Friday, 28 January 2011


Mind Games

By Tim David Harvey

Boston Celtics Kevin Garnett reacts after dunking against the Washington Wizards during the first quarter at the Verizon Center in Washington on December 10, 2009. UPI/Alexis C. Glenn Photo via Newscom

It's been said before, this game is as much about the mental as it is the physical. Skill versus will, motion versus emotion. During a recent water-cooler esque conversation about a game with a die-hard, this writer was further inspired by this notion.

A couple weeks past, in a prime Eastern Conference clash, the Boston Celtics took on the Orlando Magic, or should it be said Kevin Garnett took on Dwight Howard. A lot was to be said for what determined the game, beyond star players and key shots. The mental battle between Garnett and Howard played the most significant role however. The two differing sides of passion, from K.G.'s emotion to Dwight's smiling devotion. It was time to see and hear who was tougher then the rest. Sure there is nothing wrong with Dwight's fun and happy go lucky approach to the game but it was 'Da Kid's', snarling, growling, glaring, staring and chalk tossing and chest pumping, thumping passion that was King Kong. K.G. talked so much trash that he needed a sanitary towel. Sure trash talk is throw away but it's also an important way of throwing off your competitor and getting into their heads.

Sure on another night, Dwight's constant smiling at everything may have been Garnett and Boston's plight but not last week. Kevin's passion and heart was too much, attacking and screwing with Magic. Still this is just the tricks of K.G.'s trade, no foul play here. Just look at the highlight reels of this Boston great, you'll see just as many slow-mo jersey tugs, heart thumps and head pounds, as lay-ups, dunks and blocks (and there's a lot of those). Nine times out of ten the only thing not standing up about Kevin at the end of the game is the elastic on his jersey...and you can bet he'll still be talking, even after the presser.

See 'trash talk' is more than just 'your momma so fat she's sitting next to everyone in the Garden', it's more than jokes, it's a tactic not to be played with. Even Mr. T couldn't tell K.G. to stop his jibber jabbering, or Gary Payton for that matter. You best believe that the legendary point guards mouth was damn near as effective as his handle on defence. The D student was so good at getting under his opponents uniform mentally and physically that he frustrated everyone from Sam Bowie to Michael Jordan. It's this play that made sure 'The Glove' had his hand on more games then Goldstein.

Payton's one season team-mate on the Lakers, Rick Fox was another great instigator. A great defender and one of the best game changers that didn't show up on the stat-sheet. Sure it isn't recorded but everyone in the Los Angeles and Sacramento areas of Cali know how killer Rick's game was. Especially Peja Stojakovic who paid the cost for Fox's no holes barred D. In those legendary Laker/King series the Lakers where crowned victorious because Rick made it virtually impossible for Peja to take any shots at the throne. Stojakovic's killer three point shot was dead and out the water as the European sensation couldn't wet anything. This shooter was in the foreign territory of not getting his own way, thanks to Fox's sly off the ball defence. A style that is mental as it is physical, as will destroying as it is skill employing. Sure you have to be strong, athletic and fast to prevent someone from getting touches but it's vital to have a mental edge too. When this D is in effect the only buckets will be left for tears, because these mind games really get to opponents. Now who's left playing?

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant looks on during a break against the Houston Rockets in the first half of Game 6 of the Los Angeles Lakers vs. Houston Rockets Western Conference semifinals at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas on May 14, 2009. (UPI Photo/Aaron M. Sprecher) Photo via Newscom Photo via Newscom

Rick's dawg Kobe is a doberman on defence two and just think how much mental pressure comes with playing one-on-one with one of the greatest of all time? Knowing he's watching your every move and then you have to deal with every one of his. Kobe recently faced former team-mates Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmer in New Jersey just mere months removed from better days. Sure off court it was all love but on the floor Kob made sure there was "no mercy" just like he's reiterated before. This killer instinct, which we've talked about before is exactly why Kobe's murder game has so much conviction, for better or hearse.

Bryant's back-up, Shannon Brown has his back in more ways the one. From dunks to blocks and more dunks, Shannon is the true definition of a spark-plug, re-charging his teams energy in crucial lows, emphasis on crucial. You see every minute of a game is important and this underrated, spark of energy can sometimes be 'clutch' even with two quarters left in the bank. Bench legend, Vinnie Johnson was nicknamed 'The Microwave' during his Detroit days in the 80's. Nothing complicated here but sometimes it's the simple things, when the Pistons needed more fuel, they went to someone who could heat up and be ready in seconds, which sometimes in basketball is all the time in the world, all the time you have and all the time you need.

It can be argued that Chris Anderson has as much love as Carmelo Anthony in Denver (even before now). Sure he'll never average 30 or be a high-roller baller like his rap Birdman namesake but baby's got talent. From dunks to blocks, he gets the fans off their seat and puts the opponents on their backsides. He's a real momentum changer and just like gravity all you need is a little push for things to quickly spiral from one way to another. This jokers no clown he's the Nuggets ace in the hole. The high socks, tattoos, accessories and Vanilla Ice hair are all part of the unique mind-set of a guy who can bring the energy like M.C. Hammer. Energy is such an important factor of basketball and all spirits. When your bodies out of fuel and your running on fumes in need of a pick me up, the reserves of energy come from inside, the mind. That's how you then take care of business, by 'minding' it. Think on.

There are an infinite amount of examples here that we can not put it all in one, let alone two pieces. A sound state of mind speaks volumes and that makes the winners sing while the losers are left trying to hit the right notes. It's evident in any for of Basketball from Motown to California, it's supreme in all the three degrees, the college, the pro's and the streets. In high-school and college there's that undying passion from every contributor, one through to the fan sitting up top at the back. Everyone is passionate, excited that young exuberance that those past it wish they never passed on. From replica game sweats to instruments these guys are as bold as brass, with passion perspiring out of every pore. Same perspiration in the streets whether it's coming off a Jordan replica or a white tee that's now a shade of off grey. From one on one to 'I'm Mike your Mars'. From five versus, whoever you got, to next basket wins, it's all the same trend.

Some people wish they saw the same passion, the same exuberance in the big leagues, in the NBA. Trouble is they aren't looking. From the Birdman to the cash money of courtside, armchair fan Mark Cuban. From the guy taking the last bucket to the guy on the bench in a suit, just glad he isn't in the D-League, but just wishing he could play. From Kobe to the next 10 day. From the look in K.G.'s eyes to the white in Dwight's smile. It's all there. It's a state of mind.

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