepped off the plane.

Is it any wonder that Ranadivé looked at the way basketball was played and found it mindless? A professional basketball game was forty-eight minutes long, divided up into alternating possessions of roughly twenty seconds: back and forth, back and forth. But a good half of each twenty-second increment was typically taken up with preliminaries and formalities. The point guard dribbled the ball up the court. He stood above the top of the key, about twenty-four feet from the opposing team’s basket. He called out a play that the team had choreographed a hundred times in practice. It was only then that the defending team sprang into action, actively contesting each pass and shot. Actual basketball took up only half of that twenty-second interval, so that a game’s real length was not forty-eight minutes but something closer to twenty-four minutes—and that twenty-four minutes of activity took place within a narrowly circumscribed area. It was as formal and as convention-bound as an eighteenth-century quadrille. The supporters of that dance said that the defensive players had to run back to their own end, in order to compose themselves for the arrival of the other team. But the reason they had to compose themselves, surely, was that by retreating they allowed the offense to execute a play that it had practiced to perfection. Basketball was batch!

Insurgents, though, operate in real time. Lawrence hit the Turks, in that stretch in the spring of 1917, nearly every day, because he knew that the more he accelerated the pace of combat the more the war became a battle of endurance—and endurance battles favor the insurgent. “And it happened as the Philistine arose and was drawing near David that David hastened and ran out from the lines toward the Philistine,â€? the Bible says. “And he reached his hand into the pouch and took from there a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine in his forehead.â€? The second sentence—the slingshot part—is what made David famous. But the first sentence matters just as much. David broke the rhythm of the encounter. He speeded it up. “The sudden astonishment when David sprints forward must have frozen Goliath, making him a better target,â€? the poet and critic Robert Pinsky writes in “The Life of David.â€? Pinsky calls David a “point guard ready to flick the basketball here or there.â€? David pressed. That’s what Davids do when they want to beat Goliaths.

Ranadivé’s basketball team played in the National Junior Basketball seventh-and-eighth-grade division, representing Redwood City. The girls practiced at Paye’s Place, a gym in nearby San Carlos. Because Ranadivé had never played basketball, he recruited a series of experts to help him. The first was Roger Craig, the former all-pro running back for the San Francisco 49ers, who is also TIBCO’s director of business development. As a football player, Craig was legendary for the off-season hill workouts he put himself through. Most of his N.F.L. teammates are now hobbling around golf courses. He has run seven marathons. After Craig signed on, he recruited his daughter Rometra, who played Division I basketball at Duke and U.S.C. Rometra was the kind of person you assigned to guard your opponent’s best player in order to shut her down. The girls loved Rometra. “She has always been like my big sister,â€? Anjali Ranadivé said. “It was so awesome to have her along.â€?

Redwood City’s strategy was built around the two deadlines that all basketball teams must meet in order to advance the ball. The first is the inbounds pass. When one team scores, a player from the other team takes the ball out of bounds and has five seconds to pass it to a teammate on the court. If that deadline is missed, the ball goes to the other team. Usually, that’s not an issue, because teams don’t contest the inbounds pass. They run back to their own end. Redwood City did not. Each girl on the team closely shadowed her counterpart. When some teams play the press, the defender plays behind the offensive player she’s guarding, to impede her once she catches the ball. The Redwood City girls, by contrast, played in front of their opponents, to prevent them from catching the inbounds pass in the first place. And they didn’t guard the player throwing the ball in. Why bother? Ranadivé used that extra player as a floater, who could serve as a second defender against the other team’s best player. “Think about football,â€? Ranadivé said. “The quarterback can run with the ball. He has the whole field to throw to, and it’s still damned difficult to complete a pass.â€? Basketball was harder. A smaller court. A five-second deadline. A heavier, bigger ball. As often as not, the teams Redwood City was playing against simply couldn’t make the inbounds pass within the five-second limit. Or the inbounding player, panicked by the thought that her five seconds were about to be up, would throw the ball away. Or her pass would be intercepted by one of the Redwood City players. Ranadivé’s girls were maniacal.

The second deadline requires a team to advance the ball across mid-court, into its opponent’s end, within ten seconds, and if Redwood City’s opponents met the first deadline the girls would turn their attention to the second. They would descend on the girl who caught the inbounds pass and “trapâ€? her. Anjali was the designated trapper. She’d sprint over and double-team the dribbler, stretching her long arms high and wide. Maybe she’d steal the ball. Maybe the other player would throw it away in a panic—or get bottled up and stalled, so that the ref would end up blowing the whistle. “When we first started out, no one knew how to play defense or anything,â€? Anjali said. “So my dad said the whole game long, ‘Your job is to guard someone and make sure they never get the ball on inbounds plays.’ It’s the best feeling in the world to steal the ball from someone. We would press and steal, and do that over and over again. It made people so nervous. There were teams that were a lot better than us, that had been playing a long time, and we would beat them.â€?

The Redwood City players would jump ahead 4–0, 6–0, 8–0, 12–0. One time, they led 25–0. Because they typically got the ball underneath their opponent’s basket, they rarely had to take low-percentage, long-range shots that required skill and practice. They shot layups. In one of the few games that Redwood City lost that year, only four of the team’s players showed up. They pressed anyway. Why not? They lost by three points.

“What that defense did for us is that we could hide our weaknesses,â€? Rometra Craig said. She helped out once Redwood City advanced to the regional championships. “We could hide the fact that we didn’t have good outside shooters. We could hide the fact that we didn’t have the tallest lineup, because as long as we played hard on defense we were getting steals and getting easy layups. I was honest with the girls. I told them, ‘We’re not the best basketball team out there.’ But they understood their roles.â€? A twelve-year-old girl would go to war for Rometra. “They were awesome,â€? she said.

Lawrence attacked the Turks where they were weak—the railroad—and not where they were strong, Medina. Redwood City attacked the inbounds pass, the point in a game where a great team is as vulnerable as a weak one. Lawrence extended the battlefield over as large an area as possible. So did the girls of Redwood City. They defended all ninety-four feet. The full-court press is legs, not arms. It supplants ability with effort. It is basketball for those “quite unused to formal warfare, whose assets were movement, endurance, individual intelligence . . . courage.â€?

“It’s an exhausting strategy,â€? Roger Craig said. He and Ranadivé were in a TIBCO conference room, reminiscing about their dream season. Ranadivé was at the whiteboard, diagramming the intricacies of the Redwood City press. Craig was sitting at the table.

“My girls had to be more fit than the others,â€? Ranadivé said.

“He used to make them run,â€? Craig said, nodding approvingly.

“We followed soccer strategy in practice,â€? Ranadivé said. “I would make them run and run and run. I couldn’t teach them skills in that short period of time, and so all we did was make sure they were fit and had some basic understanding of the game. That’s why attitude plays such a big role in this, because you’re going to get tired.â€? He turned to Craig. “What was our cheer again?â€?

The two men thought for a moment, then shouted out happily, in unison, “One, two, three, ATTITUDE!â€?

That was it! The whole Redwood City philosophy was based on a willingness to try harder than anyone else.

“One time, some new girls joined the team,â€? Ranadivé said, “and so in the first practice I had I was telling them, ‘Look, this is what we’re going to do,’ and I showed them. I said, ‘It’s all about attitude.’ And there was this one new girl on the team, and I was worried that she wouldn’t get the whole attitude thing. Then we did the cheer and she said, ‘No, no, it’s not One, two three, ATTITUDE. It’s One, two, three, attitude HAH ’ â€?—at which point Ranadivé and Craig burst out laughing.

In January of 1971, the Fordham University Rams played a basketball game against the University of Massachusetts Redmen. The game was in Amherst, at the legendary arena known as the Cage, where the Redmen hadn’t lost since December of 1969. Their record was 11–1. The Redmen’s star was none other than Julius Erving—Dr. J. The UMass team was very, very good. Fordham, by contrast, was a team of scrappy kids from the Bronx and Brooklyn. Their center had torn up his knee the first week of the season, which meant that their tallest player was six feet five. Their starting forward—and forwards are typically almost as tall as centers—was Charlie Yelverton, who was six feet two. But from the opening buzzer the Rams launched a full-court press, and never let up. “We jumped out to a thirteen-to-six lead, and it was a war the rest of the way,â€? Digger Phelps, the Fordham coach at the time, recalls. “These were tough city kids. We played you ninety-four feet. We knew that sooner or later we were going to make you crack.â€? Phelps sent in one indefatigable Irish or Italian kid from the Bronx after another to guard Erving, and, one by one, the indefatigable Irish and Italian kids fouled out. None of them were as good as Erving. It didn’t matter. Fordham won, 87–79.

In the world of basketball, there is one story after another like this about legendary games where David used the full-court press to beat Goliath. Yet the puzzle of the press is that it has never become popular. People look at upsets like Fordham over UMass and call them flukes. Basketball sages point out that the press can be beaten by a well-coached team with adept ball handlers and astute passers—and that is true. Ranadivé readily admitted that all an opposing team had to do to beat Redwood City was press back: the girls were not good enough to handle their own medicine. Playing insurgent basketball did not guarantee victory. It was simply the best chance an underdog had of beating Goliath. If Fordham had played UMass the conventional way, it would have lost by thirty points. And yet somehow that lesson has escaped the basketball establishment.

What did Digger Phelps do, the season after his stunning upset of UMass? He never used the full-court press the same way again. The UMass coach, Jack Leaman, was humbled in his own gym by a bunch of street kids. Did he learn from his defeat and use the press himself the next time he had a team of underdogs? He did not.

The only person who seemed to have absorbed the lessons of that game was a skinny little guard on the UMass freshman team named Rick Pitino. He didn’t play that day. He watched, and his eyes grew wide. Even now, thirty-eight years later, he can name, from memory, nearly every player on the Fordham team: Yelverton, Sullivan, Mainor, Charles, Zambetti. “They came in with the most unbelievable pressing team I’d ever seen,â€? Pitino said. “Five guys between six feet five and six feet. It was unbelievable how they covered ground. I studied it. There is no way they should have beaten us. Nobody beat us at the Cage.â€?

Pitino became the head coach at Boston University in 1978, when he was twenty-five years old, and used the press to take the school to its first N.C.A.A. tournament appearance in twenty-four years. At his next head-coaching stop, Providence College, Pitino took over a team that had gone 11–20 the year before. The players were short and almost entirely devoid of talent—a carbon copy of the Fordham Rams. They pressed, and ended up one game away from playing for the national championship. At the University of Kentucky, in the mid-nineteen-nineties, Pitino took his team to the Final Four three times—and won a national championship—with full-court pressure, and then rode the full-court press back to the Final Four in 2005, as the coach at the University of Louisville. This year, his Louisville team entered the N.C.A.A. tournament ranked No. 1 in the land. College coaches of Pitino’s calibre typically have had numerous players who have gone on to be bona-fide all-stars at the professional level. In his many years of coaching, Pitino has had one, Antoine Walker. It doesn’t matter. Every year, he racks up more and more victories.

“The greatest example of the press I’ve ever coached was my Kentucky team in ’96, when we played L.S.U.,â€? Pitino said. He was at the athletic building at the University of Louisville, in a small room filled with television screens, where he watches tapes of opponents’ games. “Do we have that tape?â€? Pitino called out to an assistant. He pulled a chair up close to one of the monitors. The game began with Kentucky stealing the ball from L.S.U., deep in L.S.U.’s end. Immediately, the ball was passed to Antoine Walker, who cut to the basket for a layup. L.S.U. got the ball back. Kentucky stole it again. Another easy basket by Walker. “Walker had almost thirty points at halftime,â€? Pitino said. “He dunked it almost every time. When we steal, he just runs to the basket.â€? The Kentucky players were lightning quick and long-armed, and swarmed around the L.S.U. players, arms flailing. It was mayhem. Five minutes in, it was clear that L.S.U. was panicking.

Pitino trains his players to look for what he calls the “rush stateâ€? in their opponents—that moment when the player with the ball is shaken out of his tempo—and L.S.U. could not find a way to get out of the rush state. “See if you find one play that L.S.U. managed to run,â€? Pitino said. You couldn’t. The L.S.U. players struggled to get the ball inbounds, and, if they did that, they struggled to get the ball over mid-court, and on those occasions when they managed both those things they were too overwhelmed and exhausted to execute their offense the way they had been trained to. “We had eighty-six points at halftime,â€? Pitino went on—eighty-six points being, of course, what college basketball teams typically score in an entire game. “And I think we’d forced twenty-three turnovers at halftime,â€? twenty-three turnovers being what college basketball teams might force in two games. “I love watching this,â€? Pitino said. He had a faraway look in his eyes. “Every day, you dream about getting a team like this again.â€? So why are there no more than a handful of college teams who use the full-court press the way Pitino does?

Arreguín-Toft found the same puzzling pattern. When an underdog fought like David, he usually won. But most of the time underdogs didn’t fight like David. Of the two hundred and two lopsided conflicts in Arreguín-Toft’s database, the underdog chose to go toe to toe with Goliath the conventional way a hundred and fifty-two times—and lost a hundred and nineteen times. In 1809, the Peruvians fought the Spanish straight up and lost; in 1816, the Georgians fought the Russians straight up and lost; in 1817, the Pindaris fought the British straight up and lost; in the Kandyan rebellion of 1817, the Sri Lankans fought the British straight up and lost; in 1823, the Burmese chose to fight the British straight up and lost. The list of failures was endless. In the nineteen-forties, the Communist insurgency in Vietnam bedevilled the French until, in 1951, the Viet Minh strategist Vo Nguyen Giap switched to conventional warfare—and promptly suffered a series of defeats. George Washington did the same in the American Revolution, abandoning the guerrilla tactics that had served the colonists so well in the conflict’s early stages. “As quickly as he could,â€? William Polk writes in “Violent Politics,â€? a history of unconventional warfare, Washington “devoted his energies to creating a British-type army, the Continental Line. As a result, he was defeated time after time and almost lost the war.â€?

It makes no sense, unless you think back to that Kentucky-L.S.U. game and to Lawrence’s long march across the desert to Aqaba. It is easier to dress soldiers in bright uniforms and have them march to the sound of a fife-and-drum corps than it is to have them ride six hundred miles through the desert on the back of a camel. It is easier to retreat and compose yourself after every score than swarm about, arms flailing. We tell ourselves that skill is the precious resource and effort is the commodity. It’s the other way around. Effort can trump ability—legs, in Saxe’s formulation, can overpower arms—because relentless effort is in fact something rarer than the ability to engage in some finely tuned act of motor coördination.

“I have so many coaches come in every year to learn the press,â€? Pitino said. Louisville was the Mecca for all those Davids trying to learn how to beat Goliaths. “Then they e-mail me. They tell me they can’t do it. They don’t know if they have the bench. They don’t know if the players can last.â€? Pitino shook his head. “We practice every day for two hours straight,â€? he went on. “The players are moving almost ninety-eight per cent of the practice. We spend very little time talking. When we make our correctionsâ€?—that is, when Pitino and his coaches stop play to give instruction—“they are seven-second corrections, so that our heart rate never rests. We are always working.â€? Seven seconds! The coaches who came to Louisville sat in the stands and watched that ceaseless activity and despaired. The prospect of playing by David’s rules was too daunting. They would rather lose.

In 1981, a computer scientist from Stanford University named Doug Lenat entered the Traveller Trillion Credit Squadron tournament, in San Mateo, California. It was a war game. The contestants had been given several volumes of rules, well beforehand, and had been asked to design their own fleet of warships with a mythical budget of a trillion dollars. The fleets then squared off against one another in the course of a weekend. “Imagine this enormous auditorium area with tables, and at each table people are paired off,â€? Lenat said. “The winners go on and advance. The losers get eliminated, and the field gets smaller and smaller, and the audience gets larger and larger.â€?

Lenat had developed an artificial-intelligence program that he called Eurisko, and he decided to feed his program the rules of the tournament. Lenat did not give Eurisko any advice or steer the program in any particular strategic direction. He was not a war-gamer. He simply let Eurisko figure things out for itself. For about a month, for ten hours every night on a hundred computers at Xerox PARC, in Palo Alto, Eurisko ground away at the problem, until it came out with an answer. Most teams fielded some version of a traditional naval fleet—an array of ships of various sizes, each well defended against enemy attack. Eurisko thought differently. “The program came up with a strategy of spending the trillion on an astronomical number of small ships like P.T. boats, with powerful weapons but absolutely no defense and no mobility,â€? Lenat said. “They just sat there. Basically, if they were hit once they would sink. And what happened is that the enemy would take its shots, and every one of those shots would sink our ships. But it didn’t matter, because we had so many.â€? Lenat won the tournament in a runaway.

The next year, Lenat entered once more, only this time the rules had changed. Fleets could no longer just sit there. Now one of the criteria of success in battle was fleet “agility.â€? Eurisko went back to work. “What Eurisko did was say that if any of our ships got damaged it would sink itself—and that would raise fleet agility back up again,â€? Lenat said. Eurisko won again.

Eurisko was an underdog. The other gamers were people steeped in military strategy and history. They were the sort who could tell you how Wellington had outfoxed Napoleon at Waterloo, or what exactly happened at Antietam. They had been raised on Dungeons and Dragons. They were insiders. Eurisko, on the other hand, knew nothing but the rule book. It had no common sense. As Lenat points out, a human being understands the meaning of the sentences “Johnny robbed a bank. He is now serving twenty years in prison,â€? but Eurisko could not, because as a computer it was perfectly literal; it could not fill in the missing step—“Johnny was caught, tried, and convicted.â€? Eurisko was an outsider. But it was precisely that outsiderness that led to Eurisko’s victory: not knowing the conventions of the game turned out to be an advantage.

“Eurisko was exposing the fact that any finite set of rules is going to be a very incomplete approximation of reality,â€? Lenat explained. “What the other entrants were doing was filling in the holes in the rules with real-world, realistic answers. But Eurisko didn’t have that kind of preconception, partly because it didn’t know enough about the world.â€? So it found solutions that were, as Lenat freely admits, “socially horrifyingâ€?: send a thousand defenseless and immobile ships into battle; sink your own ships the moment they get damaged.

This is the second half of the insurgent’s creed. Insurgents work harder than Goliath. But their other advantage is that they will do what is “socially horrifyingâ€?—they will challenge the conventions about how battles are supposed to be fought. All the things that distinguish the ideal basketball player are acts of skill and coördination. When the game becomes about effort over ability, it becomes unrecognizable—a shocking mixture of broken plays and flailing limbs and usually competent players panicking and throwing the ball out of bounds. You have to be outside the establishment—a foreigner new to the game or a skinny kid from New York at the end of the bench—to have the audacity to play it that way. George Washington couldn’t do it. His dream, before the war, was to be a British Army officer, finely turned out in a red coat and brass buttons. He found the guerrillas who had served the American Revolution so well to be “an exceeding dirty and nasty people.â€? He couldn’t fight the establishment, because he was the establishment.

T. E. Lawrence, by contrast, was the farthest thing from a proper British Army officer. He did not graduate with honors from Sandhurst. He was an archeologist by trade, a dreamy poet. He wore sandals and full Bedouin dress when he went to see his military superiors. He spoke Arabic like a native, and handled a camel as if he had been riding one all his life. And David, let’s not forget, was a shepherd. He came at Goliath with a slingshot and staff because those were the tools of his trade. He didn’t know that duels with Philistines were supposed to proceed formally, with the crossing of swords. “When the lion or the bear would come and carry off a sheep from the herd, I would go out after him and strike him down and rescue it from his clutches,â€? David explained to Saul. He brought a shepherd’s rules to the battlefield.

The price that the outsider pays for being so heedless of custom is, of course, the disapproval of the insider. Why did the Ivy League schools of the nineteen-twenties limit the admission of Jewish immigrants? Because they were the establishment and the Jews were the insurgents, scrambling and pressing and playing by immigrant rules that must have seemed to the Wasp élite of the time to be socially horrifying. “Their accomplishment is well over a hundred per cent of their ability on account of their tremendous energy and ambition,â€? the dean of Columbia College said of the insurgents from Brooklyn, the Bronx, and the Lower East Side. He wasn’t being complimentary. Goliath does not simply dwarf David. He brings the full force of social convention against him; he has contempt for David.

“In the beginning, everyone laughed at our fleet,â€? Lenat said. “It was really embarrassing. People felt sorry for us. But somewhere around the third round they stopped laughing, and some time around the fourth round they started complaining to the judges. When we won again, some people got very angry, and the tournament directors basically said that it was not really in the spirit of the tournament to have these weird computer-designed fleets winning. They said that if we entered again they would stop having the tournament. I decided the best thing to do was to graciously bow out.â€?

It isn’t surprising that the tournament directors found Eurisko’s strategies beyond the pale. It’s wrong to sink your own ships, they believed. And they were right. But let’s remember who made that rule: Goliath. And let’s remember why Goliath made that rule: when the world has to play on Goliath’s terms, Goliath wins.

The trouble for Redwood City started early in the regular season. The opposing coaches began to get angry. There was a sense that Redwood City wasn’t playing fair—that it wasn’t right to use the full-court press against twelve-year-old girls, who were just beginning to grasp the rudiments of the game. The point of basketball, the dissenting chorus said, was to learn basketball skills. Of course, you could as easily argue that in playing the press a twelve-year-old girl learned something much more valuable—that effort can trump ability and that conventions are made to be challenged. But the coaches on the other side of Redwood City’s lopsided scores were disinclined to be so philosophical.

“There was one guy who wanted to have a fight with me in the parking lot,â€? Ranadivé said. “He was this big guy. He obviously played football and basketball himself, and he saw that skinny, foreign guy beating him at his own game. He wanted to beat me up.â€?

Roger Craig says that he was sometimes startled by what he saw. “The other coaches would be screaming at their girls, humiliating them, shouting at them. They would say to the refs—‘That’s a foul! That’s a foul!’ But we weren’t fouling. We were just playing aggressive defense.â€?

“My girls were all blond-haired white girls,â€? Ranadivé said. “My daughter is the closest we have to a black girl, because she’s half-Indian. One time, we were playing this all-black team from East San Jose. They had been playing for years. These were born-with-a-basketball girls. We were just crushing them. We were up something like twenty to zero. We wouldn’t even let them inbound the ball, and the coach got so mad that he took a chair and threw it. He started screaming at his girls, and of course the more you scream at girls that age the more nervous they get.â€? Ranadivé shook his head: never, ever raise your voice. “Finally, the ref physically threw him out of the building. I was afraid. I think he couldn’t stand it because here were all these blond-haired girls who were clearly inferior players, and we were killing them.â€?

At the nationals, the Redwood City girls won their first two games. In the third round, their opponents were from somewhere deep in Orange County. Redwood City had to play them on their own court, and the opponents supplied their own referee as well. The game was at eight o’clock in the morning. The Redwood City players left their hotel at six, to beat the traffic. It was downhill from there. The referee did not believe in “One, two, three, attitude HAH.â€? He didn’t think that playing to deny the inbounds pass was basketball. He began calling one foul after another.

“They were touch fouls,â€? Craig said. Ticky-tacky stuff. The memory was painful.

“My girls didn’t understand,â€? Ranadivé said. “The ref called something like four times as many fouls on us as on the other team.â€?

“People were booing,â€? Craig said. “It was bad.â€?

“A two-to-one ratio is understandable, but a ratio of four to one?â€? Ranadivé shook his head.

“One girl fouled out.â€?

“We didn’t get blown out. There was still a chance to win. But . . .â€?

Ranadivé called the press off. He had to. The Redwood City players retreated to their own end, and passively watched as their opponents advanced down the court. They did not run. They paused and deliberated between each possession. They played basketball the way basketball is supposed to be played, and they lost—but not before making Goliath wonder whether he was a giant, after all.

GOLD: Coaches go from a scream to a whisper

Los Angeles Daily News – Jon Gold – March 14, 2009 – In a parallel universe, Keith Higgins would beckon Randall Harris to the Reseda bench, put his arm around Harris’s slight shoulders, apologize for disturbing him and politely ask if he could dole out some advice. “Now, Randall,” Higgins would say ever-so-gently, “next time you drive, look for Ryan Watkins crashing down toward the basket, and if you don’t mind – and, now, this is just a suggestion – perhaps you could pass Watkins the ball.” And Harris would say, “Gee, coach, I didn’t see it like that. Thanks for the tip. Gosh, you’re swell.” And they would both smile, go on their merry ways.

But this is not the Brady Bunch, Higgins is not Greg Brady and Harris is not the youngest one in curls.
This is Los Angeles City Section basketball and Higgins is screaming his head off. He tears into Harris with the wrath of a thousand wronged prison wardens. The veins popping out of his forehead have veins popping out of their foreheads. He is trying to prove a point and he is doing so by giving Harris a first hand look at his tonsils.

Another coach might simply calmly explain himself go over XS, reiterate us. Out of ten college pro or college games this weekend, ten different coaches will coach ten different ways. Some will yell. Some will whisper. Harvard Westlake of North Hollywood boys coach Greg Hilliard is a whisperer, living proof that yelling is not the only way.

Just when a game was getting a little close for comfort Thurday, Hilliard was relaxing. If Higgins storms the sidelines like in battle, Hilliard might as well be lounging in a recliner in Brookstown. Don’t confuse calm for disinterest though. Hilliard is just as passionate as Higgins. He just channels it differently. “I have a hard time reaching a boiling point when it comes to a kids game,” said Hilliard, who has led Harvard Westlake to nine CFS championships. I understand how the frustration builds. There are skills you develop to keep some of those things inside.

When I was younger and more frustrated, I’d go out for a three mile run after a game. Higgins doesn’t run. He yells. His style is to scream. And as he let’s Harris have it for not giving the hot handed watkins the ball on the previous play, Harris lets it all soak in. On the next trip down the court, Harris passes off to Watkins who sinks the bucket. Point taken. State bucking the trend. on that play Harris responded. It doesn’t always work so well. In a recent game, Higgins summoned Harris to the sideline and shouted at his point guard to get the defense into a two minus two minus one zone. Harris felt the team should instead shift to the one minus three minus one. Higgins insisted on the two minus two minus one. Harris reiterated his preference for the one minus three minus one. Back and forth they went.

“For me, it’s not hard to stick up for myself,” Harris said. “I go ahead and say it. Sometimes we go back and forth, but never in a negative way. We’ve never argued on something negative. Most of the time when he’s yelling at me it’s something I really need to hear. Harris can handle it. Some kids cannot. But that makes no difference to Higgins. This is his style, his way. He knows no other. With kids, it’s about survival. “They can pick up on vibes,” Higgins said. “They have a sense. They know if you’re real or fake. Their only sense it to figure out when you’re real or faking it. They know that when I’m on the court I’m real. I’m Coach Higgins. I only know one style and that’s my style.”

At Lock High School, he played for Coach Michael Jackson, the exact opposite, a pacifist, not in your face, but gentle. To Higgins it didn’t work. It did, however, lay the foundation for Higgins’ style. “My high school coach was more reserved and when you’re playing at Lock against Westchester and Crenshaw it doesn’t work,” Higgins said. “I wish someone pushed us a little harder. Back in those days, teams scored one hundred points in a game against us because we didn’t get after it, didn’t have the passion, the fire.” Higgins does not have a problem with passion. If anything, he has too much. His own high school coach was quite the opposite.

“We’ve learned to associate success with certain mannerisms,” said John F. Murray, a noted sports psychologist based in Florida. “If (Coach Higgins) associated failure with being mellow, then he’ll react differently. He was a smart kid and he learned to make those adjustments as a coach, and he did.

When Higgins took over at Receda three years ago he was confrontational from the get go. A new coach might take a different approach, might try to make nice with parents and players and faculty. He immediately made his personality known for better or worse. You go to English class, Math class it’s straightforward. On the court it’s emotions, Higgins said. At times you have to be that father figure. But there’s that fine line, father figure and coach, and the best coaches know how to juggle
that.

Not the only way, like Higgins, Hilliard was affected by his own coaches who came from an earlier generation than Higgins. Back then coaches were drill seargents and drill seargents begat softer coaches just as the next generation of softer coaches begat the Higgins of the world. “Our experiences make us who we are,” Hilliard said. “Without ado, the experiences I had as a kid made me who I am. I felt there was an absense of coaches who do it the way I do. You have the John Wooden model, my personal model, who thinks of himself as a teacher first. You have the drill seargent approach and they get great results in the heat of battle. Overall, for the success of the team, which is reaching fifteen players at a time, I’ve never wished I had a different style. Like Higgins, he knew from his start as well. “I realized very early that wasn’t going to be my style,” Hilliard said. “I started
as a head coach 35 years ago by myself, no assistants. Now, I don’t believe in going after a kid or going off but I always have a coach who can step in and be that for a kid.”

So it seems, Hilliard might not be the one to yell, but he knows the kids sometimes need to be yelled at, setting a tone. It is the second quarter against Liberty and Receda has started to showboat. Four of the first drives have resulted in lone layups. A would be game changing dunk carems off the back of the rim. Higgins is livid. He calls a timeout. His face is contorted in a way that would scard Lucifer. His eyebrows are furled in a way that displays pure, absolute disgust. His head shakes slowly, yet he says nothing, almost as if he is ready to unleash fiery hell, but is just now forming the words. His lip snarls. His eyes burn. This is not a happy Higgins. “You guys are playing the crowd. Stop looking East/West. Look North/South. He will later said he had to lay into them. Another coach might have drawn a diagram or simply called the offending player over for a quick lesson. Higgins ignores the clipboard and screams at all. It is not without consideration.

“This sounds crazy, but I try to really coach them for life,” said Higgins, whose own playing career was derailed by a car accident in 2000. “When I talk to a kid I always think about how it will affect their lives. I know this will help them be men or help them be stronger. I know these kids look at me as the coach, some as a father. I won’t have regrets because I know it will help them, and Murray says it will. Murray has worked with athletes in all sports from preps to pros. His clientel listings include some of the world’s top performers. “While every athlete reacts differently to a coaches words they all seem to respond to yelling by at least paying attention. There’s no quicker way to get attention, to have immediate behavior shift with a young person than with a slight form of punishment, Murray said, and yelling is a slight form of punishment. At the younger levels it can leave scars, psychopathology, boyish behavior, but in a structured setting it may be a good facilitator to get people to act. It might mirror the quickness with which a coach needs to respond in a basketball game. There’s no better way to wake somebody up.”

Randall Harris played basketball for years under the same coach, his father, who coached in a similar manner to Higgins. When Harris transfered to Receda from TAP and began playing for his Higgins for his last season he immediately reacted to the rants and raves of a fiery coach. “I’m pretty used to it,” Harris said. “I know where he’s coming from. I don’t take it as he’s screaming at me. He’s giving me instruction. I listen to what he’s saying, not the tone of how he’s saying it. But really, that’s exactly what he’s listening to.

“When you’re in somebody’s face and giving immediate feedback that’s often what kids are looking for,” Murray said. But there’s a lot more that goes into it than yelling. Yelling itself is not what gains respect. Being real. Higgins will approach you with his hand extended from a mile away, a smile swept across his face. Off the court after the game has ended he’s a prince. His handshakes last for minutes, his other hand draped across the shoulder as if to say “you’re my brother.”

Hilliard, whose Wolverines play Oceanview at noon, is like a kind uncle, the successful uncle who passes out words of wisdom and whose words of wisdom are to never be questioned because, why would you question them. The common link between the two besides success (both are section champions this season) is that they are both completely honest in the delivery of their respective styles. Higgins is a yeller and a screamer and he gets close enough in his kid’s faces that they could taste the same piece of gum. Hilliard is the quiet one who will sit in his chair on the sidelines and save his words for when it matters most, barely rising above a peep. “I got started in coaching because I wanted to be the kind of coach I didn’t play for growing up,” Hilliard said. That’s a coach who sets an example and became a mentor. “I don’t judge what another coach does in any way. I imagine that some of my kids would benefit by that kick in the butt. Hopefully you reach people by your style. Some of my good friends in the coaching business are wild men on the sidelines. You have to be who you are as a coach.

Hilliard is a whisperer. Higgins is a yeller. Both are winners.

Basketball

Just Received: “After having micro fracture surgery on my knee, I knew it would be a long road to get my my body back into playing shape. I also knew that to complete my total recovery, I needed to get assistance from a mental coach. Dr. Murray helped me regain my focus after being out of the game for a long period of time. I used Dr. Murray’s techniques of positive imagery and felt the benefits immediately. It helped my game tremendously.”

Tracy McGrady, 7-Time NBA All Star & 2 Time NBA Scoring Leader, Detroit Pistons

Dr. Murray loves basketball and considers Bill Russell the greatest player ever for his amazing skills and contribution to so many NBA championships. Michael Jordan is a close second!

Dr. Murray has worked with division I teams and players, and NBA players. He has consulted with players privately, given pre-game speeches in the locker room, and consulted with the coaching staff. The mental game can no longer be ignored in basketball.

This page is still under development. Thanks for your patience

After a Forgettable Loss, Terps Need Short Memory

Washington Post - Steve Yanda – January 27, 2009 – The visiting locker room at Cameron Indoor Stadium was open to reporters for roughly 10 minutes Saturday following the fourth-worst loss in Maryland men’s basketball history, more than twice as long as usual after a loss.

After falling to Duke by 41 points, Maryland Coach Gary Williams allowed his players to face questions no 18- to 22-year-old wants to answer. How did this happen? How did it get this bad? Where do you go from here?

Minutes earlier, Williams addressed similar queries. The Terrapins (13-6, 2-3 ACC) had two days to recover before tonight’s matchup at home against Boston College (15-6, 3-3), and the tone with which Williams approached his players in the aftermath of such a stinging defeat will play a crucial role in how his team will recover.

“That’s part of being an athlete and being a coach is getting embarrassed and then being able to come back,” Williams said Saturday. “That makes us 2-3 in the league, I believe, and we have two home games next week and we’ll be ready to play Tuesday night. At this point, that’s the key: getting back and being ready to play on Tuesday night.”

There are some, such as Boston College Coach Al Skinner, who believe — at least publicly — that the happenings in one game, no matter how positive or negative they may be, do not carry over into the next. And in an ideal, competitive environment, that theory would hold true.

But according to John F. Murray, a sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla., the team aspect of basketball prevents its participants from completely setting aside previous outcomes when preparing for future opponents, even if doing so would serve them best.

“You have to realize that it is just one game and maybe not try to reverse it completely, but try to be more competitive,” Murray said. “That kind of an outcome, you weren’t even competitive. Something went terribly wrong. You can’t put that completely out of your mind, perhaps, but you have to focus on each game individually. I think all players are subject to thinking about the past, even though, ideally, you’re not supposed to. It probably does leave somewhat of a scar until you’re able to turn it around.”

Michigan State fell to then-No. 1 North Carolina by 35 points in Detroit on Dec. 3, a loss that left players and coaches feeling angry, concerned and embarrassed, according to Spartans associate head coach Mark Montgomery. But, Montgomery said, the coaches knew that employing a positive front when dealing with the players was their best chance at getting them to move beyond the defeat.

As soon as Michigan State’s bus returned to East Lansing, the Spartans held a team meeting in the locker room in which each player had to come up with a way in which the team could improve its performance. After an hour, the coaches left, but the players remained to talk among themselves. Montgomery knew then the staff had struck the proper chord.

“That’s the toughest thing as a coach,” Montgomery said. “You’ve got to figure out what tone you want to take with your guys — the hard approach or more of an understanding. I think we took more of an understanding approach, but we were firm that we’ve got to do this better or we didn’t do this.”

Montgomery acknowledged that while players should be unaffected by previous outings, their confidence — “swagger,” as he put it — can be shaken by a poor performance during a previous outing. A swift turnaround, then, is vital. Michigan State, currently ranked No. 9, won 11 straight games following the loss to North Carolina.

But that defeat came during nonconference season. Maryland was not so fortunate. In addition to having less time to correct their flaws, the Terrapins must also prepare for a higher caliber of opponent.

Murray said that “it can often be helpful to have a good whipping every now and then” because it forces coaches and players to be more accountable. But that implies that a lopsided loss carries at least some weight into future endeavors, a notion Skinner rejects.

Skinner said Sunday he would not address the Terrapins’ previous outing with his team in regard to how it might affect their mentality tonight.

“The fact that it’s a league game and we’re going on the road, we’ve just got to make sure we’re prepared,” Skinner said. “The last game has no impact on the next game. That’s my feeling about it. I don’t look at it either way, whether it works for us or works against us. It’s the same.”

Except it’s not, not for Maryland, anyway. Williams said yesterday he was “very positive” in dealing with his players after the Duke loss. He said he reminded them of how well he thought they had played in their two previous road games and implored them not to dwell on one horrific performance.

When asked whether he thought, at least subconsciously, that the Duke loss would carry over to tonight, Williams lowered his eyes and responded briskly.

“It can’t,” he said. “It can’t. That’s not an option.”

Team’s ‘perfect’ streak should be dunked

More than 30 years ago, as a short, scrawny, Afro-wearing kid at Gonzaga College High School, I earned a spot on the freshman basketball team. Putting on the purple-and-white uniform was the highlight of the year. Because on the court, it was brutal.

We had 18 games against ninth-graders at other local schools. We lost all 18.

We got blown out. We got close enough that a made free throw or timely steal would have ended the streak. It got to the point that  we sensed defeat about the same time we finished our layup drills. It didn’t help that my school competed in the same league with DeMatha and Mackin, two perennial D.C. powerhouses. In the process, I started feeling “less thanâ€?: not measuring up, not self-confident, not competent.

The Lady Spartans must know what I’m talking about.  They’re stuck in a similar funk of full-court failure. This year’s squad has gone 0-fer: In 20 games, the players have racked up 20 L’s. Only seven games remain in the regular season. Second-year coach Tara Owens didn’t return my call to the sports department requesting comment. However, in a Virginian-Pilot article last month, she acknowledged some of the challenges.

Owens threw four players off the squad last year, and two others quit . This year’s squad has five freshmen and four sophomores, so they’re relatively raw. There’s not a lot of height among the players. And the team journeyed to some “guaranteedâ€? road games — guaranteed to bring in money for NSU’s program, but also likely guaranteed to end in another loss.  At the current pace, the squad would relish a chance to equal its five  wins from the 2007-08 campaign.

Yet, Owens still sounded optimistic in the Jan. 15 article: “As long as I can see individuals improving every day, that’s all I can ask.â€?

That’s the proper attitude, said John F.  Murray, a clinical and sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla., who works with pro and amateur athletes. “I’d want to know how hard they worked,â€? Murray told me in a phone interview, after I explained NSU’s plight. “Are they focused? Are they being resilient, not getting down when the other team goes on a streak?â€?

That sounds fine if you’re a Little League team or some high school squad. I asked  whether that  is sufficient on the collegiate and professional levels, where the stakes are higher, reputations and jobs are on the line, and everything is under the media spotlight.

Sure it is, Murray said. Players and coaches need to improve measurable factors — number of turnovers, crisp passes, rebounds — that can lead to intangible rewards, such as teamwork, comebacks,  leadership. Even just having fun is worth playing.

“You have to let go of the conscious fear of winning or losing, and focus on what you have to do right now,â€? he said.  It’s not life and death, after all, if NSU goes winless this season.

It sure would be nice to win, though. There’s a feeling of accomplishment, success, euphoria when you do. Maybe the Lady Spartans can turn it around this afternoon against Delaware State;  last month, NSU lost a close one to DSU. There’s always next season. I should know: By the time I was a senior in high school, playing on the varsity, my basketball team ended up 16-14.

So here’s my Valentine’s Day wish for NSU: a turnaround, soon, in the team’s fortunes.

The Boss won’t mind that show of affection.

Roger Chesley is associate editor of The Pilot’s editorial page

SHAQ HAUNTS MAGIC FANS

FLORIDA TODAY – Jul 12, 2004 – Jeff Dalessio and John Denton – Impending deal to Miami means more meetings against Orlando.

He’s 7-foot-1 and 340 pounds with arms like Popeye, tree trunks for legs and three NBA Finals MVP awards on his mantel.

And he’s coming to your division, 18-year-old Orlando Magic rookie Dwight Howard.

“Who wants to play Shaq and get in a wrestling match with him all night?” Howard said as news broke that Shaquille O’Neal was on the verge of joining the Miami Heat. “He could probably just put a finger on me and push me out of the way.”

Word of a pending trade between the Los Angeles Lakers and Heat isn’t just the worst nightmare for the 6-11, 243- pound Howard, who’s sure to be on the receiving end of a few O’Neal elbows when the two teams tangle at least four times next season in the newly formed NBA Southeast Division.

It’s also sure to bring frowns to the faces of Magic fans, who had a tough enough time watching their former center collect three NBA titles three time zones away in Los Angeles.

Now, pending NBA approval of the trade, O’Neal is headed back to the Sunshine State in a move that will reportedly net the Lakers Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, another player — possibly Caron Butler — and a future draft pick.

First, Tracy McGrady is sent packing. Now, the guy who led Orlando to the 1995 NBA Finals joins its biggest rival.

Hang in there, Magic fans.

“Magic fans are going to be struggling with this for a long time,” said John Murray, a South Florida sports psychologist. “It would be like Larry Csonka or Dan Marino coming back to play for the Jets. The only solution for Orlando is to sharpen their mental skills and beat Miami. This would give them double satisfaction.”

The trade can’t be completed until 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, when the NBA’s two-week player movement moratorium expires, but it’s reportedly a done deal. Perry Rogers, O’Neal’s agent, told the Los Angeles Daily News, “As of right now, there is an agreement to agree” and spoke of his client’s love for the city of Miami and admiration of Heat president Pat Riley.

O’Neal also was high on Orlando, where he still maintains a home eight years after leaving the Magic for the bright lights of L.A. But because of his massive contract — O’Neal is due to make an NBA-high $27.7 million next season — Orlando GM John Weisbrod last month called a Shaq-Magic reunion “pretty close to mathematically impossible,” adding, “We’d be fielding a roster of seven guys.”

The 32-year-old O’Neal soured on the Lakers after the team was eliminated, 4-1, by Detroit in the NBA Finals. When discussing the Lakers’ future afterward, general manager Mitch Kupchak told reporters he never would trade star guard Kobe Bryant, but wouldn’t rule out the possibility of sending O’Neal elsewhere.

The next day, O’Neal demanded a trade.

Despite a dip in O’Neal’s statistics this past season — a career-low 21.5 points with 11.5 rebounds and 2.48 blocks — Magic coach Johnny Davis calls him “the most dominant player in the game.”

“There’s just nobody else like him in our league,” Davis said. “He’s so big that he’s almost unstoppable.”

His presence in Miami is bad news for the rest of the new Southeast Division, which includes three teams coming off forgettable seasons — Orlando (21-61), Washington (25-57) and Atlanta (28-54) — and the expansion Charlotte Bobcats.

With O’Neal in the middle, the Heat (42-40 in 2003-04) would go into next season as the undisputed team to beat and a possible NBA championship contender. Even with the loss of three starters — Odom, Butler and Grant — they return Olympian Dwyane Wade at point guard and Eddie Jones, their leading scorer each of the past four seasons, at shooting guard.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Lakers fans are hoping O’Neal and the team will have a change of heart before 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

That also sums up the feeling in Orlando.

“I think he’s OK right where he was,” Davis said.

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The NBA’s other big trades involving the big men

1965

The deal

Two days after the 1965 All-Star Game, when he had 20 points and 16 rebounds, two-time reigning NBA scoring champion Wilt Chamberlain is sent from the Golden State Warriors to the Philadelphia 76ers for Connie Dierking, Lee Shaffer, Paul Neumann and $150,000.

The impact

The 76ers went on to post the NBA’s best record the following season, then knocked off their nemesis, Boston, on their way to the NBA title the following year.

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1968

The deal

Following his fourth, and final MVP season, Chamberlain is shipped from Philadelphia to the Los Angeles Lakers for Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark and Darrall Imhoff.

The impact

Chamberlain spent his final five seasons in L.A., helping the Lakers to the NBA Finals four times. At age 35, he grabbed 19.2 rebounds a night and was selected to the NBA All-Defensive First Team.

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1975

The deal

Unhappy in Milwaukee, three-time MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar requests the Bucks trade him to either New York or Los Angeles. He gets his wish, going to the Lakers in a deal for Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, Elmore Smith and Brian Winters.

The impact

The Kareem-led Lakers win five NBA titles — 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988 — and he picks up three more NBA MVP awards, giving him six total.

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Why Shaq’s still got it

1. As bad as he is at the line, no one shoots better from the field (NBA-leading 58.4 percent last season).

2. Anyone catch that 36-point, 20-rebound effort in Game 4 of the NBA Finals?

3. When he’s motivated and in shape, no one can stop him down low.

Why Shaq’s slipping

1. He’s coming off a career-low season scoring — 21.5 points a game.

2. He made just 49 percent of his free throws — down from his 62.2 clip the season before.

3. He’s been injury-prone and overweight, not playing in more than 67 games in any of the past three years.

– Jeff D’Alessio, FLORIDA TODAY

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AP file

Sunshine Superman. Shaquille O’Neal is coming back to play in the Sunshine State and that could mean trouble for Orlando Magic rookie Dwight Howard and their fans when they meet four times.
Edition: F Final All
Section: Sports
Page: 01