Brad Stevens is having one of the most important coaching seasons of his career. This is a season where we will find out what are the chances of him being a championship coach. The change from Marc Jackson to Steve Kerr portrays how teams need different leaders in their evolution. We know Stevens is amazing when the emphasis is on development and strategy. But is he as good when it comes to managing egos?
On a recent episode of “Basketball Buds”, the fellas talked about how much time coaches spend discussing and strategizing on selling their ideas to players. Whether it be a change in the rotation or player role, it takes more time and energy than you think. In the player empowerment era, soothing their egos is a 24/7 endeavor.
This is where Phil Jackson excelled. When you lead MJ and Pippen to six titles, Kobe to five and Shaq to three, you know how to handle superstar ego and expectation. Jackson always seemed a bit weird to his player, most famously when Shaq talked about him making them meditate with incense burning (sage or weed, reports may differ).
He used the same strategies in New York. In order to asses draft prospects, Jackson would take the candidates the Knicks were considering to restaurants and ask them to try weird food.
“We went out to some restaurant and they had me eat some octopus,” Smith Jr. told the New York Daily News, “like an actual octopus tentacle. First time ever. I wasn’t going to try it, honestly. They kind of put the pressure on me to do it.”
First of all, I’d like to say octopus tentacle isn’t weird food, it is delicious (as is almost any seafood). Not that’s settled, on to the next. Later we found out that he allegedly had Lauri Markanen eat raw fish or meat. Again, sushi or steak tartar are not such weird foods.
But to return to basketball matters, Phil was obviously pushing them outside their comfort zone and assessing how they would handle it. This is not such a foreign concept in psychology or human resources circles. That is a way to try and estimate someone’s responses in future high-stress situations.
In the end, it would appear Jackson was just too old for the job. Jay Williams reported he once fell asleep during a workout and the Knicks would sometimes call him for an opinion and, you know, work stuff; he would be asleep.
A player not eating octopus shouldn’t be the crucial part of a draft report, but as the analytics people would say, it is a data point.