Does It Matter If You Played or Not?

Casting labels on anyone is an act for the simple-minded. How many times have you heard growing up that you should never judge a book by its cover. People in society are too judgmental by observations made without spending time to form the right opinion. In my 18 years involved with coaching and working in basketball there are many labels cast upon people in in the profession. I’ve had many discussions with both sides of the argument and take their thoughts into consideration. The thoughts that I will share are not everyone’s views, but a big chunk of the people that I come in contact with to get information about this post. At the end I will give you my thoughts on the subject.

One label in particular I wanted to discuss today and that’s the label of did a coach/scout play or didn’t he play. This is a topic that I hear a lot used from players and coaches a lot. For most you are on one side or the other, there are very few that are in the middle. The school of thought is if you didn’t play at a high level how can you possible command respect of a team, make a player better, or evaluate who can play unless you played the game. Many people I speak with are for the most part biased on whichever side they are on.

When you speak to the some players or people who work in basketball that are players they will tell you that in order to be able to communicate or instruct a player that you would have had to have gone through it yourself. When I speak to some players about this they right away would tell me what can a coach that has never played the game going to tell me? Some coaches that have playing experience tell me that because the have played they can get through to players more than someone who hasn’t played the game. The label that non-players have is that all they do is watch film and have no way of relating to players and they are wannabes that want to throw themselves into the world of basketball. They get ideas and philosophies from books and other things, but since they haven’t ever been on the court to do them themselves that it won’t relate to the game. Their argument is that they spent years in the trenches going through things that players go through as far as highs and lows, injuries, off the court life, etc. Because they’ve gone through these things that only players can communicate to other players because they fought the wars already and went through what players now are going through.

On the other side of the equation to the people that don’t have playing backgrounds they role their eyes in disgust about it. They feel as though players feel entitled to positions in basketball because of the fact that they have played and haven’t earned their keep. Most non players in pro basketball had to work their way up from interns and video people to get a crack at being in basketball. Their days usually start in the neighborhood of 6AM and usually leave the office at about 10PM. Hard work is mostly what they know as they understand to make it in basketball with no playing background they’ll have to work extra hard not only to impress the powers at be, but also to learn their craft. When you talk about the subject of people in basketball that played they feel as though hard work escapes them and since they never did the grind of 90 hour work weeks that it’s hard for them to relate what they’ve gone through to make it in basketball. Many feel that players think they can show up and just know how to teach or evaluate just because they played.

There are a majority of people employed by NBA teams that were ex players. The league as a whole is behind the hiring of them to give back to the people who made the NBA what it is today. I think it’s important to have a strong presence of ex players employed in the league because they do have a certain understanding of how the league works from a player’s point of view. I don’t think that you should hire every ex player that seeks employment as just because they were good players doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to teach a player how to be successful. Teams are understanding as well the “grinders” in the world of basketball that are the film breakdown guys, basketball savants, and number crunchers. These people are very important to the success of the game as well because every team is in search for the edge. Some of those “grinders” such as Sam Presti(GMOklahoma City Thunder), Jeff Van Gundy(Ex Head Coach Knicks/Rockets),Tom Thibodeau(Head Coach Chicago Bulls),Daryl Morey(GM Houston Rockets , and Eric Spoelstra(Head Coach Miami Heat) all have little to no significant playing background but all have had success in their respective fields in the NBA.

I stick to the opinion that people who have prejudice against people who have played and not played are weak minded as a whole. It’s easy to judge and criticize from afar, but until you spend time with that person its impossible to know what makes that person tick and how good/bad they are at their jobs. Just like anything else there are people that are good and bad in the profession of basketball, but to judge them by how they are at their job based if they can play or not is insane. People want to criticize Michal Jordan for his lack of success in Charlotte and his spending habits when it comes to players. A lot of people want to express their feelings that because Michael was a star player that he doesn’t work hard enough at his craft. My answer to that is unless you walk a mile in his shoes and have to spend the money that he does in a small market then its harsh to judge him personally. If you want to criticize the team record wise you have every right to do so, but him being a former player has nothing to do with it. You can actually make the argument that he put them in a position to compete in a couple of years since they have a great chance of getting Anthony Davis in the upcoming draft and have almost 30 million dollars in cap room two years from now.

In this discussion I have a lot of experience dealing with the prejudice of not being a player. To me it’s not a very big deal as like anything else it’s a necessary evil in my profession. I’ve heard it from players, coaches, team executives, and many other people. There’s no way to control how a person thinks, but you can impress them with work ethic and knowledge. Those two things I have used to win over 200+ NBA players that I have worked with as well as a future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant serving as his personal basketball consultant. I’ve asked several players that if it mattered that a coach that works with them played or not and most said no. The things that players look at most is if the coach knows what they are talking about and if they are reliable. They’ve told me that as long as a coach can get them better, they really have no issues with them and if that’s a former player or not so be it. What makes me good at what I do is when players question me or I make a correction they can look in my eyes and know that it’s for the better. Players are like sharks and can smell blood in the water if you are unprepared they will know it. For the most part when players step on the court with me I’ve already watched 4-6 hours of tape on them and know how they are used on their teams as well as their strengths and weaknesses. My playing background has nothing to do with me being prepared to make a player better, I feel that is total nonsense and have no time for it.

If you want to waste time making excuses for not making it in the game of basketball or anything in life because of a certain bias or prejudice no one is stopping you. What you need to be doing is developing value so it doesn’t matter what background you come from that people will want to reach out and hire you. As a scout it doesn’t matter much if you ‘ve never played at a high level, what you need to do is study the physical, skill, and stat requirements of what makes an NBA player. Everyone will make mistakes, you just have to learn from the people who know more than you do. Your playing career or lack there of has nothing to do with your evaluation skills. In the case of Presti, Morey, Van Gundy, Van Gundy, Thibodeau, and Spoelstra they had traits that their respected organizations deemed as valuable to make them successful so they sought them out. Doc Rivers, Phil Jackson, Mitch Kupchak, and Patt Riley are considered the tops in their profession and all had playing backgrounds. Like anything else there are people that are good at what they do and people who aren’t good at what they do. People need to be judged individually, not generalized based on perception. I tend to give everyone a fair chance to impress me as they disserve it. Not everyone is like that but I can only control myself and leave the generalizing to the weak minded.