I-so! I-SO! Double down now! DOUBLE DOWN! All right, rotate! ROTATE! No, let's go big on big. Look—they're goin' Hawk. HAWK! Watch the curl! Help! No, it's a turnout! Now, they're gonna pick-and-fade! PICK-AND-FADE! Look out! STAY LEGAL! STAY LEGAL! Oh, jeez, see the ball. YOU GOTTA SEE THE DAMN BALL...!
The above alien dialect will be spoken quite regularly all over America during the next few months. Call it NBA-speak. It is not nearly as well known as NFLspeak, which during Sunday afternoon telecasts is frequently accompanied by illustrations, or baseballspeak, which has been part of our culture for more than a century. It is similar, but not identical, to colege basketballspeak. The excerpt above, for example, relates almost entirely to the NBA rules mandating man-to-man defense. The dialect also owes a tremendous debt to former NBA coach turned TV commentator Hubie Brown, who created or inspired much of the terminology. NBAspeak, it should be noted, bears no resemblance to Vitale-speak. Then again, what does?
What follows are the definitions of some essential terms, a glossary to guide you through the new season. Sorry, but there will be no help from the telestrater:
SEE THE BALL—The meaning of this command seems obvious enough, and, in fact, it is. It is a plea for a defender to locate the ball even if the man he is guarding doesn't have it. In effect, it is a shorthand reiteration of the hoariest of basketball principles: To play good defense you've got to see both your man and the ball at all times. The expression made an indelible impression during the 1980s when Brown, who during that time coached the Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks, screamed it about 100 times a game.
JUMP SWITCH—This occurs when a defender more or less springs into the path (see: the Wolf in Little Red Riding Hood) of a dribbler as he's coming off a pick, forcing him either to stop dribbling or to veer away from the basket.
ROTATE—When a defense double-teams the player with the ball, the remaining defensive players must then rotate, either clockwise or counterclockwise, toward the double team and try to cover the unguarded offensive player.
ISOLATION—Though also a good description of anyone playing in Sacramento, this term is really used to identify the unaesthetic but effective tactic of moving four offensive players to the side of the court away from the ball, where, hey, let's be honest, they won't get in the way (see: Manute Bol).
I-SO—This is a warning hollered to a defender when the man he is guarding is being isolated to create a one-on-one opportunity, thus embarrassing the defender in front of his friends and family (see: last year's NBA Finals when Clyde Drexler repeatedly found himself iso-ed against Michael Jordan). I-so can also refer to playing conditions at ancient Chicago Stadium, where the hockey ice is right under the floorboards.
BREAK DOWN YOUR MAN—This is what a coach wants an offensive player to do to the defender who is being iso-ed. A man breaks down his defender, i.e., gets him off balance, with a quick dribble move, whereupon he can take the ball to the hole for either a layup or, if the defense smothers him, a dish to an open teammate for an easy score. Breaking their man down is also what the Los Angeles Clippers eventually did last season to their coach, Mike Schuler, who was fired.
TWO-MAN GAME—Isolation can open up the floor for this play, which brings together two offensive players working in concert. They might run a pick-and-roll, or one player might simply post up and look to receive an entry pass. Two-man game is also what Utah's Karl Malone and John Stockton used to play before Jeff Malone came along.