Sunday, June 15, 2008

Lay Off The Black Coaches!

I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking critically about my people (black people, in case that fact was in question), pointing out some of our general deficiencies that I believe hold us back. But right now I am compelled defend a specific segment of the black community: black NBA head coaches. The commentary concerning most of them is unfair, not because they are themselves great head coaches, but because very few head coaches are.

What makes an NBA coach “great” has little to do with the plays he calls, but everything to do with his standing in the locker room and his understanding of the flow of the game. The x’s and o’s aspect of coaching is of lesser importance because the pace of the game is so fast and long stretches of the game go by without a play ever being called.

There are two current head coaches who can be considered “great”: Phil Jackson and Greg Popovich. They have the hardware (a combined 13 NBA championships over the last 16 years) that proves such accolades correct (given that Larry Brown is back amongst the coaching ranks, he gets an “honorable mention,” as he (1) has a ring, and (2) is probably the only coach in the modern era to win as an “x and o” guy. But his people skills suck, and while he should be commended for coaching so many teams at so many levels of basketball, one major reason why he’s traveled so much is because his players end up wanting to kill him, ala Spreewell vs. P.J. Carlissimo).

Side note: I didn’t realize this fact until I sat down to write this: outside of the two Rockets championships in the mid-90’s and Detroit’s championship in 2004, Phil Jackson and Greg Popovich have won every title since the 1st Gulf War. That’s incredible. Anyways…

But that’s it; there are no other great coaches; not even close. But you wouldn’t know that if you only listened to the press that much of the black coaching constituency receives. What bothers me most is the way that the intelligence of said black coaches is constantly challenged. The in-game changes made by coaches like Doc Rivers and Mike Brown are often aggressively criticized, while the press is often times silent concerning similar moves by the likes of Mike D’Antoni.

In fact, D’Antoni is often cast as a sympathetic figure, one who simply has had bad luck interrupt his otherwise brilliant assention and innovative approach to the game. But Avery Johnson doesn’t get the sympathy vote, even though the demise of these two coaches mirrors one another. For some reason, Johnson is publicly punished more so than D’Antoni for not winning a championship, even though his squad has actually been to the Finals, while D’Antoni-led teams have not.

What interests me even more is who Dallas chose to replace Johnson: Rick Carlile, a coaching re-tread who has never been anything more than an average NBA coach. His career highlight is that he coached the Indiana Pacers during “The Malice At The Palace” (a dubious distinction indeed). Other than that, most NBA fans wouldn’t know Rick from Adam. Yet he’s replacing a coach who had been to the Finals two years earlier. Yes, Johnson also has the distinction of being a 1-seed who lost to an 8-seed. But that fact never hurt George Karl’s career.

I do recognize that Terry Porter replaced D’Antoni. The difference between Porter’s hire and that of Carlile is that 1) Porter never had real talent on any of the squads he’s coached, and 2) the re-tread factor. Carlile is proven to be a mediocre coach, recently given reign over a team that needs to win now…

Mike Brown is often criticized for placing too much of the offensive burden on LeBron James, yet Larry Brown was celebrated for doing the same thing with Allen Iverson the year Philly went to the Finals (2001). Somehow, Larry Brown found the correct team chemistry in giving the ball to the most unstoppable force in the NBA during that season, while Mike Brown simply didn’t have the offensive ingenuity to do anything other than give the ball to the most unstoppable force in the NBA during that season. Something’s wrong with that…

Again, I am not praising the black coaches here. I am, however, shining a light on the fact that credit is given to coaches who don’t deserve it, while other coaches are criticized unnecessarily, as if there is some deep gulf between the likes of Rick Carlile and the likes of Mike Brown. Bottom line: there is none, and the distinctions that are subliminally made are problematic and insulting, and they need to stop.

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