I was watching Allen Iverson drop 51 points on the Los Angeles Lakers last week and I wondered what Iverson could have done as a player if he’d been more willing to play a team game. When Iverson played for the Philadelphia 76ers, the team switched its practices to the afternoon because Iverson slept in late. Not that it helped much.
When his coach at the time, Larry Brown, criticized him for missing practices, Iverson went on a two and a half minute rant about the insignificance of practice in which he mentioned the word practice 19 times in some variation of the following sentence:
We talking about practice, man. How silly is that?
The best NBA player in history was Michael Jordan and he was the first NBA player who was promoted as a global individual star. The players around Jordan were role players, Jordan most certainly was not.
Bill Russell was the second best player in NBA history in my book. He won nine championships as a player and two more as a player-coach. But he was a role player, believe it or not. He rebounded and played defense.
There was no free agency in Russell’s time, the players did whatever management told them to do and the league marketed teams rather than players. Today it’s the opposite: players dictate team moves, individual stars are marketed globally, and it’s the stars who determine what time practice starts.
Is tennis developing the same star syndrome? Tennis is obviously an individual sport but are its young stars dictating their own careers to their detriment?
I’m thinking, in particular, of Andy Murray. He recently fired his coach Brad Gilbert and announced that he has assembled a team of advisors instead of hiring a new coach. Murray is essentially decentralizing the power a coach would have and placing himself in charge:
I wanted to take the opportunity to be in control of what I was doing. I feel much more relaxed about my tennis now, as I feel like I’m in charge of the decisions. The responsibility is on me to sort things out, and that’s the way I wanted it to be.
Is this a good thing? Can Murray continue to improve if his coach has little effective power?
Roger Federer manages without a coach just fine but he is the very, very rare exception and he had already won slams by the time he jettisoned his first coach, Peter Lundgren, and hired Tony Roche to work with him part-time.
Murray is 20 years old and somewhat immature. His tennis isn’t immature, his mind is. He rants and raves at himself and generally gets in his own way. Twice this year he bageled an opponent but lost the match. I’d wonder what goes through his mind but I don’t have to, he spits it out for everyone to hear.
Gilbert’s method of dealing with Murray’s raving was to tell Murray to direct it at him. Part of what the British Lawn Tennis Association got when it was paying Gilbert $1 million was a conduit for Murray’s frustration. As Murray walked off the court after injuring his wrist in Hamburg, you could hear him swearing at Gilbert.
Murray is a pretty smart tennis player and he might make this work. But my guess is that he could use stronger direction than he’s going to get on two fronts. First, he needs strong direction to prod him into maturing mentally. Second, he not only needs to improve his conditioning to play longer matches better but to avoid injuries.
I’ve gotten to the point that I roll my eyes when he tweaks yet another body part on the court but manages to win the match anyway.
What do you think? Is Murray ready to be the master of his own ship at 20 years old?
Player of the Year
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