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Steve Aschburner

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Many coaches, like Byron Scott, save their best speeches for during the game, not halftime.
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Fiery halftime speeches the stuff of Hollywood, not the NBA


Posted Jan 4 2011 1:23PM

The allure is undeniable: Someone bolts a TV camera to the wall, wires up a coach with a microphone pack and, suddenly, we're all flies on the locker room wall. Going where we really aren't supposed to be, into the players' and coaches' inner sanctum at halftime of an NBA game, is the stuff of forbidden fruit. Tantalizing, on the off chance we'll hear or see something more raw, more real, than we get out on the court, even when the boom mikes eavesdrop on timeout huddles.

And then ... yawn. More often than not, the video clip that we see is about as exciting as a security-camera shot of a 7-Eleven clerk ringing up two Slurpees and a pack of smokes.

No "World's Dumbest Criminal" dropping down from the heating duct. No Buick busting through the storefront window. Nothing too nasty or stupid or fun or awkward or memorable. Most nights, we'd have been better off catching the halftime act.

Can't blame it on any cleansing or purging in the video truck, either. If production crews really were snipping and cutting the naughty bits out of NBA halftime access, you've got to think a bootleg disc exists somewhere. Or a renegade Web site would make a name for itself by posting clips of the tirades, fist-fights and most laughable moments.

Heck, most of us would settle for a little fire and brimstone, something out of Knute Rockne's playbook. Instead, we get a lot of atta-boys, reminders about "Effort!" and chatter about weakside rotations or 2-2-1 pressure defense.

A real, honest-to-goodness halftime speech, where the coach or even a player transforms a game with words? Very rare. Norman Dale and Bluto Blutarski can pull off that sort of thing in the movies, but it rarely happens in real NBA life.

"Really, you're trying to make adjustments," Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. "Basically that's it at halftime -- we're trying to figure out ways to get better and do some things better on the court, on offense and defense. Knute Rockne speeches, that normally comes before or after games. ... If it's after a tough loss and we didn't do the things we were supposed to do, I don't know if you really want to call it a Knute Rockne speech."

In his 25 years as an NBA player and coach, Scott has been involved in 2,054 halftimes of regular-season or playoff games. Very few, receiving or giving, have been memorable, he said.

"Sometimes the way I get into it is my personal feelings," Scott said. "I go by the seat of my pants and tell the guys what I think. And leave it at that."

The red light was on Dec. 2 when Scott's team played host on TNT to the Miami Heat and LeBron James in one of the most emotional and anticipated games in recent league history. But with the Cavs down 59-40 at the break and clearly not matching the Cleveland fans' fever pitch, Video Scott could only go so far at the break:

No. 1, physical, aggressive basketball out there. Make them feel you! If we lose the game and we make 'em feel it and we trust each other, I'm good. At the offensive end, trust each other. Play together! That's all I want you to do. All right. C'mon, let's go!

Scott's young, leaderless team seemed overwhelmed by the moment. Anything too theatrical might have backfired, although a 118-90 blowout was its own kind of backfire.

Maybe it should have come from a player, anyway. It was Utah veteran guard Raja Bell -- not revered and feared head coach Jerry Sloan -- who said the halftime words that turned around the Jazz's game at Miami on Nov. 9. Down 51-32, Bell implored his teammates to quit worrying about offense, toughen up and get their chins off their chests. The result? Video A 116-114 comeback victory in overtime, with Bell's exhortations given appropriate credit afterward.

"When Raja talks, something's really wrong," said power forward Paul Millsap, who had a career night with 46 points. "It was touching. He don't [usually take that role]. He's kind of soft-spoken in the locker room. But I guess we when we needed him, he came through for us."

NBA lore is rife with tales of impassioned halftime speeches and antics, of coaches or players going ballistic. Reporters who enter those locker rooms after games often see the residue of those moments: A toppled cooler, a vast stain of Gatorade still wet on the carpet, a fist-sized hole in the blackboard (then) or dry-erase board (now). You'l hear stories about heated arguments or nervous incidents, such as the time Ron Artest, while with Chicago, reportedly threw a basketball against the wall in anger. Again and again, narrowly missing a few heads.

It's just that the cameras and the microphones can alter the reality, mute the voices and pre-empt such raw, human emotion.

And sometimes, the raw, human emotion has an unintended outcome, pre-empting itself.

"It's always funny when you know your coach is trying to do anything to inspire you," NBA TV analyst Chris Webber said. "I've been on teams that have played so bad in the first half that I'd see the coach laughing and smiling and whispering in someone's ear, and then here comes the biggest tirade in the world!

"I've seen guys pick up a cooler and miss -- they can't pick it up or they drop it when they want to throw it, and guys wanting to laugh. Or the coach is so frustrated but it isn't coming out in the General Patton-type way that it should. I've seen coaches get so frustrated and so mad that, instead of tearing up a locker room, they embarrass themselves by being really awkward, because they're so frustrated and can't control their emotions. So it's the premeditated chewing-outs that usually get funny."

Hall of Famer Kevin McHale, who also has been on both ends of halftime speeches, said: "It can be a yeller-screamer like Bill Fitch was early in my career. Like Chris said, he's screaming and yelling and he kicks the board and puts his foot in the board and gets stuck. Man, you just start laughing."

McHale recalled K.C. Jones, whose even-keel temperament followed Fitch's firey style in Boston, taking the opposite approach. "We were playing just terrible," McHale said. "He came in really late -- the halftime went on and on on, and we just sat in there -- and K.C. just walked in, looked at us and said, 'You guys suck!' And walked out. We all looked at each other like, 'Oh man!' For K.C. to say that? 'Oh man! We'd better play better, because K.C. is really mad!' "

Mad still works today, but it can't be an 82-game thing. Minnesota's Kurt Rambis prides himself on being a teacher, but apparently can let 'er rip in certain stressed-out times. Like Saturday, when Video Minnesota was losing to New Jersey.

"If I had $100 for every four-letter word he said, I'd be a rich man," forward Kevin Love said of Rambis' rant.

Said McHale: "[Players get] upset too. But as a coach, you do kind of lose your mind. Then you look around, you look at all the players and you think, 'I'm just entertaining you more than anything else. I've got to get back into some specific basketball things to give you.' "

When it comes to making halftime sessions less enthralling to a general audience, it seems, the stifling effects of the camera and microphone are minor compared to the basketball demands of addressing Xs and Os.

When the Golden State Warriors recently found themselves down 66-38 at the half in Chicago, coach Keith Smart had to focus on adjustments to prevent Luol Deng and Derrick Rose from doubling the 21 and 18 points they already had scored in 24 minutes. "I got into them a little bit because two of their guys had career nights in the first half," Smart said afterward. His staff's instructions helped -- the Warriors stayed close in the second half -- but Video they still lost 120-90.

The leaks that night were too many and too big.

"Red Auerbach used to say you can only make one or two adjustments in a timeout or at halftime," McHale said. "I do remember a lot of coaches I played for coming in and saying, 'Hey, we've got to rebound a heck of a lot better and we've got to quit turning the ball over.' And you went out and did those things and you won.

"If you're trying to re-design the wheel at halftime you've got all kinds of issues."

Same goes for yelling, screaming and kicking at that wheel.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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