There's timeout on the floor during the Los Angeles-Denver game and the Laker Girls are gyrating away. But from his perch high above the Forum floor, L.A. assistant coach Randy Pfund doesn't notice. He has eyes only for the small video screen in front of him.
"O.K., Bill, let me have their first three offensive plays," says Pfund into his headset. Just like that, the Nuggets' first three offensive sets appear in succession on the screen. "O.K., O.K., that's their flex cut. Now, Bill, how about some [24-second] clock times? Seems they're shooting within eight seconds. They're really pushing it." And up come clock times on the screen.
Pfund's unseen partner is Bill Desser, the Lakers' video coordinator, who operates out of a control room just down the hall from the team's dressing room. Like some 20th-century Prospero, Desser pushes buttons and adjusts dials, controlling the ebb and flow of seven different VCRs on which he is both taping and editing. By the end of the first half, Desser, with Pfund's guidance, will have made an edited videotape of 8 to 10 key plays. When the Lakers troop into the dressing room at halftime, coach Pat Riley will use the Desser videotape as the basis for his second-half strategy. At the end of the game, Desser will give Riley a complete tape from the Nugget game as well as a videotape of the Lakers' next opponent, the Utah Jazz.
Are these guys for real? A video coordinator? An assistant coach who watches TV during the game? Well, this is L.A., a town that has always made much of watching things on screens. In truth, though, the Lakers' devotion to tape is no isolated video-syncrasy. It represents a new technocracy that has invaded—flashers flashing, beepers beeping, timers timing—almost every sport in America. Consider the following:
•Most major league baseball teams use at least four video cameras at each game to record every possible angle of play. While managers and coaches depend on tapes for scouting, players view them to pick up flaws in their swing or delivery. Baseball people love video. When Texas Ranger manager Bobby Valentine was out of the game and operating a restaurant in Stamford, Conn., he watched baseball videotapes 12 hours a day. So it was quite natural that his No. 1 priority when he got the Ranger job was to convince management to invest in a sophisticated videotape system. "I begged for it," he said.
•The NFL voted that all 28 teams switch from film to videotape before the 1986 season. The move cost each team at least $500,000 to start up, but some, like the Super Bowl champion Giants, spent more than $1 million on the video conversion.
•Basketball has been heavily into the videotape game longer than any other sport, primarily because its limited playing space is ideal for videotape coverage. Now, both the pro and the college game could hardly exist without the technology. In the NBA, it's not just the well-known Captain Videos, like Riley and the Houston Rockets' Bill Fitch, who are plugged into the videotape trend. Noncontenders such as New Jersey, Indiana and Sacramento also view half-time edits. Says Washington Bullets assistant and video ace Freddy Carter, "If you don't make good use of video, you're going to war where everyone has an automatic weapon and you have a self-load, single-shot gun." At the college level, the University of Tulsa's J.D. Barnett is not alone in his desire to have every possession of every game broken down. "For each game, we watch about 25 hours of tape," says Ron Jirsa, one of his bleary-eyed assistants.
•Some coaches use tape for less-than-subtle reasons. Consider the case of Roger Neilson, cocoach of the Chicago Blackhawks and one of the pioneers of videotaping in the NHL. "Suppose you want your team to get up for the hitting game," says Neilson. "You show them 30 or 40 good bodychecks done in previous games. It's far superior to chalk talk." Lord, is Knute Rockne listening? Or has he, too, switched to videotape?
•Video has wedged its way into the world of boxing, too. Trainer Troy Summers of Marysville, Wash., whose pro fighters include junior welterweight Joe Belinc, credits much of his boxers' success to video. "You have to drive them away from the videos," says Summers.
•Some athletic trainers replay videotapes of injuries before deciding on treatment. "If you get the right angle, you can see the actual mechanism of injury," says Dodgers physical therapist Pat Screnar. "It's very helpful."