Cap's Corner - 4/19/10

Cap's Corner by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

What do you think about the role of the sports media today?
Todays sports media has become an arm of the sports entertainment business. By having an intense focus on the athlete the media have enabled themselves to present a 24/7 take on a particular athlete and the athlete themselves have in most cases cooperated with that type of coverage. When I first started to play pro ball in 1969 the media limited their focus to what occurred on the field of play for the most part and left the more personal aspects of an athletes life out of their reporting. When I retired the focus had expanded into all aspects of the athletes life and if there was some hint of scandal involved they were truly thrilled to present it to the the world. Most of this is probably due to the 24 hour news cycle that is the the norm these days. Any and every detail is fair game and can be relayed around the world in a matter of minutes making the life of any prominent person part of the goldfish bowl of celebrity. Sports stars are now as prominent as any other of the entertainment classifications in terms of public focus. The uproar over the Tiger Woods is a clear example of that development.

Since you had such longevity in your career, one of your real tasks towards the end was relating with players of a younger generation.   How did you go about doing that? How important is that skill for a coach, since there is always a generation gap between coaches and players?

I found the generation gap easy to bridge because I was able to reduce the basis for the conversation to one very simple thing: and that was success. The younger players wanted to succeed meaning that they wanted to become a part of the best team in the NBA. So everything we did together was focused on that goal and it made it possible for us to have a very direct and efficient relationship because we all had the same goals and we all wanted to get to the same place which made it easy to overcome the generation differences.

As a player that is looking to repeat as a champion and have repeated deep runs into the playoffs, how did you balance pacing yourself physically and mentally with giving maximum effort?
Its absolutely essential for anybody who wants to succeed over a long period of time to be committed to staying in shape. That is the most fundamental preparation and its also the hardest to maintain. I focused on the essential details such as conditioning and teamwork. If you just focus on essential details you will get there, everything else is just a distraction. Its absolutely essential for anybody who wants to succeed over a long period of time to be committed to staying in shape. That is the most fundamental preparation and its also the hardest to maintain. I focused on the essential details such as conditioning and teamwork. If you just focus on essential details you will get there, everything else is just a distraction.

Was there a facet to your game that you wished you had been able to develop more?
I wish that I had concentrated on shooting my free throws more efficiently earlier in my career. When I was in the first part of my career I shot them at about a 65%-70% rate. Towards the end of my career I was shooting 75%-80% range. I'm sure maturity had a lot to do with it.    

You have been around some incredibly successful coaches throughout your career, can you talk about the role of the coach as a teacher vs.
an organizer vs. a motivator?  In those 3 groups, what coaches would you point to as exemplifying those roles?
I have had the good fortune to have worked with great coaches at every level of my career. In high school my coach, Jack Donahue was the ultimate motivator. His sarcastic wit was his primary tool in keeping us focused. You did not want to be the object of his sharply sarcastic humor. His primary focus was effort. Good athletes who consistently make their best effort are the ones that succeed most often. Coach Donahue would tear you up if you didn't play with a passion to win but if you made the effort to do the right thing he would never berate you. He used the example of Bill Russell' Celtics as our template. Move the ball to the open man and hit the offensive boards on offense. Play tough one on one defense and always look to help a team mate who got beat. If you failed to pass the ball to an open player he would ask you if that player owed you money. If not, then why didn't you pass him the ball? We inevitably were a team with alot of assist that held our opponents to a low shooting percentage for that reason.

John Wooden was the ultimate teacher of teh game in my opinion. He broke the game down into its component parts, passing, shooting, dribbling, boxing out, rebounding, defensive stances and footwork. He would devise drills that made us execute those fundamentals and he would have us execute those drills at a progressively faster rate as the season wore on. By the time you had played for him for a couple of years you were able to do your thing with the best players around.

Professional coaches that I have played for have been their best when they could organize the players they had to coach. At the pro level a player should be motivated and have the fundamentals mastered. At the pro level the coach needs to keep his players working well as a unit. So he has to make sure that the team is in shape and they are able to play as a unit of five individuals night in and out. The natural chemistry of personalities working toward a common goal is the thing that a pro coach wants to achieve. When that happens we see the ultimate type of team. Five talented individuals that work together as a unit that can take advantage of its strengths and avoid being vulnerable to its weaknesses.