King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Behold the dazzling strategic wisdom of NBA coaches, as captured by TV microphones: "Keep rebounding!"


King Kaufman
April 28, 2008 12:00PM (UTC)

I've been saying for ages that sound is the next frontier in televised sports, and in the last few years the various networks have slowly started to bring viewers into a few of the hundreds of conversations that go on within a given sporting event.

For some reason, TNT calls its "sounds of the game" bit "Inside Trax." For ABC it's "Wired." The main thing both networks do with the sound feature in their NBA coverage is listen in on timeout huddles.

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Not so long ago NBA games played out as mostly silent events beyond atmospheric noise, but we've now reached the point where the talk in an NBA huddle is routine television fare. That's a good thing -- more information is always welcome -- but Sunday I found myself sort of pining for the good old days of wondering what pearls of basketball wisdom NBA coaches were dropping on their guys in those meetings.

I mean, I used to really wish I could catch a snippet of what went on in those huddles. NBA coaches are among the best coaches in the world, and NBA players are absolutely the best players in the world. And here you have them meeting in the heat of the action, and the coach is laying it down, sometimes diagramming on a white board.

What could he be saying to the best players in the world that they don't already know? This must be gold-plated hoops genius, dispensed more than a dozen times a game, and for years we missed every last diamond-studded word of it.

Now, for a few years, we've been hearing not every word, but a few highlights per televised game. It's possible we're missing out on some genius-level skull sessions because the TV networks are being extra careful not to broadcast deep-strategy conversations. They've said as much when some coaches objected to a general edict to wear microphones earlier this season.

It doesn't feel that way, though. There's a lot of space between hardcore inside-hoops strategery and "Come on, fellas!" But the needle never moves off "Come on, fellas!"

Here are some of the gems from Sunday's games:

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"We've got plenty of time, plenty of time ... Stay solid. Keep rebounding!"
-- Avery Johnson, Dallas Mavericks

"Can't stop playing, guys. You run back, missed a layup, can't stop. Everybody's got to get back."
-- Byron Scott, New Orleans Hornets

"We're just beating ourselves right now. We've just got to slow down, show a little patience."
-- Flip Saunders, Detroit Pistons

"We've had great energy. You guys having fun yet? Hey, listen. It's hustle plays, and it's just playing basketball."
-- Saunders

"Everybody's got to settle down. There's a lot of time left, all right? There's a lot of time left, we don't have to rush. But when we take the ball out of bounds, we've got to get the ball out quick."
-- Maurice Cheeks, Philadelphia 76ers

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"A lot of time. We don't have to force shots. Be patient. Be relentless and get to the rim. Be relentless and get to the rim."
-- Eddie Jordan, Washington Wizards

"Game starts over now. They're obviously more aggressive ... We're going to be here all night long, we'll change it now, all right, fellas? ... Don't forget the basic stuff about transition D and everybody on the boards."
-- Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

"It's going to take sustained effort, it's going to take energy, it's going to take playing the right way every time, every rebound, every loose ball. And that's going to make the champion or not ... Can you stay there, on task?"
-- Mike D'Antoni, Phoenix Suns, halftime locker room with a 22-point lead, but trailing 3-0 in the series

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"We've got to outwork them, let's go ... Can't play like we're trying to protect the lead."
-- Scott

At halftime of the Detroit Pistons-Philadelphia 76ers game, TNT studio host Ernie Johnson, noting that Chris Webber had played for Saunders with the Pistons, asked Webber what he thought the mood would be in the locker room with Detroit trailing by 10.

"No disrespect against Flip," Webber said, "but it doesn't matter what Flip says because they take on the personality of Joe Dumars."

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Charles Barkley wasn't so sure about that because Dumars, the Pistons president, "was a stud, played hard the whole time," while these Pistons, he said, are coasting on their reputation as an Eastern Conference power. "Joe Dumars has got to be rolling over in his grave," Barkley joked.

But Webber's underlying point was a good one. I heard that point to be that come game-time a coach can yell and scream and flap his arms or sit and look dignified with a rolled-up program and it doesn't matter because the team's personality is already formed. Barkley disagreed with Webber's assessment of the Pistons' personality, but not with Webber's comment that it didn't matter what Saunders said in the halftime locker room.

NBA coaches do all that running up and down the sidelines and yelling and gesticulating and directing traffic as though they're the sole source of know-how and strategy, and then when the chips are on the table and the clock's winding down they gather their charges together and they proclaim:

"Keep rebounding!"

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They're in monkey suits, jumping around for our entertainment, so they'll look like coaches. Aside from substitutions -- largely predetermined by the established rotation -- and the odd called play, their work is pretty much done by tip-off.

Johnson reported after the game that what Saunders had said in that halftime locker room was "Relax and have fun."

If TNT really wanted to make something of "Inside Trax," it should have let us hear what was being said when Rasheed Wallace got a technical for complaining about Reggie Evans' flop late in the first half.

We can handle the bleeping. All right, fellas?

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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