- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"One thing we could do is raise the baskets, and I think it'll come to that. But not too far. Not to 12 feet. That's out of sight. At Tennessee they played an exhibition game with 12-foot baskets and nobody could score. Wound up 40-something to 30-something. They have a 7' center named Boerwinkle and he shot one for 16. My idea is bring the baskets up maybe six inches, to 10� feet, and then maybe in 15 or 20 years go up to 11 feet, and so on. Just enough to keep the big guys from being all over that ring. And then they could widen and lengthen the court, too, proportionalize the game. Twenty years ago the court was 94 by 50 feet and our center was 6'7". Now the court is exactly the same size and our forwards are 6'7". There's no room to maneuver, and that's another reason there's so much contact out there and why the game is so hard to referee."
Whether the game does or does not change, it is hard to imagine that there will ever be a different Bill van Breda Kolff on the bench. There he is—Ringling Bros, and Barnum & Bailey, Mr. District Attorney and The Flying Nun all wrapped into one. When he is not screaming at his players, he is engaged in a permanent program of rehabilitating the referees. He pleads, begs, cajoles, taunts, insults and gesticulates. He gets on his knees and throws his huge hands imploringly into the air, like a supplicant at Lourdes. This is a habit he picked up in the colleges, when in one pixilated year the officialdom ruled that any coach who got on his feet would be hit with a technical foul. "How the hell are you gonna spend a whole game without getting off the bench?" Van Breda Kolff says.
When he is angered, which is practically 48 minutes of every game, Bill van Breda Kolff does far more than get down on his knees. He kicks water buckets and ashtrays with fine impartiality, and in Seattle his own players taped a sign, "Please don't kick me!" on an oversized ashtray that he had sent into three different orbits with a single kick earlier in the season. His involvement in the game becomes so intense that he is all but unaware of where he is. One cannot get his attention during a game with a mere tap on the back. It must be a smack, delivered with full force, and even then Van Breda Kolff will say "huh?" about three times before he realizes that someone is trying to ask him something.
Some nights the coach sits in the corner of the dressing room and delivers himself a pregame lecture. "Tonight, you stupid [word deleted], you are going to relax. Relax! You are not going to holler about a single call. You are going to sit back and enjoy the game. Enjoy!" Then he goes out on the court and starts complaining. He estimates that the longest he has gone without jumping a referee was eight minutes, the shortest two minutes. Usually he clips out his complaints: "Charging! Walk! WALK! Three seconds. THREE SECONDS! Aw, for Chrissakes!" Sometimes he delivers long harangues, cupping his hands and aiming his rich baritone voice at the official so that none of the precious words will be missed. "He charged his way down the court, and then you call a foul on us! The defense just gets driven back. How the heck can he play defense if the guy just drives him back? You cannot play defense in this league. You can't play defense!"
He draws a warning from a young referee ("Listen, I've had enough of you tonight!") and then a technical from the senior man on the floor. "Unbelievable!" Van Breda Kolff says. "Unbelievable refereeing! He was up in the air when you called walking. How can a man walk in the air? First time I've ever seen a man walk in the air!" A few minutes later West is bumped to the floor. "No foul?" Van Breda Kolff shouts. "NO FOUL, you say? He knocked himself down, didn't he?"
But slowly he subsides. The first technical foul of a game is only a $25 fine, but the second carries with it expulsion from the game. Van Breda Kolff has been thrown out of only one regular-season game, and the experience was so painful that he does not want a repetition. He is aware that he is a bit hard to take at times. "I know that and I understand it, and I don't blame the officials a bit. Some of these guys are away from home for two or three weeks at a time. It's tough. It's one of the toughest jobs going. But some of them are just plain bad, too. You get the impression sometimes that if you didn't have a job and you needed one, you could go to the NBA office and say to them, 'I want to be an official,' and they'd say, 'Here's your shirt and your whistle. You've got to be in Seattle at 8 o'clock tonight!' "
The referees have their scouting reports on coaches, and vice versa. Before a referee calls a technical foul, he usually has convinced himself that the coach is being malicious, being intentionally nasty. One referee explains: "That means you have to know what constitutes malice in each individual coach, am I right? Like Alex Hannum. How do you know when he's being malicious? He's a cheerleader, he's always screaming for his guys. But that isn't malice, and Alex never got many technicals. When he kicked at the floor, then you knew he was trying to be nasty. Or take a guy like Bill Sharman. He complains more than anybody, but it's all out the side of his mouth. All game long you can hear him, 'Aw, c'mon, give me a break, give me a break, you're killing us!' Now what're you gonna do about that? There's 10,000 people there and as far as they're concerned Sharman hasn't said a word. Or you take a guy like Charley Wolfe, used to be at Detroit. The man never cursed; he was a daily communicant. But he'd sit there and say, "Three seconds. Three seconds. Three seconds!' and after a while this'd get on your nerves, and finally he'd say, maybe, 'Oh, darn,' and then you'd know he was being mean and you'd give him a technical.
" Al Bianchi is another chirper: chirp chirp chirp all night long, and then he'll jump up and say, ' Jesus Christ!' and head for the water cooler, and when he comes back you've got to give him one. Johnny Kerr, he'll just stand up and give the chair a little backward kick, real quick and graceful, or he'll try to lift up the bench. One night he lifted the bench and there were six players on it.
"Some of them calm down as they get older. That's Richie Guerin. A strange case. He used to be an animal. An animal! Now he's one of the best behaved. You almost never give him a T. And you may find this hard to believe, but I think that's the route Van Breda Kolff is going. Why, I saw him in the street in Baltimore the other day and you know what he said? He said, 'Well, there are two different opinions on every call, right?' And then he says, 'The only trouble with you [word deleted] guys is you need a raise.' Now how can a guy like that be all bad?"
Despite his outspokenness and his refusal to be muzzled and his acidic observations about the powers that be, Willem Hendrik van Breda Kolff is one of basketball's most popular figures. "He doesn't have the word 'no' in his vocabulary when it comes to old friends," Florence Smith van Breda Kolff says, "and then they all have to go out for a beer, and they start reminiscing about the good old days at Lafayette and it's one beer after another and then he comes home and he says, 'I never want to see another beer as long as I live!' But what he really means is he doesn't want to see another beer till he sees another old buddy, which will be the next night and the night after that. He likes to tell me, "Well, I only drink beer with my friends,' and I say to him, 'Well, Butch, who are your enemies?' "