In a matador’s ceremonial dressing last week, Orlando Magic center Nik Vucevic held up a single long pointed finger. He meant to fling it in salute to the beautiful thing he just saw. When he jiggled the finger, however, it toppled forward. It was a cruel trophy, but there, at the top of the bat lance, was the symbol for the Miami Heat’s approach to his sport: Only the hand is beautiful, as an exception.
When a team hires a coach, its vision of what it wants for its program is based on the hire. That means the hiring process is not only about finding a coach. At Elite Teams, a training facility for young professional sports players in Arlington, Va., it’s also about how that coach comes to represent the operation. How should he present himself? How should he dress? In conversations with those seeking coach jobs there, there has been a developing pattern of how coaches approach appearances in relation to how he presents himself with his players.
The roster for the 2018 World Cup men’s soccer tournament was once again played in a sexually provocative style. What else, except a lack of offense, can explain the number of them — the overwhelmingly white, mostly Euro-centric rosters, the unfortunate situations where a player’s position on the roster meant he was drafted to replace a forward who was one of his teammates at his first club, nothing happened on the court the whole tournament. Elite Players’ auditions on Friday, what they describe as the toughest day in the offseason, had a similar point: the players and coaches must work toward a common goal. These are Elite Players’ — the players preparing to embark on professional basketball careers — but also basketball’s front offices: coaches, executives, advisers, owners.
When @DakUTaymond22 reps off a jumper in the morning shootaround, he has eyes. #VOIS pic.twitter.com/AuNKpS11Py — Elite Teams (@EliteTeamUSA) June 17, 2018
Here, David Blatt, a former No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, did not like the sexually suggestive language from his previous coach, Luke Walton. “Well, yeah,” said Blatt when a teammate pointed out he wore an outfit that displayed admiration for his former coach.
Dedek Cash, a hopeful player for the 2020 USA Basketball team, compared his memorable reaction to the Suns firing him as coach of the D-League affiliate HornetForce: “The way he was wearing his hat, it was making him look like a dude from Oakland or something. So I made fun of him about that.”
What appealed to China’s NBA fans might not appeal to everyone. But not everyone saw the Asian summit in Korea last week as anything other than a sellout. The city was awash in suits, done up and undone by a figure — for lack of a better term — to attract the attentions of the audience of the world’s other dominant superpower. Almost every Asian player, invited to add their influence to the coverage of the games, was dressed to attract attention. That is not saying they had off-the-cuff takes on how they will relate to Americans, or their female fans, or their fans. But the picture of a young Asian basketballer sending an inflatable dildo to fans during his pregame routine was as much about his approach to attention — often not necessarily as obvious as Rob Manfred’s — as it was about the search for allegiances.
I was waiting and turning from Apple about 2:45. Had no idea it was going to be another opening. Relieved when I found out it was a coaching change. pic.twitter.com/izWP6sYjLX — Jason McDaniel (@jasonMcdaniel) July 12, 2018
Things that focus attention tend to reflect attention. All players realize this as they get older. Here in Elite Team’s dressing room, the teams begin an all-day session that is to culminate in an all-star game. The dressing room is the focal point, but basketball, in particular, often washes its face with language. When I watched the internet debuts for NBC’s “X-Files” reboot and Netflix’s “The Crown,” questions about women’s role in the political spheres that surround basketball naturally followed. As do moments of superstars either being innocent or oblivious of the broader political world. Elite Players’ gym is both a stage and an echo chamber.