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.

14 Responses to “Giant Killing – Learning The Secret (ep3 post)”

  1. I think The Secret really applies to anything competitive in nature. For instance, I play Team Fortress 2 a lot. I can and have lead both teams on the scoreboard, occasionally by a wide margin. It doesn’t make a difference if the rest of my team can’t work together. A team of “good” players can easily take down one or two “great” players if the rest of the team plays poorly. Instead of winning, the best possible outcome becomes a stalemate.

    Incidentally, I think this is why Tatsumi predicts a draw for this match. They have players with the skills to brute force a tie, but they don’t have the coordination to do any better. In order to exceed his standards, as he puts it, they’ll have to suddenly pull their heads out of their asses and work as a team.

    • Yeah, definitely. I usually use basketball as an example because I’m so familiar with it, but the TF2 example works just as well. You’ve got defined roles, and if anyone steps out of them too much, the whole team suffers.

      And, yeah, I think Tatsumi expects a draw. If they execute perfectly, then he’ll have the element of surprise, and if he is able to adjust his strategies to counter the other team’s attack, then it’s not out of the realm of possibility to win. But it all depends on how well everyone works together, of course.

  2. I have to say that I’m glad that you’re blogging this show. If I were less lazy I’d blog it too because I love it so much so at least one of is blogging it and you seem to know more about sports than I do anyway :)

    There’s nothing more important than ‘the secret’. Within a Canadian context, one only has to look at the debacle that was the 1998 Winter Olympics when Canada didn’t win anything in Olympic Hockey and we had on paper one of the greatest hockey teams of all time playing. Those guys were arrogant, undisciplined and lost when it counted over and over again.

    • Oh god, there’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a national team fuck up. So embarrassing. From, like, 1996 until the 2008 Summer Olympics, the U.S. basketball teams were just glorified all-star teams without any thought as to how they would mesh on the court, and how their individual games complemented each other. Super lame.

  3. I rarely read episodic reviews of shows, but I may make this an exception since I love Giant Killing but know so little about sports. It was an interesting insight!

    -Narutaki

  4. I think the Prince is a lot like Cristiano Ronaldo. He thrives off having his ego stroked and Tatsumi giving him the captaincy is like him saying ‘I know you are awesome, now prove it to everyone else’. It’s an odd move but who am I to doubt Murakoshi.

    The number thing is a much bigger deal in football when it comes to the number 10. The number 10 was worn by both Pele and Maradona and is traditionally worn by the best player on the team. Messi wear the number 10 for Barcelona for example. In fact, the number 10 role is used to describe the player who stands just off the main striker who does all the fancy tricks and scores the goals. The number 10 is the talisman

    • Haha, yeah, sometimes you gotta suck it up and placate the athletes. Not too much, but enough to motivate ‘em to kick some ass.

      And nice info about the number — just goes to show how powerful these kinds of symbols are in sports!

  5. Awesome post on this, I was thinking of The Secret and this series as soon as I picked up The Book of Basketball (still at about page 200 of it). It’s a fairly obvious thing to pick up on in sports series, but usually ends up being resolved by cliched montages or bonding in the midst of some sort of fight.

    The point about squad numbers is also important, because I’d imagine having a number between 1-11 is significant for a player as defining their position as part of the starting eleven. The ETU number 7 shirt might have as much significance to their fans as say Manchester United’s number 7 (Cantona/Beckham/Ronaldo). Though you get to places like Italy where they have no meaning at all with players wearing 77, 80, and 94.

    • That just reminds me of American football — that sport has like five bajillion numbers since there are so many players, so the numbers are almost meaningless, except for the quarterbacks, and REALLY famous position players.

  6. fathomlessblue Says:

    I can totally see the Christiano Ronaldo/Prince connection. Just another thing this series is doing so well, using famous current and classic examples of players/managers and tactics and making them relevent with the show.

    The English national team is a perfect example of Bill Simmons’ secret; players mostly coming from arguably the greatest league in football (premiership) and collectively having one of the lineups of individual talent at any given time. Yet together they never seem to live up to their potential. I suppose their difference to ETO is that the latter team doesn’t compose of players of rival teams (although you could guess otherwise at times) or have the same amount of pressure to succeed.

    The internal rivalries is a serious problem that needs to be nipped in the bud and quick. The Netherlands is a fairy recent example of how a team with such problems can underperform and loose supporter confidence rapidly

    • I guess in a sort of parallel to the Pistons teams that Simmons uses in his book, you now have the England manager, Fabio Capello, insisting on having Emile Heskey in the squad despite the fact he isn’t productive for his club at all. Then you also have Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski guaranteed World Cup spots even though they aren’t playing well either. I think it would be interesting to see if The Secret is in play here, but it would be hard to determine until after the World Cup.

  7. [...] Still definitely liking Giant Killing‘s approach to teamwork and structure. I’m now certain this series is aware of The Secret. [...]

  8. [...] real giant killing and realistic narrative. It could probably be pointed out that the lessons of The Secret could apply to this Nagoya team, but I’ve seen far too many football games where the more [...]

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