Back in the late 1990's, I was one of the dreamers. I was one of those people who thought that the internet would save the world from itself. I honestly believed that limitless information would lead to limitless knowledge, and that a new generation of enlightened master thinkers would transcend manipulation in all of its guises.
What I didn't figure on was that users would organize the World Wide Web into narrow ecosystems of selective knowledge. I had no idea that folks would gather together around cut-and-pasted selections of fact-bits in order to validate long-held beliefs. I was honestly surprised that very few minds were opened or changed or awakened. I downplayed the allure of non-physical virtual confrontation, and I was wrong to be optimistic. I thought the internet would teach us something other than what we already knew.
I thought the internet would forever destroy the boundaries that separate creators and consumers. Instead, the web is where consumers discuss consumable products with other consumers. Created works are judged and consumed so quickly, with such ruthless efficiency, a lot of creative types don't bother trying anymore. America has had superconsumers for a long time, but the Web birthed in a new breed of metaconsumer
. Now, we have hundreds of thousands of users with alphanumeric names and .JPG avatars, all submitting star ratings and "hot or nots," complaining about stuff, marking things FAIL or WIN, creating content without creating anything at all.
I fell in love with this medium over a decade ago, and watched as the interactive wonderland of the future turned out to be nothing more than Super TV. Search engines never forced people to put two or more disparate items or objects together, to force neurons to snap and crackle in new and uncomfortable ways. The W3C Consortium never bothered to include a tag in the HTML 4.0 specification. There was far more thought and energy put towards making a universe of online porn than there was towards challenging deep-seated assumptions.
Instead of changing everything, the internet made us more of what we already were.
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I don't know how to coach a basketball team. I led Team Light Blue at my local YMCA to a 1-6 record 11 years ago, and that's my lifetime record. I'll never forget my first win as a coach; only three players from the other team showed up, so it was a forfeit. I was ready to cut down the nets.
Nowadays, I deal with a lot of Division I head men's basketball coaches. I do enjoy talking to players after games; I'm about as tall as the average point guard and weigh about the same, so I can hang without being made fun of. But they're always careful of what they say around me, because they've been trained well about what one media-related slip-up can lead to, how it can define a player's career. Besides, I usually think their music sucks... so that's awkward.
I have more in common with the old white guys, except for the coaching knowledge part, so I'm usually with them. Every year, I talk to over a hundred coaches who toil below the Red Line every year.
If I can be allowed to over-generalize, head coaches generally fall into one of four categories. Some are determined to move on to greater things, and when they see the "mid-major guy" coming, they get bristly, over-professional, and abrupt. I don't forget those encounters, and I keep a list. When they take a million-dollar job in a Big Six conference, I cross them off. After 2008-09, all the names on my list are gone, as expected.
Some head coaches aren't quite as ambitious as that. They're comfortable in their positions, working at schools that don't treat men's basketball as a high priority. They feel content and bulletproof, and can withstand a few 20-loss seasons. Others are scared for their jobs, and I can see it in their eyes. They're nervous, jittery, always making excuses for losses. I've had a few blast me with angry messages when I've written things that reference the poor play of their teams.
I can't judge the scared ones. I can't call them out publicly; I understand their predicaments, and I know they're not fools. They've chosen a profession that demands perfection now and improvement later, to quote a dear friend. These coaches work as hard as they can, with wives and children counting on their continued employment. They all know they're one horrible season away from going back to high school, or working for a sleazy internet scouting service.
That's why I've never called for a coach that loses a lot to be fired. It's why I've never celebrated a termination based on poor performance. I know a lot of bloggers do things like that, but they have the luxury of distance. This is a serious business, and these are my friends. These are men who work in public with thousands of strangers filing regular job evaluations on them. I could never do that, could you? I could never put myself on the line every day like they do, and they have my full respect.
There's a fourth type of head coach that I run across, the rarest kind. There are some team leaders who aren't afraid of taking chances, who stay away from the best-athlete-available model that turns so many teams into mediocre messes. They dare to build their teams around fixed concepts conceived in advance, targeting recruitable players who will fulfill the mission and the dream.
Sometimes a team is built around the singular vision of one innovative coach. Other times, there's a tradition handed down from one staff to the next, over the course of a sustained period of basketball success -- the kind of run that typifies a winning tradition. This is what's meant by "brand of basketball," but there aren't that many programs at any level that qualify. Most teams' master plans are to outscore the competition, to put the ball in the basket more times than the other guys. They rely on hustle or guts or some other chicken-soup-for-the-soul.
But no matter how beautiful the season might be, or how pure a 0-0 (0-0) record looks right now, many of the 251 seasons in the Mid-Majority are over before they've started. Most teams are destined to simply survive the next four months, or to be college basketball's walking dead. Maybe your team is one of those that will fall short. You probably already know it, and it's making you hesitant to invest. If you can't sum up your team's identity in five words or less, your team's probably in trouble. That doesn't mean you have to stop paying attention; it's important to learn how to lose.
These hundreds of impending failures will have nothing to do with how unfair the world below the Red Line is, or how stacked the deck is against Division I's smaller schools. You don't have to spend $2 million on men's basketball to buy an imagination, and a unique approach to the art and craft of leading a team has nothing to do with TV time. Every coach has the freedom to stand out from the crowd, to take 100 shots and 50 3's a game or run cartwheel plays. The greatest coach in the history of Our Game won ten national championships in the pre-money era by finding parallels between teaching English and coaching hoops. The possibilities are endless, but rarely explored in full.
The reason why a lot of coaches don't go the creative route is because it's dangerous. Failure of the everyday kind is one thing, but a special catastrophic class of loserdom is reserved for those who fail with unfamiliar methods. They're made examples of, and system-wide chilling effects result.
So too few programs have pre-existing plans and recruit to an ideal, and too many find the best athletes available and hope everything works out. But every mid-major school that's won two or more games in recent years has had a clear and well-formed identity that has set them apart from the rest, and there's a lesson in that too.
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Our popular culture is full of stories, parables and assorted digestible stuff about the power of imagination. All Hollywood children's movies have some sort of overarching message about staying true to your aspirations, no matter how crazy or impossible your goals might seem. If your heart is in your dreams, no request is too extreme.
But there's nothing warm, fuzzy, safe or wonderful about imagination. Dreams can be dangerous, disruptive and destructive. Following your heart is such a subversive act that we only allow the least powerful people in our society -- children -- to do it. Active adult imaginations are severe liabilities, high risks. Fantasies are doors into failure and madness, desperation and insanity.
Imagination can lose you your job and livelihood, and put you out on the street with no place to turn. Imagination can lose you your life.
If you're going to be a visionary, much better to crib from those rebels and renegades who came before. Try modeling yourself after those folks in the Apple "Think Different" ads. Imagination worked out for those folks, and most of them didn't have to die for their dreams.
Before The Mid-Majority, there was never a website about traveling to small-college basketball games, one that's been as much about roadside philosophy as hoops. If there was, it didn't have a talking basketball as a mascot and didn't sell overpriced plush toys to survive. And there still hasn't been a website like this that's been financially successful or sustainable. I lost my job to protect it, I lost my wife to continue it, and I lost my health to sustain it. As far as paying the price for new ideas goes, I got off pretty easy.
My rewards haven't been financial or career-related. I've seen what it's like in Big Media, and I never want to go back. I've learned that it's more important to have a good audience than a big audience.
I've had the opportunity to live a very interesting life for the past five years as an accidental sportswriter, and The Mid-Majority has brought a lot of wonderful, brilliant, creative, imaginative and fearless people across my path. I'm can't wait for another season of your prose and poetry, your goofy songs and your refrigerator cartoons. I can't wait to see your snapshots of Bally's worldwide travels on our new message board. If this site inspires you to think about basketball in new ways, and to create interesting things, that was the point all along. Your efforts, in turn, inspire me to continue.
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