Monday, May 9, 2011

Monday's Musings on Sports - Who leads the horse to water?

As regular readers of this blog are aware, the Monday post was usually devoted to sports with highlights and analysis of the Max Kellerman show which formerly aired on 1050 ESPN Radio. Although Max resigned from 1050 more than a year ago (he has recently resurfaced on ESPN Radio in Los Angeles), I have tried to continue the tradition of linking sports to Torah which I believe was an undercurrent of the Max Kellerman show.

This morning I was listening to the Mike and Mike in the morning show while driving to work and I heard a great discussion about whether Phil Jackson's coaching career had ended, and if so, whether Phil was the greatest coach in NBA history.

I first started following Phil Jackson when I got his basketball trading card when I was five or six years old. I confess that I was not much of a basketball fan, in fact I rooted for and watched every other sport on TV except basketball. Still, there was something about Phil that made me take notice.

My next glimpse of Phil was when he started coaching the Bulls when Michael Jordan was leading them to the "three peats." People speculated that it was the players and not the coach which was the reason for the team's success. When Jordan decided to become the world's richest AA baseball player, the team did not win another championship, although they did continue to make playoff runs. Then MJ returned from his lacuna and the team repeated the three peat.

Years later, Phil was hired by the Lakers and he (along with Shaq and Kobe) won three championships in a row. In 2004 after losing in the NBA finals to the Detroit Pistons, Phil resigned as head coach, but this was just another short vacation. Phil returned to the Lakers one year later and subsequently led them to two more NBA titles.

With this background, one can look at the question phrased by Mike Greenberg - who is greater, the one who leads the horse to water or the one that makes it drink?

[Ed note - Greenberg is usually more articulate in his terminology. However to maintain the integrity of the post, I repeated the question the way that he phrased it on the show].

In order to answer Greenie's question, one needs to look beyond simple won/lost records. Many teams will have great players but won't win championships. Other teams may have great players and solid coaches and still not win because of injury. The real question then is - did the coach get the most of the players on his team? The answer is easy when a team with no stars wins a title or titles, because the coach gets the credit. But what about a star laden team - is it the coach or the player?

I can't profess to being able to answer the question as to whether Phil Jackson is the greatest NBA coach of all time. But the concept of the coach as teacher and motivator of lesser talents made me think of the following story involving the Vilna Gaon (aka "the Gra"). The story goes that the Gra was once visiting a town and decided to stay for the night. The people of the town wanted to observe him, as one can learn much from the actions of a tzaddik, even when he is engaged in "mundane" tasks. The Gra announced that he was going to take a half hour nap at midnight (as was his custom) and then begin to learn Torah again at 12:30. All did not go according to plan and the Gra woke up at 12:40 and was quite vocal in his displeasure with himself for sleeping an extra ten minutes. All of this was observed by the townspeople, who could not understand why the extra ten minutes made a difference.

Years later, the Gra returned to the town. Again he decided to stay for the night and made his pronouncement that he would nap for thirty minutes. This time, the Gra awoke after only twenty minutes of sleep. He remarked - I am happy as I have made up the ten minutes of sleep I lost the last time I was here.

Of course, the average man cannot live the way that the Gra did. However, if we surround ourselves with good coaches who motivate us, we can achieve great things for our own "team."

If you have seen this post being carried on another site, please feel free to click to find other articles on the kosherbeers blogsite. Hey its free and you can push my counter numbers up!

No comments: