Giant Killing – Learning The Secret (ep3 post)
One of the cornerstones of Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball is “The Secret” — namely, winning in basketball has nothing to do with basketball itself.
What the hell does this mean? Well, any team can have talent — even the worst teams in the NBA have someone of worth, or else they’d never win any games. But there are a ton of teams with great talent that never seem to get over the hump and win a championship. (The 2000 Portland Trail Blazers, the 2002 Sacramento Kings, the Seattle Supersonics of the mid-’90s, the Utah Jazz teams of the late ’90s, etc.) That is because pure talent cannot win on its own: It comes down to how the individuals mesh as a whole; how they understand, accept and execute their specific roles on the team. How well they can squelch their egos and greed and contribute to victory.
Most sports series understand The Secret — after all, this is precisely what they are about, players coming together and realizing their roles on the team to the point where they can beat other teams way above their station. ETU clearly has talented players in guys like Murakoshi and Yoshida; however, the team still sucks, because Murakoshi is old, Yoshida is an asshole and the other players are either not ready to make The Leap (the young’uns) or fearfully clutching onto their spots (the old dudes). It’s the difference between Kevin Durant leading the league in scoring but also driving Oklahoma City to 50 wins and a playoff berth, and Monta Ellis scoring 25.5 points per game but Golden State only winning 25 games because that team is a fucking mess.
It’s easy to just rack up stats if you have enough talent. What’s more difficult is getting those same stats in a way that best positions the team for victory. Obviously Giant Killing is about soccer/football and not basketball, but the two sports seem fairly similar to me (in terms of the type of athleticism needed to succeed at the game, and also how team-oriented the game is), so The Secret holds up here too.
This team has plenty of problems: There’s a generation gap, they’re fractured into cliques and there hasn’t been one player who will emerge as a true leader. Tatsumi seems to be hedging his bets with Yoshida (the “Prince”), which is an interesting choice. He doesn’t come off as captain material at first glance — he’s arrogant, believes himself to be above the rules and just seems like the classic head case. He’s clearly talented both physically and mentally, but still, it comes off like asking Derrick Coleman to be your team captain. You’re just asking for trouble.
But there might be something to it. To be a strong team leader in sports, you need a competitive drive that borders on the obsessive, along with a strong personality. How else can one be expected to make a bunch of dudes with huge egos fall in line? Yoshida clearly has a hold on the team — everything stops when he enters the practice field, even though he basically acts like a dick and then leaves. There already exists a level of respect for him on the team. That isn’t something that is easy to earn. And he has at least some sort of competitive drive, or else he would have dogged it after being called out by Tatsumi.
Exactly how far that competitive drive goes, however, remains to be seen. ETU has been a loser for a while, but Yoshida was never asked to lead the team before now. He is the face of the team. That is plenty of motivation for a guy. But will he gun for his own stats, or will he sacrifice his ego for the sake of doing what it takes to win? Correct me if I’m wrong, but in soccer it seems a bit more difficult than in basketball to be a selfish bastard and be successful since you pretty much have to rely on your teammates at least to some extent to get ahead. Or perhaps the team itself will work itself around Yoshida’s considerable skills. That doesn’t exactly fly in the face of The Secret, either — every team needs someone to build around, after all.
Narutaki from Reverse Thieves posed a question on Twitter regarding jersey numbers in sports and their actual importance. Numbers are an interesting thing: They’re often used to pay homage to the past, and are also often a superstitious thing to ensure that much more success on the field. LeBron James, for instance, entered the league wearing No. 23 in honor of Michael Jordan (who famously wore No. 23 with the Chicago Bulls); next season, LeBron will be switching to No. 6 so that he can carve his own legacy instead of being identified with Jordan’s number.
Numbers are identity. Even 70-80 years later, people can still identify Babe Ruth with No. 3. I’ll always associate No. 32 with the Lakers’ Magic Johnson, and No. 33 with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It’s the same in Giant Killing: Tsubaki, one of the players who stands out most to Tatsumi, is being anointed with the No. 7 Tatsumi wore during his playing career. Tsubaki is, in a way, being declared the heir apparent to Tatsumi. It’s a lot of pressure, but at the same time, it’s also something that can be a confidence boost, being chosen as the one to represent the changing of the guard.