Thursday, April 23, 2009

Who wants it the most? STAYING HUNGRY

Great article from Chris Broussard of ESPN the Mag about what it takes to win in the NBA playoffs: HUNGER

Here is an excerpt, with a link to the story:

Hunger is not an emotion, not quite a mentality and certainly not a skill. What it is, though, is as vital as anything drawn up on a whiteboard or honed in a gymnasium. Coaches come up with syrupy speeches and perform wild pregame stunts in an effort to generate it, and moderately talented players -- "energy guys" -- earn millions for providing a form of it. It's unquantifiable and only vaguely identifiable, and that allows every baller to think he's hungrier than the man he's facing up. Only some of them, of course, have a case. "It's that old cliché: 'Don't talk about it, be about it,'" says Hornets coach Byron Scott, who won three rings with the Lakers. "A lot of teams talk about how hungry they are, how dedicated they are. But until you go out and show it, it's just talk."

Now, some examples of hunger are textbook: Mine are Willis Reed limping onto the court in the 1970 Finals. Dominique and Bird dueling it out in Game 7 in 1988. MJ's 38-point performance while battling defenders and the flu in the 1997 Finals. Derek Fisher sinking a clutch three in 2007, an hour after flying 2,000 miles from his daughter's eye-cancer surgery.

Where will it come from this year? Who's going to commit to playing D for all 48? Who's going to fight through screens or risk lumps and lacerations lunging into the stands after the rock? But know this: It's not about physical effort only. That's the easy part. The hard part is using discipline and maturity to apply your brain as much as your body. Take it from a reporter who's spent a lot of days with players during series: There are guys who scour scouting reports and those who skim them -- and the difference is clear come tip-off. When I look at a player and try to guess how he'll impact a series, I begin by asking how dialed-in he is, on off-days and on-nights. Does he watch film in free time, seeking every edge possible, or just in coach- mandated sessions? Does winning mean enough to him that he'll sacrifice touches, feeding the hot hand even if it's not his? These are the kinds of questions coaches and captains ask all season as they scan the practice court and locker room. If they don't like the answers they see, it's their obligation to ratchet up the hunger quotient.
Are we a hungry team?

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