Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The NBA Analyst/Philosopher

By Keenan Mann

It may be a stretch to call Jeff Van Gundy, the former NBA Coach and current NBA analyst a philosopher, but if you have a philosophy and you share it with others, what do you call it?

For now, I'll stick with philosopher.   But I'll forgive anyone who's not yet ready to bestow that moniker.  Socrates he is not, after all .  But I think even that great ancient Athenian philosopher would approve of some of what Van Gundy comes up with.

The former coach of the New York Knicks and the Houston Rockets makes watching professional basketball games entertaining, even when the actual play on the court is completely lacking in entertainment value. I think it's because he tells it like it is, or at least the way he sees it, good or bad. Take this on-air quote for example:

For the uninitiated, Kyle Korver is one of the best shooters in the NBA but he can't jump very high. The truth can be very funny.

The truth can also be very powerful as Van Gundy's next observation demonstrated.  He made it during broadcast a few weeks ago.  There was a sequence in which a player completely missed his defensive assignment on consecutive plays.  In complete exasperation, Van Gundy said something like, '...this guys is a professional, and he knows better.'  At that point another analyst voiced his agreement with Van Gundy, who wasn't yet done making his point.  After a few more seconds passed, Van Gundy said, "I'm sorry.  If you know better, you gotta do better".  I remember immediately being struck by the power of what he said.  And I also remember one of his co-analysts remarking that he knew Van Gundy was a great coach but had no idea he was a philosopher as well.

After giving a little more thought to Van Gundy's idea in light of real life non-basketball situations, I decided the phrase needed a slight bit of tweaking.  After all, there a very few things you have to do better based on your knowledge.  I actually can't think of any, though that doesn't mean none exist. But I think it is true that if you know better you can do better.

In other words, better knowledge does make better actions (and results) possible, but it doesn't guarantee them. Take the misguided young people in Baltimore for example.  Clearly they knew better and clearly they could have done better, yet they didn't.  The truth can also be sad.

On the other hand,  take ex-NBA player David Harrison who fell so far after his stint in the league that he went to work at McDonald's only to quit after a few weeks because he was so conspicuous.   What if he had known better in the good times?  What if he had known that life is a 99 rounder and it is folly to declare that you've "made it" at such a young age?  What if he had known that not everybody who yells at you and tries to push you  dislikes you?

Or take the many people struggling under credit card and student loan debt.  I would argue that at least some of them didn't know better would have had a chance at doing better had someone shared with them some detailed knowledge about the do's and don't of borrowing money.

So maybe Van Gundy is a philosopher and maybe he isn't.  In either case, the idea of knowing better and then doing better is worth serious consideration.  In that vein, I'm thinking about starting the KB/DB club. Perhaps we'll even get some t-shirts made.

Stay tuned.


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