The top players,
all the ones I know who are serious about this game, are all trying to improve
it, to get the bush image out of it. But, man, it's tough.
That's just the
beginning. Let me take you inside a secret practice session of the Philadelphia
76ers and we'll see how this grabs you:
We're divided up
into two squads for scrimmaging. We're inside Convention Hall and it is big and
dark and cold and empty, and when the ball slaps into your hands it makes a
ringing, hollow sound up against the ceiling. We're wearing a sort of
catch-me-come-kiss-me collection of bits and pieces of old uniforms, and we
look like the orphans' picnic. Coach Dolph Schayes is trying to teach us
basketball fundamentals (and I think we'll agree right here that it is a little
late for that sort of thing. If we don't know the fundamentals by now, we're
all dead). Suddenly, on a fast break or a play under the basket, Dolph sees
something none of us can see. He stops everything. Tweet.
right," he will bark. "Yellow team take three laps around the
And off we
go—five big, hulking, grown-up men—loping around the basketball court like a
bunch of junior high school kids. Our technical practice on play patterns has
been interrupted for this punishment, and the pace of our game has been thrown
off. This is Schayes's way of spanking us. Then we get back to work and get a
furious scrimmage going and a nice sort of rhythm starts to take shape.
it," says Schayes. "Blue team take three laps around the
Crash. There we
go again. Everything stops. And the secret in all this is that the blue team
hasn't done anything wrong. Dolph is just so softhearted that he's been
thinking about it for a few minutes and has decided that they ought to do it,
too. And any punishment value of the laps is nullified, right? It's almost the
same thing in actual league play. Schayes is so tender-hearted that someone
sitting on the bench can look over at him with those big wet eyes, and he'll
put them into the game—even if the man replaced is having a big night. You
In the dressing
room one day a couple of weeks ago, Dolph came up with another idea.
"We've got to
fake those fouls more," he said. "Let's throw up our hands and stagger
backwards and really make it look real to the referee."
Coach," said Dave Gambee. "This only works if you're a good actor. A
lot of us can't pull it off. We just don't look innocent."