If I may quote from the Bible: “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests. But the son of man hath not where to lay his head.” Matthew 8:20. The meaning: Following Jesus wasn’t easy. It was a difficult road. The anointed one was an itinerant preacher, a friend to the dispossessed, a refuser of temptation. The embodiment of self-sacrifice, forgiveness, humility, inclusive fellowship, love. This I gather from the Episcopal Church—they’re liable to teach anything these days. Frankly, in these troubled times, the world could use more Jesuses. I know Muslims might object, since they believe that Jesus was a prophet but wasn’t divine. Not holy? Jesus? Preposterous, obviously. Jesus is the Son of God. How could he not be holy?
But the point is this: in order to engage in self-sacrifice, discipline, and abstention, you need a leader to show the way. The path isn’t always clear; the rewards may seem out of reach. I’m not saying that The Captain isn’t a strong leader. He is. But sometimes on a team where there are a lot of shooters and few passers, when guys aren’t looking to distribute the rock, it requires an extraordinary presence to demand that players sacrifice part of their game for the betterment of the team. We have two talented guards who like to have the ball in their hands as much as possible. The problem is that it can leave the rest of the guys without any touches. To get us to play as a team? It may require Jesus.
Against the Pistons, there were stretches where English, our point guard, would dribble down the court and force the issue no matter how many defenders were in front of him. If there was no transition game, then he would advance the ball past midcourt and, rather than make an early pass, would hold on to the ball, dribbling and scanning the floor. Without much ball movement, Coach’s Son, hands itchy and fidgety, couldn’t wait to fire it off, and so a shot would be launched the moment he touched the ball. Rickets, the talent manager, frustrated on the bench, exhorted Coach’s Son to keep moving and run off a pick so we can get him an open look, rather than forcing shots. Coach’s Son is probably the best shooter in the league and just needs to focus on better shot selection.
The sports world is littered with stories of coaches who have a system and have to sell it to their increasingly self-interested charges. Do you think NBA All-Star Michael Redd, fresh from signing a six-year $90-million deal, is particularly keen to hear what coach Terry Stotts—lifetime record of 52-85—has to tell him? Phil Jackson explained that ball movement and hustling back on defense, even when it is not your man who is ahead of you on the court, are the two toughest things to get professional players to execute. Pat Riley keeps a log of how many shots are contested per game, which he believes is a direct expression of defensive effort. Both icons somehow manage to overcome the modern players’ individualistic tendencies and get their stars to play as a team.
This is why Bill Parcells, The Big Tuna, is so valuable. Forget about the improbability of his physical dimensions: that strange, lumpy abdomen, the man boobs. It’s not about how he looks in a tight-fitting Cowboys-issued short-sleeve polo. It’s about how good our Nets would be if he took up coaching amateur basketball and patrolled our sideline. Celebrity ego getting out of hand? New Yawk checking himself into a game without asking the coach? Suspended. Talk back to him, throw a towel in his direction like wide receiver Antonio Bryant in a fit of pique? Bye. See ya. Team members would shape up or they’d be crying in their Robert Kuo-designed Wavelet hammered-copper tub spas with alternating pulses of whirlpool and air jets.
We could, in fact, afford a coach. If we all pitched in to the collection pot, we could make a competitive offer. The onus would be on The Silver Fox. He could sell some of his art collection or maybe a parcel of Holmby Hills real estate. I’m relatively certain a few locks from his lustrous silver mane would create a bidding frenzy among chemo patients. If The Big Tuna were caught in the icy waters of the Atlantic and shipped to the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, where Thunnus thynnus is a delicacy, he could fetch $100,000 easy. That’s like pocket change to The Silver Fox. See an authentic Salmon P. Chase $10,000 bill on the sidewalk? Not worth the Fox’s time to pick it up. Network sitcoms pay residuals in gold ingots. Brink’s trucks back up traffic as they line up to dump the lucre in his driveway. Most of the time, he just burns it as fuel in his handcrafted soapstone stove. Sometimes he gives a couple bricks to the bathroom-scrubbing maid if he ate Indian food the preceding night. Parcells made over $4 million per year, exposing the undervaluation of prime-grade sashimi vis-à-vis American football, but, with Foxy leading the way, we could take a run.
For now, our able Captain helmed the ship. We arrived at the high-school gymnasium on the Westside where we play our games, signed the names of guests who would be attending, and shuffled past the two sentries who guard the entrance. We then walked over to the trainer table to get our feet taped. I never actually like the tape job, because it makes me feel like a Chinese girl, binding me so tightly that it’s not until halftime that it loosens enough to allow for free locomotion. I’m too slow already, but it’s a part of the NBA facsimile, so I usually partake. The bleachers were filling up, as it was an early game. I tried not to think too much about our opponents, deciding to try and stay loose and have more fun this year. A few players were stretching behind their benches, and others had their beanies pulled low, their heads bobbing to their iPods, preparing for battle.
From the opening jump against the Pistons, we knew it was going to be a tough game. They play well as a unit, move the ball, and have some athletes. They also have a center who can leap out of the gym and erase shots. After a tightly contested first half, English rifled the ball to me on a fast break and I went up for a bunny, when, out of nowhere, the ball was sent flying off the court. I couldn’t believe how quickly their center made up so much ground. There is nothing quite as humiliating as getting swatted in front of a gym full of fans. The collective oooooohh of the crowd rings in your ears the rest of the game.
The going got tough and our two stars, English and Coach’s Son, felt they needed to step it up and do their thing. They didn’t have faith in us. Not that they can be blamed—they are clearly better than the remainder of the team, and English is as good as anyone in the entire league. But in order to win you have to play selfless basketball. You’ve got take a page out of Jesus’s playbook. As crunch time neared, the Pistons continued to swing the ball and we continued to stagnate and watch our bell cow, English, try to do it all. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough. The Pistons beat us by 5 points and sent us to a humbling 1-1 start. The question, then, must be asked—and if anyone would know the answer it is The Captain, daily communicant and lover of all things Jesus: Given our team chemistry, WWJD? Perhaps some postgame reflection at the grotto at Saint Monica’s Catholic church would provide him the answer.