BRIAN SHAW: The Eternal Voice of Reason
Flash back seven years ago…
With precious time ticking away on the Lakers 1999-2000 title hopes, the team desperately needed a spark after falling behind by a seemingly insurmountable 15 point deficit with only 10 minutes to go in the Western Conference Finals versus a hungry Portland Trailblazers team.
With an impassioned timeout speech and a stunning three-point barrage to bring the Lakers back from the brink of elimination, Brian Shaw ignited a comeback for the ages, sending the yellow-clad, title-thirsty STAPLES Center crowd into a state of bedlam not witnessed in the City of Angels since Magic Johnson and his Showtime teammates won the Lakers' last title in 1988.
The former Lakers guard remembers his first championship fondly—an accolade that would not have been possible without his uncanny leadership and timely shooting.
“Coming here, that first year with Phil Jackson’s and going through all the stuff we did to get to that point and to bring it (the championship) back to L.A. and to see all the joy it brought to fans was surreal,” said Shaw.
Seven years and three NBA titles later, the former University of California, Santa Barbara standout is still finding ways to save the Lakers when it matters most, sharing his vast knowledge of the game as an integral part of Phil Jackson’s coaching staff.
A MESSAGE FROM THE COACH:
Although Shaw is no longer donning his #20 purple and gold jersey, he still plays a pivotal role in determining the outcome of the game for the Lakers—a position that Shaw says was years in the making.
“People throughout my career told me that’s what I was going to do,” said Shaw.
“Frank Hamblen was the coach here when I was playing and said, 'You’re going to be a coach one day.' He started giving me scouting reports and invited me into coaching meetings and stuff like that so he kind of encouraged me in going in this direction as I was getting into the latter part of my career. He was the final straw that really pushed me in this direction.”
As fellow assistant coach Frank Hamblen hinted, the signs were there long before Shaw ended his playing days.
“I felt like, even when I was playing for him (Phil Jackson), he allowed me to coach a little while I was playing. I guess he saw that in me,” said Shaw.
In building toward his current position, Shaw took a slight detour in the initial years following his retirement.
“The first year and a half, I was actually scouting, doing the college scouting for the team,” said Shaw. “I was living up in Oakland—that’s where home is for me, where I was born and raised—so I was able to spend more time with family, get out and see some young college students and spend a lot more time fishing, which is my favorite pastime.”
BIT BY THE COACHING BUG:
However, the coaching bug had already bitten Shaw and when the opportunity to advance arose, the former guard took full advantage, even if the adjustment has not always been easy.
“It’s tough because your mind still says you can play. You get new rookies that come in every year who think they’re hot stuff so they constantly want to challenge you,” said Shaw.
“You see areas of their game that they need to work on, stuff that you can do now. The temptation to get out there is tough sometimes to deal with because you don’t want to take away from their development, but at the same time you still feel like you can do it so you have to hold back.”
Resisting the urge to jump back into action on the court is not the only part of Shaw’s changing role that has proven difficult as the former guard reveals that he also misses the camaraderie and competition afforded by the NBA lifestyle.
“I played for 15 years and you spend a lot of times on planes and busses, going out to eat at the hotels…and going to war with guys out on the floor so just that companionship and camaraderie that you have with all the guys,” said Shaw.
Even if he does have the desire to suit up on some days, Shaw says it would take a month of rigorous working out and training just to get himself into adequate enough shape to play for 10 minutes a game.
“Having not played in so long—even though my mind tells me I could—my body would probably be saying something different,” said Shaw. “My body has let me know that it was time to go and move on. I’m 41 now, but I miss playing.”
PREPARING FOR BATTLE:
With that acceptance also came a new focus, with Shaw’s goals shifting from improving his play on the court to determining what he can do to become a better coach off of it. The process has been both surprising and gratifying for Shaw as he neither expected the often intense time commitment nor the direct correlation between his mentoring and the Lakers play.
“As a coaching staff, we come in a couple of hours before practice every day,” said Shaw. “We watch film, get the practice plans and the games together. If the guys want to shoot afterwards, we have to stay and shoot with them. Even when you go home, you’re watching film and games of other teams you’re about to play, so it’s non-stop.”
Shaw says his coaching duties range widely from day-to-day, depending on upcoming opponents, player availability and other factors.
“Our responsibilities are pretty much all across the board,” said Shaw. “There are no first, second or third assistants. It changes from day-to-day from getting the guys loose and warmed up to critiquing little things. He (Phil Jackson) allows us to speak up. Then, there’s days when he sits on the sidelines and says, ‘you guys do it.’”
As part of a new mentoring strategy this season, Jackson divided the Lakers players into small groups, with an assistant coach assigned to each.
“In my group that I kind of have to stay in their face this year, I have Kobe Bryant, Coby Karl, Maurice Evans and Kwame to work with on their development on the court and as men off the court,” said Shaw.
As to his own development as one of the most respected assistant coaches in the league, Shaw gives credit to his former coach and current partner Phil Jackson.
“He has so much patience and that’s probably the biggest thing I’ve learned or seen in him, just how much patience he has,” said Shaw. “I knew he was patient when he was coaching me, but now that I’m on the coaching side and I’m with him all those hours that I was spending with players, he’s just always at ease, pretty relaxed, doesn’t get overly excited about anything and lets things work themselves out.”
THE NEXT PLATEAU:
While Jackson certainly helped to foster his talent as a coach, Shaw’s eternal voice of reason has provided solace for the Lakers for more than seven years.
As a city built on star power, the Lakers have grown accustomed to proudly displaying the jerseys of legends of yesteryear high up above the rafters in STAPLES Center.
However, for as many Magic Johnsons and Wilt Chamberlains in the Lakers illustrious history, there have been an equal number of Brian Shaws. Shaw is no small commodity though as the consummate professional’s innate ability to lead has transcended into an entirely new generation of Lakers players.
“I’m just recently removed from the game so I think the guys in a way still look at me as a player,” said Shaw. “I challenge guys by playing devil’s advocate by telling them what they can’t do or they’re going to miss this shot to make them say, ‘I’m going to show you,’ and make them do it.”
True to form, Shaw has never been one to hide his opinion or back away from a challenge. Even after helping to extinguish enough firestorms to employ a permanent L.A.F.D. squad during his Lakers tenure—and torching more than a few opponents of his own—Shaw’s steadying influence continues to resonate with players.
“They confide some things in me,” said Shaw. “They are probably more intimidated by Phil and more relaxed and at ease around me.”
With three years of coaching already under his belt, Shaw hopes to one day parlay his experience into a head coaching role.
“I’d like to,” said Shaw. “Definitely, that’s the next challenge, to try and see if you can get a group of guys and motivate them and push the right buttons and get them to perform at their peak. I’m learning from one of the best now, so I’m just trying to prepare myself for whenever that day comes.”Although Shaw’s lasting impact with the team will forever remain in Lakers lore, should the opportunity arise, few could argue that there is a more deserving candidate.