I really, really enjoyed the first episode. PLEASE go watch it if you haven’t yet. Here are some things that stuck out to me on first viewing.
(5:53) Shaq talking to KG in layup lines. Tell me if I’m not hearing this correctly, but this he’s reminding KG about how the Lakers beat them in the Western Conference Finals in 2004, right? Is there anyone else in basketball who would say something like that to Kevin Garnett? If you or I said that…I don’t even know. Something horrible would happen. But here’s Shaq casually bringing it up in layup lines.
(5:59) Shaq looks at himself as a consultant on a team of CEOs. I think we’ve all been impressed with how well he’s played like one: when the offensive focal points run out of options, he’s been there with his hands up to take the pass and consult with the rim. But it seems like the leadership on the team is too evenly distributed for anyone to really be “the boss,” let alone Shaq. I think all the players probably all think of themselves as consultants, working for the system rather than any one player or coach.
Also, this is nothing new, but there’s an implicit statement here that Shaq was the CEO of those old Laker teams.
(6:29) KG says this training camp had this same energy that 2007 did. Probably something to do with all the new faces, and everyone working hard to put together a system that works. But I liked the lines from Paul about all the talent in the gym, and how exciting that is for them. Cool that the players are excited about the same things we are.
(7:23) KG refers to the team as having new characters and new episodes. More on this in a second.
(9:15) A glimpse at team leadership dynamics: Doc tries to give a speech after the Miami opener, but has to cut it short because KG is in Doc’s ear giving HIM a pep talk at the same time. Armond Hill tries to pull KG off but to no avail. This concludes a glimpse at team leadership dynamics.
(13:02) Shaq says he’s not an athlete. Obviously, he prefers to think of himself as someone to whom no ability was naturally given, and who therefore had to earn all of his accomplishments through “hard work.” Not 100% realistic, but hard to say anything bad about that attitude.
(14:14) Delonte West has a fascinating mind. He combines toughness and sensitivity in the kind of way novelists and screenwriters try to do with their characters, only I don’t think we’ve ever seen a character who’s so much of both. His capacity for feeling is immense, and it gets him in trouble as much as it makes him a charming, thoughtful guy. Glad they gave him so much attention here. I would read or watch anything about Delonte.
(16:33) Okay. This is the good stuff. Kendrick Perkins (a spectacular interview as always) says that this is the craziest team, in terms of personalities, he’s played with in his eight years (wow) in the NBA. I’ll take that a few further and say that this is the craziest team ever assembled in NBA history. Never before has a team roster held this many outspoken, unpredictable lunatics.
I don’t think this is an accident: I think the team’s culture encourages players to express themselves and develop their own identities, and I think it rewards crazy. I think that’s also related to how the culture forces players to submit themselves to a system in which nobody dominates the ball and everybody contributes on defense. I’m going to post a big’un on this later this week, but in preparation for that I’d love to hear any suggestions on NBA teams crazier than the 2010-2011 Boston Celtics.
(19:08) There’s a lot made at the end here of the Celtic tradition, and how the players and coaching staff all treat the legends with a quiet reverence. Havlicek says the tradition represented “another way of thinking” for new players who came to those old Auerbach teams.
But you also get the feeling that this team exemplifies the Celtic on-court ethos as much as any of the last 30 years. I don’t think they behave like those old teams, and they’re certainly not paid like them, but they at least aspire to play like them. Here’s an excerpt from Halberstam’s The Breaks of the Game, set in 1977, about Paul Silas’s time with the Celtics that could easily be about this year:
“He, as much as anybody on the team, had become the embodiment of what being a Celtic meant, playing with intelligence, sacrificing his personal game for the benefit of his teammates; he was not only an exceptional player himself but an important positive influence on the younger players.”
All of that is in this documentary. Intelligence: the emphasis on ball movement and defensive rotations. Sacrifice: the subjugation by Shaq and others of individual statistics (compensated for by expression of individual personality) in the interest of winning. Positive influence: the KG-Rondo relationship, and the myriad other ways the veteran All-Stars take the time to teach the younger guys. Vintage stuff.
Bill Simmons, shadowy puppetmaster of ESPN documentaries, said that his first choice for this season’s “Association” would have been the Thunder. He’s either lying to avoid accusations of homerism, or he’s completely delusional. There’s no other team that shows up better on screen than this one, and they’re also a championship contender.
I think bloggers, in reaction to mainstream sports journalists, are often encouraged to measure their enthusiasm for their own team in order to provide a realistic, detached account of the team’s place in the league. But I have trouble doing that this year, less for the Celtics’s on-court performance as for their culture. This is a rare team. Can’t wait for the next episode.