So often in basketball fandom, we focus all of our attention on the ten guys on the court, to the attentional detriment of the guys directing them from the sidelines. And rightly so, for the most part. The players are the ones performing super-human, death-defying feats of aerial wizardry, whilst earning eight figure dollars.
However, some amazing minds exist on those sidelines. Those of the head coaches, assistant coaches, scouts, trainers and head office men and women who make a team’s engine room tick.
This week there have been two interesting stories on the men of the sidelines: long-time NBA coach Doug Collins and Portland Trail Blazers spy-that-everyone-knows, Larry Greer.
They’re both worth a read for the thinking NBA fan.
Kelly Dwyer at Yahoo!’s Ball Don’t Lie writes:
Apparently Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins has a memory that will put us all to shame, and that’s coming from someone who can remember what he read Zander Hollander said about what Johnny Davis gave the 1984-85 Cleveland Cavaliers (“level-headed leadership”) while also recalling what he was eating while he read that (an Italian beef sandwich). As Trey Kerby said at my wedding, “Kelly remembers everything.”
But Doug Collins? He remembers everything, and then what happened next. And also what happened before that.
See, brains do count for something in sport.
Meanwhile, The Oregonian‘s Joe Freeman has a fascinating piece about the little known world of the NBA advance scout:
When the Blazers defeated the Jazz on Thursday in Utah, Greer had been prepping for that matchup for days. In the week leading up to the game, Greer had watched at least two Jazz games on video and two more in person. From a seat near the Jazz’s bench, Greer recorded every play the Jazz ran and what they called it into a laptop as the game unfolded.
Afterward, he retreated to his hotel room and noted which plays the Jazz called the most and which players were featured in those plays the most, paying special attention to end-of-game situations and plays that were called out of timeouts. He compiled all the Jazz’s tendencies, frequencies of called plays and emailed a report to the Blazers’ coaching staff.
Then, after watching the Jazz twice in person, he joined the team in Salt Lake City, collaborating with assistant coaches and offering suggestions on what might help the Blazers win based on what he learned. During games, players call out plays they hear opposing coaches say and Greer fires back with the name that the Blazers call that play.
It’s espionage. And it’s overt. Everyone in the NBA does it and everyone knows everyone is doing it. At any given game, there might be five advance scouts from different teams sitting side-by-side courtside charting every play. The scouts converse and sometimes even share tips.