On a chilly Sunday afternoon last March, Tim Duncan was putting the final touches on his pre-game activities before heading onto the court for one of his subtle routines– hugging the basketball before handing it to the referee. He’d already sky-hooked his warm-ups high into the air towards the training staff. He’d tucked, re-tucked, and tucked again his jersey. With only seconds to spare before the tip he reached for the bottle of roll-on talc that sits on the edge of the scorer’s table next to Gregg Popovich’s paper cup and Boris Diaw’s hand lotion. He silently rubbed some into his hands and on the front of his jersey.
He was, and continues to be, a healthy helping of hubris and a no-look pass. His silky smooth play and jaw dropping ball handling skill offered promises of greatness that seemed to be just out of reach. Sure, he was part of one NBA Championship with Dallas in 2011 and is 2nd in career assists, but beyond that he was more sizzle than steak.
He played for Dallas, Phoenix, New Jersey, Dallas again and finally in New York before retiring as a player. And just like that deceptively agile kid from California 20 years ago, his transition from player to coach was quick and surprising, yet ultimately unsatisfying.
Lost in the dominating championship run by the Spurs and the free agency drama that quickly followed is the fact that the once vaunted and historically significant Los Angeles Lakers remain, as of this writing, without a head coach. After careful consideration and numerous consultations* with my family, I’ve decided to make the sacrifice and take on the responsibility of leading the once proud franchise through the gauntlet that is the NBA’s Western Conference.
*Consultations consisted of me asking my two year old son if he wanted daddy to be rich and party with Jack Nicholson and he regularly said he wanted some chocolate milk.
The following is my 30, 60 and 90 day plan to win the championship.
I will sign LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love , Klay Thompson and Zach Randolph to ten day contracts. I will then set a reminder on my Outlook for every nine days to resign them.
I will introduce my new ballers to Kobe and Swaggy P. We’ll go bowling and then eat sushi until everyone is bonded.
First we’re gonna practice like those kids in Hoosiers. Except with no balls. No shooting. Just a bunch of running around for hours until Swaggy P throws up then we’ll call it a day.
I will introduce the team to game philosophies that I first invented at Pounding the Rock when I was considering replacing Tim Duncan. You’ll have to follow along and use your imagination because these are original films of me running these plays. So just picture good ol’ #84 in purple and yellow.
Our first play will involve LeBron jumping into the stands to distract everyone while Swaggy P drains a sweet 12 footer.
Next up I’ve devised a way for Carmelo to be an effective defender. His role will be to continually set screens on defense, which confuses the shit out of the offense and they miss easy lay-ups all day.
Kobe will have his snow bird play where he just takes off like a rocket and dominates on fast breaks. Kobe bird is the new snow bird.
Continue practicing these plays.
Find a beach house to buy and sign autographs. It will also be a good time to assess the mental toughness of my team so I will have their families kidnapped and held hostage.
Release the families and let my players know that I was behind their nightmare the whole time. We’ll all laugh like crazy, but deep down they’ll know to respect me and above all else fear me. That will pay-off big time when we’re in the last seconds of a game and they know they better win or somebody they love might just disappear.
Buy jet-skis for all my players and take them to the lake. After a few hours of fun on the lake, doing rooster tails and chugging beers, I’ll call a team meeting. In the middle of the lake I’ll point out how symbolic it is that we are the Lakers and we’re in the middle of a lake and their lives are totally dependent on me because I bought them jet-skis. It will be at that moment that they realize that Pat Riley and Phil Jackson ain’t shit and I’m their real daddy and we’re a team that can never be broken.
I’ll take their balls away again and we’ll practice like crazy on fundamentals and getting in a good basketball stance. FEET WIDE! PALMS UP! BUTT DOWN!
Party with Kareem and Magic and Jack and that weird old actor that always wears white.
Dominate the NBA.
So that is my plan. In addition to that I’ve also done some other things that helped prepare me. I coached my daughter’s winter league team a few years ago and we won the championship, even after stupid Steve said we couldn’t call a time-out after a basket but I knew we could. I have no idea how he was the head coach because if I was the head coach we would’ve called a time-out.
I also killed a fly the other day by swinging my underwear at it, so I know about adversity.
I’m waiting right here Mitch. Call me.
Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers recently suggested that his team needed to spend some time with their team psychologist to air their grievances. (via Ball Don’t Lie)
His comment immediately brought four questions to mind:
1. Is it already Festivus?
2. Do the San Antonio Spurs have a team psychologist?
3. If so, would anyone ever dare to mention details from a session with said psychologist?
4. If so, what details would be shared and what would one of those sessions look like?
While I know the answer to question 1 and I can’t truthfully answer questions 2 and 3, I can have fun speculating how the scene would play out in question 4.
Please join me as we examine the current psyche of the Spurs.
In late January things seemed bleak. In the locker room after losing to the Chicago Bulls on January 29th, Coach Boylen extended his arm toward Tony Parker. Shaking Parker’s hand he said “hang in there Tony,” and then pulled him close to whisper “don’t ever let Pop know you guys are going to do this.”
Parker realized Coach Boylen was handing him something. He glanced at his palm to see Coach Boylen had slipped him a business card for a man named Gilbert Sweat. “I fix heads” was the motto, etched in gold underneath the address to his office. Parker looked up to ask Coach Boylen what this was all about, but he was already gone.
The players meet in a Chili’s parking lot and travel in a white, nondescript rental van together to their session. The driver takes an extremely winding route in order to keep Coach Popovich off their trail. The words of Coach Boylen echo in Tony’s ears so he always makes sure the driver takes all precaution to avoid Pop finding out about their sessions. The van parks in the alley behind the office of Dr. Gilbert Sweat.
Dr. Sweat’s office is tucked away in a weathered strip mall, sandwiched between a Donut shop and a Verizon store. The sign on the door reads A Sweat Shop For Your Mind which is designed to do one thing– keep stragglers from entering. Dr. Sweat has only one client and he aims to keep it that way.
He is a slight man with narrow shoulders and a beak like nose that gives him a wise, birdlike appearance. Tufts of salt and pepper hair form a bowl around the top of his ears and circle around the back of his head. His glasses remain firmly in place on the bridge of his nose.
His office is a simple one. He keeps books stacked in one corner since his literature collection has long outgrown his single, cedar bookcase. He has plenty of room and plenty of money to buy another, but why bother? Besides a few knick knacks and trinkets he’s purchased through the years the only real decoration is a reprint of the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware, which hangs on the wall behind his desk.
Everything about the man and his office is unassuming, which is perfect for his only client. The players take their seats in a semi-circle of folding chairs surrounding Dr. Sweat’s desk. The session begins.
Dr. Sweat, in a calm and reassuring voice, asks if anyone has issues they’d like to discuss. Aron Baynes immediately raises his hand and Tim Duncan slinks in his chair. Dr. Sweat passes the worn, tattered teddy bear affectionately known as “T.T. McNutts” to Baynes. No one really knows what the “T.T.” stands for. Some of the guys speculate that it’s short for “trust tree” while others have more exotic theories (Truck stop Tuesdays, Matt Bonner? What does that even mean?)
Baynes cradles T.T. McNutts as tears well up in his eyes. “Why did you break my ribs, Timmy?” he asks softly as Duncan nervously starts to fidget with the sleeves of his flannel shirt. Baynes squeezes the bear harder as he looks for assurance from Dr. Sweat. The Doctor nods his approval. Baynes tosses T.T. McNutts into the air while simultaneously rising from his seat. In a surprisingly graceful move he punts T.T. McNutts across the room as the bear falls from his throw. Patty Mills lets out a blood curdling squeal and rushes to the corner where the bear lays helplessly on the ground. He immediately pounces and lands several haymakers on the stuffed animal before Manu Ginobili and Marco Belinelli can pull him off. Patty clenches the bear in his teeth and shakes his head violently like a rabid dog. Stuffing begins to fly before Manu and Marco can get Patty calmed down and convince him to unclench his jaw and release McNutts.
“Patty, why do you always attack T.T. McNutts?” asks Dr. Sweat, incredulously.
In his melodic Aussie accent he replies “I don’t, mate.” It’s his only response as he pulls stuffing from his teeth while returning to his seat.
Dr. Sweat can only shake his head in bewilderment because he knows Patty is in complete denial about his propensity for violence against teddy bears, but he knows he must move on. He only has so much time with the squad, and there is so much to cover. “Who’d like to go next,” he asks the group.
Jeff Ayres raises his hand. “I’d like to,” he says. “Great,” says Dr. Sweat and he tosses the T.T. to Ayres.
Jeff drops the bear.
Marco and Manu hold Patty back before he can pounce.
“Ok, who’d like to go next?” asks Dr. Sweat again. Kawhi Leonard slowly raises his hand. As he does most of the light is blocked from the room. Ayres fumbles while picking up the bear, but soon gets it in the hands of Leonard.
Leonard takes a deep breath as he cradles T.T. McNutts. Finally, he begins.
“T.T. McNutts, you’ve done good. We come in here once a week and you always make us want to be better men after Patty pummels you. When Matt Bonner got his face broke, you were here for Patty to pummel. When Manu dunked, you were here for Patty to pummel. When Marco ate a whole tub of manicotti and threw up on Tiago on the airplane, you were here for Patty to pummel.
So I just want to thank you T.T. McNutts, and you too Dr. Sweat. You’ve been here for us since Tony convinced us to come see you. You have given us a real outlet for Patty to express his emotions and it has made us all better watching him deal with that bear.
Kawhi hugs T.T. McNutts and rotates his hips like a five year old embracing his favorite toy. He then cradles the bear in his arms like a newborn baby as he approaches and embraces Dr. Sweat. Patty Mills joins the two in what is now a group hug. Patty’s shoulders start to tremble as he begins to sob.
“It’s not your fault,” Kawhi whispers over and over again.
After a few agonizing moments the three men and teddy bear break their embrace and wipe their tears away as they return to their seats. Dr. Sweat thanks them for the session and acknowledges that they’ve made a real breakthrough. The men in the room smile and clap because they know something special has happened.
As the team rises to leave, Patty lags behind. The rest of the guys know what’s going to happen, but Patty deserves this. When everyone has exited, Patty charges. He gets in a few more cheap shots on T.T. McNutts and then pulls off one of his glass eyes, eats it, and then walks casually out the door.
A man standing in an adjacent room watches the entire session through a peep hole carved into the painting hanging behind Dr. Sweat’s desk. He is Dr. Sweat’s lone client so his judgment of the progress is all that really matters. Fortunately, he too knows the meeting was a success. Once again no one used the word “happy” or “feelings” or any of that other crap in their discussion. Instead they spent most of their allotted minutes watching Patty Mills punch a stuffed animal.
With a feeling of satisfaction, Gregg Popovich turns away from his peep hole and waves at Dr. Sweat on his way out the front door. Though the two men exchange no words, Dr. Sweat knows he did his job.
That night Coach Popovich enjoys a nice glass of Lapostolle Clos Apalta, 2009 and allows himself a brief smile. He sinks deeply into his custom Italian leather chair and rewards himself with a moment of total relaxation. As the playoffs approach he’s confident his team is in good shape–in mind body and spirit..
And he knows that will always be the case as long as Dr. Sweat and T.T. McNutts have anything to do with it.
She’s great because she always makes sure to describe how miserable the conditions were that day. She knows that it wouldn’t have made any difference, but she throws that into the story, as if to protect me, every time she tells it.
It was the winter of 1998 and we were still dating. We decided, on a whim, to load up with some friends and drive to Ruidoso for a ski weekend. My two buddies wanted to try snow boarding and two of her friends couldn’t wait to get on the Apache Bowl again. My wife had been a skier since she was a kid so she too was anxious to get there. Everybody was pumped up and excited about getting to the mountain. Everybody, except for me.
They knew I’d never be skiing before but they talked me into it. “C’mon, it’s easy!” they’d say. Then they’d tried to flatter me.
“C’mon, you used to be an athlete.”
Then they’d challenge me.
“C’mon, little kids do it, WITHOUT POLES.”
So I agreed. We got into town late on Friday night and got to the ski rental shop as early as we could on Saturday morning. Everybody scattered to find their boot rentals and snow boards and perfect skis so I was trapped with one of the young hippie rental guys that knows WAAAYY more about skiing than you’ll ever know.
“What size do you need?”
“I don’t know.”
“What about rocker type and camber and turning radius?”
“Do you know your waist width?”
“What’s your flex?”
Finally my wife came back. “He just needs some beginner skis, nothing fancy.”
The little hippie ski guy looked disgusted but shuffled around and found me a pair. I got some boots that fit and we were on our way up the mountain.
It was beautiful up there. The snow was falling, really hard, and everything was covered in white. My wife was trying to talk me into taking a lesson, but my pride (coupled with my friends laughing at me) wouldn’t hear of it. “You don’t need lessons, you’ll be fine,” they said.
We put on our boots, bought our pass and then snapped the skis on. I was just trying to figure out how to walk when she pushed me down.
“What the hell was that for?”
“You have to learn how to get up, it’s the first step in learning how to ski,” she said.
I tried to pull myself up. No dice. “USE YOUR POLES!” they were all yelling at me. “I CAN’T USE MY POLES,” I yelled back. I couldn’t do it. I was struggling around on that snowy ground like an upside down turtle, trying to get up, when our friends got bored and left. They wished my wife good luck as they hurried off to the lifts.
She finally helped me up and asked me again if I wanted to take lessons. No way. I could see all those kids on the bunny slope and there was no way I was going there. She tried to give me a few pointers to get me started. Weave side to side, point the tips inward when you want to slow down, but most importantly you have to turn or you’ll get going to fast.
Ok, ok. I’ve got it down. Let’s do this.
We made it to the lift for one of the greens and hopped on. When we got to the top to jump off I immediately fell and couldn’t get up. She struggled to pull me up as the bodies piled up behind us. It was a mass of arms and legs and skis and ear muffs. Fortunately a guy came out of the little cabin and pulled me to my feet, and we were off.
I discovered pretty quickly that I can ski really, really fast in a straight line. I tried to do all the things she told me but none of them worked. I’d get up to what felt like 80 or 90 MPH and had no idea how to stop, so I’d just wipe out. I don’t know how I didn’t break something, but I did it over and over again.
We continued the routine for most of the morning. I’d shoot like a rocket straight down the mountain and then wipe out in a glorious ball of skis, goggles and bibs. I remember laughing so hard every time I did it because I knew it had to be the most ridiculous spectacle taking place in all of New Mexico that cold Saturday. Then she’d help me get my clothes back on straight and find my skis and poles and we’d catch the lift again.
I’m a pretty big guy and with full ski attire, in all black of course, I’m hard to miss. So it was helpful for the little guy in the cabin at the top of the run to see a huge ball of black storming up the lift. By early afternoon, he’d be out of his chair waiting for me to try and help me get off without falling.
But it never helped. I’d always fall anyway and cause a huge pileup of people behind us. There were people cussing at me and falling all over the place, every single time. It was awesome.
The weather kept getting worse as the day went along. The wind was really blowing and at times it was snowing so hard there was very little visibility. It didn’t stop me though. I kept charging back up that lift, falling, getting up, and shooting down that mountain like a rocket. Then I’d purposely wipe out because by this time I’d totally given up on trying to figure out how to slow down. It was masochism defined, and it was fun as shit.
I finally got the nerve to try some blues, even though my wife was leery. She kept trying to teach me some technique, but I was long gone by that point. Just get me off that lift and point me in the right direction and I’ll see you at the bottom, babe. She shook her head in what has become her usual response to my idiocy, and skied out ahead of me. She got down the mountain about 150 yards ahead of me, but then for some unexplained reason she stopped to look back and see how I was doing.
Somehow she forgot I was a great skier, as long as I was going straight and fast. And I was going really fast on this blue trail. And I was heading straight for her. And I didn’t know how to turn. And she was right in front of me. And I was closing really, really quickly.
When I smashed into her I heard the wind leave her body and as we flew through the air I was asking myself a lot of questions.
How many ribs of hers did I just break?
Did I break her arms?
Are her legs broken?
Is she going to break up with me because of this?
Where are the ambulances?
Who’s gonna help me up?
We tumbled down the side of the mountain for a little while and finally came to a stop. She didn’t break anything but she was pretty sore for a few days and that probably wasn’t the best time to ask her about her hopes and dreams. I decided at that moment that my ski session was complete for the day and let her go off and ski the black diamonds with her friends, where there was much less danger of her getting mortally wounded. I spent the afternoon in the lodge drinking beer and when the lifts closed we took the winding road back down into the village.
And we haven’t been skiing since.