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    Bill Russell Paved the Way for Black Coaches to Defy Doubters

    When getting hired as a Black coach seemed “far-fetched,” as one coach said, Russell showed that it could be done — and that it could lead to championships.Bill Russell and Red Auerbach came to an agreement.Auerbach, the longtime Boston Celtics coach, had confided in Russell that he planned to retire from coaching. Russell and Auerbach had created a dynasty together, with Russell dominating at center and Auerbach cementing their championship victories with plumes of celebratory cigar smoke.They would each write down their top-five preferred coaches to succeed Auerbach and consider any name who landed on both lists.They found no matches. Auerbach had already approached Russell about taking over the job and continuing on as a player, but Russell, who had witnessed the toll coaching took on Auerbach, quickly rebuffed him.Now, after the lists crisscrossed candidates, Russell reconsidered his position and figured nobody else, beyond Auerbach, could coach Bill Russell quite like Bill Russell.“When Red and I had started to discuss my becoming coach, there were some things we didn’t have to say,” Russell wrote in his book about his friendship with Auerbach, “Red and Me: My Coach, My Lifelong Friend,” in 2009. “For example, when I was finally named publicly, I didn’t know that I had just become the first African American coach in the history of major league sports.”It was 1966, and the distinction did not cross his mind until Boston news media members informed him. “When I took the job, one reporter wrote seven articles focusing on why I shouldn’t be coaching the Celtics,” Russell wrote.Russell, who died Sunday at 88, would go on to win two championships as the head coach of the Celtics, his 10th and 11th championship rings. He would also coach the Seattle SuperSonics and the Sacramento Kings and inspire a generation of Black players to try their hand at coaching, too. The skepticism that accompanied his hiring in Boston is perhaps less of an issue now, but still a factor in whether Black people are hired to coach in the N.B.A. today. Bernie Bickerstaff, who is Black, watched Russell take over as head coach of the Celtics just as he was about to enter into a life of coaching. He began as an assistant at the University of San Diego under Phil Woolpert, who had coached Russell at the University of San Francisco.Bernie Bickerstaff, who has been the head coach of five N.B.A. teams, said he was inspired by Bill Russell.Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images“At that time, you didn’t think about anything like that,” said Bickerstaff, who became the coach of the SuperSonics in 1985. “In fact, if you’re sitting back and you’re a young Black at that time, it seemed far-fetched.”Russell, the coach, mimicked Russell the player. He was a longtime civil rights activist who coached the Celtics during the assassinations of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. “It rubbed a lot of Bostonians the wrong way,” Russell wrote in his 2009 book. “At the time, Boston was a totally segregated city — and I vehemently opposed segregation.”He demanded respect and competed fiercely during an era when he had no assistant coaches. He played and coached the Celtics for three seasons before closing out the N.B.A.’s most successful and long-lasting championship reign.“That speaks volumes in itself for who he was as a person and a humanitarian, if you understand the culture of this country, especially in certain places,” said Jim Cleamons, who is Black and became the coach of the Dallas Mavericks in 1996.Al Attles and Lenny Wilkens followed Russell as the next Black N.B.A. head coaches. They, like Russell, led teams to championships. It took a while for the rest of the professional sports world to catch up. Frank Robinson, Russell’s former high school basketball teammate, became Major League Baseball’s first Black manager, in Cleveland, in 1975. Art Shell became the N.F.L.’s first Black head coach in the modern era for the Oakland Raiders in 1989.“Bill Russell was an inspiration, period, with coaching,” Bickerstaff said. “But as a human being, during times when it wasn’t popular to be someone of our complexion, he stood up and he represented. He had no fear. He was genuine. He was a success. He was a leader on and off the court.”Russell became the fifth person inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and a coach when he earned enshrinement as a coach last year.Jim Cleamons was the head coach of the Dallas Mavericks across two seasons in the 1990s. Tim Clayton for The New York TimesBy then, something that seemed far-fetched when Bickerstaff broke into coaching seemed common. Half of the N.B.A.’s 30 coaches will be Black heading into the 2022-23 season, including J.B. Bickerstaff, Bernie’s son and the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers.But as recently as 2020, only four Black coaches roamed N.B.A. sidelines. “There is a certain natural ebb and flow to the hiring and firing, frankly, of coaches, but the number is too low right now,” N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver said before the 2020 finals.Other sports leagues continued to lag. Nearly two decades after Russell won his first championship as a coach, Al Campanis, a Los Angeles Dodgers executive, expressed doubt about the ability of Black people to hold managerial level positions.“I don’t believe it’s prejudice,” Campanis said in an interview on ABC’s “Nightline” in 1987. “I truly believe that they may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or perhaps a general manager.”M.L.B. recently commemorated the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s major league debut, yet only two of its current managers — Houston’s Dusty Baker and the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts — are Black.In the N.F.L., Brian Flores, the former coach of the Miami Dolphins, recently sued the league over discriminatory hiring practices. Flores is the son of Honduran immigrants. The N.F.L. created a diversity advisory committee and mandated that every team hire a minority offensive coach after Flores’s suit.Russell did not talk often about being the first Black coach in a major sports league. But after his hiring, he felt the stress that awaited him as the “the first Negro coach,” as he wrote in his book.The hope of his relationship with Auerbach evolving from a superficial coach-player bond into a deeper friendship comforted him.“So I started looking forward to that,” he wrote.Russell left the Celtics in 1969 but took over the SuperSonics from 1973 until 1977. He guided Seattle to the franchise’s first-ever playoffs, but the success he found in Boston eluded him.Russell coached a final season with the Sacramento Kings in 1987-88 before he was fired and moved into the front office after a 17-41 start.J.B. Bickerstaff, Bernie Bickerstaff’s son, has coached the Cleveland Cavaliers since 2020. He’s one of 15 Black coaches in the N.B.A.Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images“With a lot of truly great players, it was tough for him to understand why regular players did not have the same drive, focus and commitment to winning that he did,” Jerry Reynolds, an assistant for Russell on the Kings, said in an interview Sunday. “There’s just not very many people wired like that. That’s why they’re great. In some ways, it was hard for him to understand that. Most of the guys, they wanted to win. They didn’t have the need to win every game like him.”All along, Russell remained true to who he was while coaching.Bickerstaff recalled Russell offering a set of golf clubs to one of Woolpert’s sons instead of signing an autograph for him — an act that Russell was known to steadfastly refuse throughout his career.Cleamons said that a booster introduced his high school team to Russell shortly after it had won the Ohio state championship. Russell hardly looked up from his soup. He hated to be interrupted from a meal.Cleamons understood the mind-set after reading Russell’s autobiography.Before being thought of as a basketball player, before being looked upon as a coach, Russell wanted to be viewed as a human being.“He was a little bit like Muhammad Ali,” Reynolds said. “He was always who he was. Society and people changed. Things changed to fit more like it should have been all along.” More

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    France’s Corinne Diacre Is Not Interested in Your Opinion

    Coach Corinne Diacre set a high bar for France at the Euros. But tying one’s fate to results works only when they’re good.ROTHERHAM, England — Corinne Diacre punched the air, allowed herself a cursory smile of satisfaction, and then turned on her heel. She managed to dodge the first couple of staff members rushing past her on their way to join the celebrations on the field after France’s quarterfinal victory, only to find her path blocked by Gilles Fouache.Fouache, France’s assistant goalkeeping coach, is not an easy obstacle to avoid: broad-shouldered and shaven-headed and with the air of a kindly bouncer. Diacre, a redoubtable central defender in her playing days, quickly recognized there was no way past. Fouache swept his manager up in a brief bear hug, and then she sent him on his way, too.Once she had done so, her smile melted away. She sought out her Dutch counterpart, offered some words of congratulation and condolence, and then made her way to her players. A handful received a pat on the back. Others were offered only some immediate performance feedback. She had come to Euro 2022 on business, not pleasure.By some measures, that victory against the Netherlands last weekend was enough to ensure Diacre had done her job. France had never previously made it past the quarterfinals of a European Championship; Eve Périsset’s penalty, deep into extra time, finally ended the hoodoo.Diacre, though, arrived in England with slightly higher expectations, and so did her country. France, after all, is home to two of the most powerful women’s soccer clubs, the reigning European champion Lyon and its great rival, Paris St.-Germain. Diacre had an unrivaled pipeline of talent from which to create a squad.To her, and to French soccer, it felt reasonable to declare reaching the final the team’s “stated ambition.” On Wednesday night, it failed to meet it. France might only have fallen narrowly to Germany, by 2-1 in their semifinal in Milton Keynes, England, but it fell nonetheless. And that, unfortunately, gives Diacre a problem.Corinne Diacre and France have never reached the final of a major tournament.Molly Darlington/ReutersA couple of weeks after Diacre, 47, and her players arrived in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, the small town in rural Leicestershire where France’s national team has taken up residence for this tournament — that it chose a spot with a distinctly French name is, apparently, coincidental — a journalist from a French magazine contacted the team’s press officer to ask why no local junior team had yet been invited to watch a training session.Such outreach initiatives are a staple of major tournaments, a fairly simple public-relations maneuver designed to thank the community for its hospitality. France, by contrast, had made no contact with amateur sides in Ashby. The team, the journalist was told, was not in England to make friends.It is a tunnel vision that is characteristic of Diacre’s management style. She veers between distant and acerbic with the news media, despite employing a P.R. “teacher”; she has admitted that communication is not her strong suit. She makes no secret of the fact that she does not enjoy the public-facing aspects of her job.With her players, too, she has not always fostered the most conducive relationships. One of her first moves after taking charge of her nation’s team five years ago was to strip Wendie Renard, France’s totemic defender, of the captaincy.Wendie Renard, surrounded by celebrating rivals once again.Carl Recine/ReutersSince then, she has contrived to alienate a number of players from Lyon, the country’s dominant women’s team, to such an extent that Sarah Bouhaddi, the goalkeeper, claimed she had inculcated a “very, very negative environment.” Bouhaddi has subsequently said she will not play for her country while Diacre is in charge.Another veteran, Gaëtane Thiney, was dropped for criticizing Diacre’s tactics, and a third, Amandine Henry, was dropped after she had described the French squad during the 2019 World Cup as “complete and utter chaos.” The call in which Diacre broke the news lasted, Henry said, “14 or 15 seconds; I will remember it all my life.” More remarkable still was that Henry had inherited the captaincy from Renard; her banishment meant that Renard was restored to the post.Diacre’s biggest gamble of all, though, may well have been her squad for this tournament. Diacre was already without both Kheira Hamraoui and Aminata Diallo, a legacy of the assault scandal that has roiled French soccer for much of the last year, but she also chose to omit both Henry and Eugénie Le Sommer, France’s career goal-scoring leader.The manager defended the moves, citing the need to protect and preserve the “mentality” of her squad. Early results bore her out. There was no sign, in France’s month or so in England, of club enmities poisoning the atmosphere among the players. The longstanding divide between the Lyonnaises and the Parisians seemed to have evaporated.Besides, it was not as if Diacre did not have players of impeccable quality to replace them. The depth of talent at her command was such that she could juggle her team for each of France’s first four games of the tournament with no apparent diminution of quality.France became the first team to put a ball in Germany’s net at the Euros, but its score was officially credited as a German own goal.Rui Vieira/Associated PressThe issue, though, was that making those calls turned Diacre into a martyr of outcome. Had France met her aspirations, and reached Sunday’s final against England, she would have been vindicated; leaving Henry and Le Sommer at home would have seemed like a masterstroke, proof of her bold conviction.That France did not means it is all but impossible not to wonder whether the outcome might have been different had two of the key players on the best club team in the women’s game been on the field, or even on the substitutes’ bench, available to call on in an emergency.In truth, the border between those realities is slender, and blurred. It hinges on a moment, an instant: Had France remained attentive when Svenja Huth picked up the ball on the edge of the penalty area, rather than assuming it had drifted out of play, then perhaps it would still be in the tournament, and Diacre’s call would have paid off.It is the manager, though, who made that bargain, who made it plain that the gauge of success and failure was what she did, not how she did it. France came to Euro 2022 with a destination in mind. Now that it has fallen short, it cannot claim credit for the journey. More

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    What it Takes to Be an NBA Head Coach

    A weeklong camp helps professional basketball players learn what it takes to become a head coach. “I just know that I can’t play forever,” one attendee said.ORLANDO, Fla. — Justin Anderson was about to start his presentation at a white board in a mostly empty basketball gym when John Lucas III interrupted him.“Can I make a suggestion?” said Lucas, who spent the past year as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers. “You going to respect a coach with a backwards hat on?”“I mean, yeah. That’s me, right?” Anderson said, drawing a murmur of chuckles from the eight people gathered in folding chairs. Anderson, wearing a dark blue baseball cap, said he wasn’t trying to be funny.“Have you ever seen your coach wear a hat in practice?” Lucas said.“Nah, you right,” said Anderson, 28, a six-season N.B.A. veteran. He took off the hat.He turned back to the white board and started his presentation: a mock breakdown of the Phoenix Suns.At first, he seemed nervous.“We’ve got Phoenix tonight, fellas,” Anderson began, alternating between shuffling his hands and pointing at the white board, which had notes organized into sections like “Keys To Win.” “We don’t know what the status is of Chris Paul. He’s been out. If he’s out tonight, they’re going to probably insert Cam Payne. He’s been averaging, I believe, 16 over the last five.”Within the next couple of hours, Anderson and a group of current and former N.B.A. and W.N.B.A. players would be coaching the country’s best boys’ high school players at an annual camp run by the N.B.A. players’ union. For decades, this weeklong camp has served a dual purpose: to put a spotlight on top teenage prospects for scouts and to provide a training program for players eyeing coaching as a future career.John Lucas III, right, has run the coaching camp for several years. He said a core tenet of professional coaching is “being able to deal with egos.”Jacob Langston for The New York TimesBoston Celtics Coach Ime Udoka, New Orleans Pelicans Coach Willie Green and Jerry Stackhouse, who coaches the Vanderbilt University men’s basketball team, have attended the camp.This year’s coaching group included one player from the W.N.B.A.:Marie Ferdinand-Harris, a retired three-time All-Star. The N.B.A. players ranged from those who had brief careers, like Peyton Siva, who appeared in 24 games for the Orlando Magic in 2013-14, to the more established, such as Rodney Hood, who has been in the N.B.A. since 2014.“I just know that I can’t play forever. I dealt with a serious injury when I tore my Achilles’,” Hood, 29, said, referring to a 2019 tendon injury. “Just understanding that, I did a lot of thinking about what I’m going to do after basketball, and I want to stay involved with the game.”For Ferdinand-Harris, 43, the camp was a test drive to see if she enjoyed coaching.“Right now, the move is more women involvement, and not just in the women’s side of basketball but also in the men’s side,” she said. “They’re looking for qualified women to step into roles.”The camp began the night before Anderson’s whiteboard presentation. Lucas, who played for six N.B.A. teams, has run the coaching program for the last three years after participating as a player for eight. His father, John Lucas Jr., has held coaching roles in the N.B.A. since the early 1990s and helps scout players for this camp. The younger Lucas, 39, assigned each coaching attendee a team to scout and discuss. There also was a video conference call with David Fizdale, who has experience as an assistant and head coach in the N.B.A.A core tenet of professional coaching, Lucas said, is “being able to deal with egos.” How to handle a superstar player who demands that you use a challenge. The importance of making eye contact when addressing your team. When to use profanity. When not to.Marie Ferdinand-Harris, center, was a three-time All-Star in the W.N.B.A. With the push to have more women in coaching roles, she said she wanted to try it out.Jacob Langston for The New York Times“You have to be able to deal with everybody on that team that has been the man on their team before — their whole lives,” he said. “How can you get these 15 guys to buy into a system and to work as a unit?”Anderson took note of the lessons about superstars.“I’ve been around the humblest of superstars like Dirk Nowitzki,” he said. “I’ve been around a lot of guys who are maybe a little bit more needy. But I think the biggest thing that stuck out to me was once you’re done being a player, it starts all over again. It goes back to level one and you have to almost build your résumé up again.”The N.B.A. has long been criticized for how few Black coaches it often has, despite having mostly Black players. The tally fluctuates, but currently 15 of the 30 head coaches are Black — the most ever — and Miami’s Erik Spoelstra is of Filipino descent. Two years ago, the number of nonwhite coaches was only seven. The coaching camp can help Black players in particular get noticed for jobs, but it’s no guarantee.Often, former players are hired as player development coaches — if they’re hired at all — and don’t get to have significant input on tactics.“I started as a player development coach,” Lucas said. “And I was put in those positions: ‘Go talk to this person. Go talk to that person. What’s going on? Why is he acting like this? Oh, can you still play? Jump on the court. Now we need you five on five. Three on three. Four on four.’ So they still see you as a player, but it’s on you to take yourself out of that.”Lucas talked to the camp group about ascending the coaching ranks.“Would you take a $25,000 job?” Lucas said. “Because that’s what video guys get.”“So, why do they come at us with that?” said Jawad Williams, who played abroad and in 90 N.B.A. games with Cleveland from 2008 to 2011.“Because it’s their way of being like, ‘Do you really want it?’” Lucas said. “You see what I’m saying? Like, you just got done probably making $500,000.”“I’ve gotten multiple calls like that,” Williams, 39, said. “I’m not doing that. I can do it.”Williams said he had been a scout for several N.B.A. teams. “But they still come at you: ‘We’ve got this entry level video coordinator or internship,’” he said.The coaching camp helps pros learn how to think like coaches — which means being able to criticize other players.Jacob Langston for The New York Times“That’s their way of hazing you,” Lucas said, as several players nodded. “You start all over.”Lucas said players should consider money and team culture when deciding whether to take a job. Then some of the players offered their insight. Siva, who played under Rick Pitino at the University of Louisville, said that Pitino would be the last coach he would call for a job.“I know his system. I can tell anybody who plays for him. I can tell you everything he’s going to say,” Siva said. “But as a culture, I know me as a person. I wouldn’t handle it now as an employee of his. I know what hours he wants his coaches in. I know the work he expects.”Lucas also talked about the importance of being honest with players. He asked Hood if a point guard he had played with had an ego. Hood said the guard was a good teammate.“I know that’s your boy,” Lucas said. “You’re a coach now. I caught you. You don’t want to throw anybody under the bus. You’re still a player. See how I got you?”Hood acknowledged that this teammate occasionally did “dumb stuff,” using a different word than “stuff.”At the end of the camp, Lucas leads mock interviews, acting as a head coach hiring assistants. The transition to coach from player can be challenging in many ways, but Lucas offered a simple piece of advice.“Just be you,” Lucas said. “The worst thing I see in coaches is they try to mimic somebody else.” He added, “Where’s your voice at?”Just don’t wear a baseball cap. More

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    The Problem in Coaching Style Without Substance

    England’s 8-0 thrashing of Norway was a stunning triumph. But it also exposed a failure of leadership.As the changing room door closed behind them, England’s players could not help but laugh. They were halfway through what was, in theory, the most arduous challenge awaiting them in the group stage of Euro 2022. They were facing a Norway team sprinkled with representatives of Lyon and Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City, the powerhouses of the women’s game.And they had, in the space of a single half, scored six goals.It was not a cruel laughter, or a mocking one. It was, instead, a disbelieving laughter, a giddy laughter. The entire experience seemed somewhat surreal to many of the players, as if there had been some sort of glitch in the code. Once they had regained some measure of composure, the first question many asked was simple:What had just happened?Routs happen, of course. It has not been long since Sarina Wiegman’s England scored 20 goals in a single game against Latvia. It has been only three years since the United States did its bit for the talking-point business by beating Thailand, 13-0, at the World Cup, giving rise to at least a week of discussion on the relative ethical merits of celebrating goals in a blowout.Routs happen both in men’s and women’s soccer, and in both cases they generally prompt further interrogation about the health of the sport. In the men’s game, as a rule, that focuses on the yawning financial chasm that has spirited the elite club sides away from their opponents. In the women’s, it is more likely to emphasize the difference in resources that separate richer nations and poorer ones.Beth Mead, England’s hat-trick heroine.Adrian Dennis/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesEngland’s drubbing of Norway, though, did not fit that pattern. Norway does not, of course, boast a handful of impossibly wealthy clubs pouring money into their women’s sides. It is not home to one of the strongest leagues in the world, staffed now by some of the best players on the planet. It does not, on a very basic level, possess as many human beings as England. Its talent pool, as a result, is naturally smaller.But Norway is not Latvia, and it is not Thailand. Its developmental structures have been good enough to produce Ada Hegerberg, gradually reasserting her claim to being one of the world’s best players; and Caroline Graham Hansen, a vital cog in Barcelona’s attack; and Chelsea’s Guro Reiten; and Julie Blakstad, a star in the making; and Maren Mjelde and Maria Thorisdottir, two of the elite players who have been tempted to England by the booming Women’s Super League.This was not a humiliation that could be cleanly attributed to structural inequality, a defeat that could be dressed up as a learning experience, the inevitable denouement of vastly superior firepower. It was not inevitable at all, in fact. It was, in many ways, self-inflicted.What was most striking, during that surreal first half in which England’s delight metamorphosed first into euphoria and then a dizzying, incredulous frenzy, was the precision of Wiegman’s team’s ruthlessness. It would not be quite right to suggest that England scored the same goal eight times. But it would not be entirely wrong, either.The plan was simple. Ellen White, the central striker, would drop deep, drawing with her one of Norway’s two central defenders, neither of whom is blessed with what might be termed searing pace. Beth Mead, helped by the relative inexperience of Blakstad, her direct opponent, would fill the deserted channel. With a single pass, either from midfield or from Lucy Bronze, the right back, Norway’s penalty area unfurled in front of her.Maria Thorisdottir got an up-close look at several of England’s goals.Adrian Dennis/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesMartin Sjogren, Norway’s coach, would later suggest that it was England’s first goal, a rather soft penalty, that had unsettled his team. “We began to crack a little and made some poor decisions,” he said. There is some truth in that. Thorisdottir, having conceded the penalty, seemed to freeze, unsure of her every touch, her every move, as if haunted by her error.Sjogren’s claim is not, though, the whole truth. To attribute Norway’s collapse exclusively to individual mistakes is, at heart, to confuse symptom with cause. The problem, the one that caused Sjogren’s side to bend and break so spectacularly, was not an isolated series of unrelated incidents but a systemic shortcoming. England showed its hand, and its opponent failed miserably to adapt.Part of the responsibility for that lies with the players, of course. Mjelde and Thorisdottir, certainly, are experienced enough to have identified their team’s weak point and reacted accordingly: sitting just a little deeper, perhaps, or refusing to be coaxed out of their line by White’s movement, or drawing Blakstad in closer for greater protection.But a vast majority of it falls on the shoulders of Sjogren himself. A sequence of individual errors could be evidence of some great psychological failing, but it is distinctly more likely to be proof of a flaw in a team’s strategy. High-caliber players make consistently poor choices only when they are faced with limited options. And that, ultimately, is down to the coach.The caliber of player in women’s soccer, particularly in Europe, has risen steeply in recent years. The slick, technical style that has proliferated at this summer’s European Championship has offered ample proof of that. It is hard to make the argument, though, that the quality of coach has tracked quite the same trajectory.Or, perhaps better, the type of coach. There has long been an emphasis on player development in the women’s game, for wholly obvious, entirely understandable and broadly admirable reasons. It is that focus that has allowed the game to foster a whole galaxy of emergent stars — Vivianne Miedema and Delphine Cascarino and Lauren Hemp — and help them flourish.Ellen White scored two of England’s eight goals on Monday.Damien Meyer/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesBut development coaching is a different skill, a different art, from what might be termed results coaching: The first is concerned with process, after all, and the second with outcome. It is hard not to wonder if a coach more focused on the latter might have acted more swiftly to staunch Norway’s bleeding, or even to shut the game down entirely, accepting a 3-0 defeat as the price to pay to avoid embarrassment.It is that which may prove the decisive factor at the Euros over the next two weeks. Most of the genuine contenders for the trophy — England, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and, at the outside, Spain — have an abundance of attacking talent. Generating players who can decide games is where women’s soccer, like men’s, now pumps most of its resources.It is possible, of course, that the tournament’s eventual champion will simply be the team with the greatest weight of sheer, glimmering ability, the one most capable of expressing its own brilliance, the one that shines brightest. It is more likely, though, that the team left standing will be the one that is best prepared and most willing to make everyone else look dull.Not as Old as They LookKalidou Koulibaly is trading Napoli blue for Chelsea blue.Massimo Pinca/ReutersReceived wisdom would have it that Chelsea’s decision to spend $40 million on Kalidou Koulibaly is a bad idea. He is already 31, and by the time his contract at Stamford Bridge comes to an end, he will be 34. Even if he has proved a wise investment, there is precious little prospect of the club’s being able to recover any of its costs.The general rule of thumb, when it comes to accepted best practice in soccer, is that well-run teams buy young and, with a degree of cold-eyed dispassion, cull the old. Chelsea’s decision to commit so much money to a veteran central defender like Koulibaly, by those standards, suggests that the club’s new owner and sporting director, Todd Boehly, has not quite internalized the game’s abiding logic.That logic, though, feels somewhat outdated. The idea that players are old — and therefore worthless — as soon as they hit their early 30s dates to an era before the sport took things like nutrition seriously, when players did not have personal osteopaths, when their every move, from their early teens, was not governed by the diktats of sports science.It may well be, in fact, that being 31 today has very little in common with being 31 in 2010, or being 31 in 2000. Koulibaly — his quality perhaps slightly underestimated by the fact that he has spent the last eight years of his career in Italy — could yet have six or seven years of elite performance in him.It should be noted that Thiago Silva, the player with whom he will partner at Stamford Bridge, arrived at Chelsea a couple of years ago, at age 35, for what many assumed was a swan song. It has gone rather better than that. Perhaps, for elite players, the clock ticks a little more slowly now.An Update on BarcelonaLast week, you may remember, Barcelona was busily trying to persuade Frenkie de Jong — a player who does not appear to be in any desperate rush to leave Camp Nou — that the only way that he might be allowed to stay is by agreeing to a new, reduced contract.This week, you will be delighted to know, the very same Barcelona has spent somewhere in the region of $65 million to acquire Raphinha from Leeds United, and then granted Ousmane Dembélé — a player who excels in exactly the same position as the Brazilian — a new two-year contract.Joan Laporta and Ousmane Dembélé signing away just a little more of Barcelona’s future.Enric Fontcuberta/EPA, via ShutterstockThese two Barcelonas — the one that needs its current squad to take pay cuts to stay and the one that can lavish a vast sum on new contracts — can exist because the club’s president, Joan Laporta, has hit upon the brilliant strategy of selling tomorrow to pay for today. Barcelona’s parlous finances mean it needs to raise $3 for every $1 it spends. Laporta has accomplished this by selling a portion of its future broadcast income. It may yet cash in some of its future revenue from hosting major events, too.Of the many and varied problems with this approach, perhaps the most galling is that Barcelona is risking its long-term health for players that it does not really need. This is a club, after all, whose very identity is rooted in its ability to nurture homegrown talent.For all its troubles, it continues to do just that. In Gavi and Pedri — a cheap signing, rather than an academy product, admittedly — it is already in possession of a midfield that will last a decade. Ansu Fati, should his injury issues abate, is as bright an attacking prospect as there is in world soccer.And yet still, Barcelona remains addicted to short-term fixes, to stocking its bloated wage bill with players who are, if far from mediocre, hardly the sort worth risking everything. Andreas Christensen, Franck Kessié and Raphinha are all fine players. They all make Barcelona stronger. But are they worth gambling with tomorrow? Come to that, is anyone? Is the idea of a couple of trophy-less years nurturing a new generation so unpalatable to the club’s board and its fans that it is compelled to spend money it does not have?That’s all for this week. As ever, all thoughts, questions, ideas or responses are welcome at askrory@nytimes.com, and some of them are welcome on Twitter, too. And remember: If you’re in the general vicinity of Britain, you are four days away from the last ever Set Piece Menu*, so feel free to come along and wave us off/make sure we’re finishing.Have a great weekend,Rory*Unless we all get fired More

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    What’s the Most Curious and Fraught Job in Tennis?

    Coaches in tennis have one of the odder existences in sports. Some players go for long periods without even using one, and others change coaches like socks.It was, by the usually secretive standards of coach-player relationships in tennis, an unorthodox move.Simona Halep of Romania had just lost in the second round of the French Open, suffering a panic attack after leading by a set and up a service break on the Chinese teenager Zheng Qinwen. Shortly after the match ended, Halep’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, the Frenchman best known for his tutelage of Serena Williams, took to Instagram to accept full responsibility for the defeat as well as Halep’s other subpar performances in recent tournaments.“She is fully dedicated, motivated, gives it everything on every ball,” said Mouratoglou, who began working with Halep only earlier this year. “She is a champion — her track record speaks for itself. I expect much better from myself, and I want to extend my apologies to her fans who have always been so supportive.”The post caught nearly everyone in tennis by surprise, even Halep, the two-time Grand Slam champion, who did not agree with it at all.“I was, yeah, surprised, shocked that he did that post and he took everything on him, but it was not on him,” she said before the start of Wimbledon. “It was me, that I was not able to do better and to actually calm down myself when I panicked.”The other day, Mouratoglou stood firm. The post was not an attempt to take the weight of the loss off Halep’s shoulders, he said during a courtside chat at the All England Club.“Do you think the panic attack comes from the sky?” he said. “There were signs that this could happen, and I should have anticipated them. Too many coaches say this is not my responsibility, that I do this and that for the player, and once the match starts there is nothing I can do.” He used an obscenity to describe that kind of rationalization.“It is our job to see things, to understand what can happen and to plan for it and adjust,” he said.That is one part of a tennis coach’s job — but only one.Coaches in tennis lead one of the odder existences in sports. Some players go for long periods without even using a coach. Those who do can see their coaches sitting courtside mere feet away as they play, but coaches can’t speak other than providing encouragement during the matches at the most important tournaments.They are often expected to travel everywhere the player goes, spending months on the road and sometimes serving as a babysitter, therapist and tactical expert. It is a close relationship with a troubling history of sometimes becoming too intimate. Pam Shriver, the 21-time Grand Slam doubles champion, recently revealed that she had a sexual relationship with her longtime coach, Don Candy, that began when she was 17 and lasted for several years, a relationship she now views as an assault given the power imbalance.Sometimes, a new coach completely changes the way a player plays.Since he began working with Iga Swiatek in December, Tomasz Wiktorowski has transformed her into an aggressive, attacking player who serves hard and hunts for opportunities to crush her forehand rather than hanging back and showing off one of the most creative arsenals in the game. Power not used is power wasted, the saying goes.Other times, players change coaches and little changes. Andy Murray hits the forehand with a bit more authority when Ivan Lendl is on his team, but that is about the only noticeable difference.Some relationships are long term. Rafael Nadal for years was guided by his uncle Toni and has been with Carlos Moya the past five years. Felix Auger Aliassime has been with Frederic Fontang since 2017, though recently Toni Nadal has been helping him. Emma Raducanu has been through four in the past year and now doesn’t have one.Rafael Nadal, right, for years was guided by his uncle Toni and has been with Carlos Moya, left, for the past five years.Jaime Reina/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesFor many coaches, the work is often temporary. Some do double time as television commentators. There is a coaching carousel in tennis that makes running baseball dugouts and college football sidelines look stable.Consider Halep’s quarterfinal win, 6-2, 6-4, over Amanda Anisimova of the United States on Wednesday. For more than six years, Darren Cahill, the longtime coach and ESPN commentator, who has worked with Andre Agassi, Andy Murray and Ana Ivanovic, among others, coached Halep.They split in September. Cahill, who is Australian, said the rigors of travel and the Covid-19 quarantines that Australia required each time he returned home had become too much. But after Australia lifted the requirements, Anisimova asked Cahill to join her team before the Australian Open in January and he obliged.Anisimova’s main coach had been her father, who died suddenly of a heart attack at 52 in 2019. She has struggled to find a stable coach since. But the relationship with Cahill did not quite click, and Cahill split with Anisimova in March, saying he had overestimated his ability to manage the commitment to her and his family. Cahill has since signed on with Jannik Sinner, the emerging 20-year-old Italian star, who in February fired his longtime coach Riccardo Piatti, a relationship that, until the split, most figured would last for years. Sinner lost Tuesday to Novak Djokovic.So many players seem to go through so many coaches. And yet Paul Annacone, who has coached Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Sloane Stephens and recently began working with Taylor Fritz, said the most important thing a coach can provide a player was “stability” and what he described as a “macro comprehension of the environment and best practices to get that player to buy into an agreed-upon philosophy.”Annacone said coach-player relationships often founder when communication breaks down. Really “knowing the other person is essential,” he said.Or maybe, sometimes, it isn’t.Mouratoglou and Williams were nearly inseparable for years. He was the constant presence on the practice courts with her and in her box. He even admitted to coaching her during the 2018 U.S. Open final against Osaka, a violation that led to her being penalized a point and then a game during the match, which she lost in straight sets.Serena Williams and her coach Patrick Mouratoglou were inseperable for years.Loren Elliott/ReutersHalep landed at Mouratoglou’s academy in the south of France earlier this year, after injuries and a loss of confidence had her thinking her career might be over. She barely knew Mouratoglou and was looking for a place to train. She said seeing children on the courts working hard at 8 a.m. every day was inspiring.Mouratoglou approached her one day and said he believed she could still be at the top of the sport. She figured since he had worked for so long with the best player ever, he probably knew a few things.Williams had not played a match in months, and it was not clear whether she would ever play again. Mouratoglou, seemingly a free agent, signed on.“He tries to understand me because I think this is the main thing that I want from a coach, to understand me, because I am pretty emotional most of the time,” Halep said. Slowly, she has begun to win more. “I feel we need time to know each other better, to be able to put in practice everything he tells me.”Of course, then Williams announced she was coming back, though she doesn’t know for how long. She played Wimbledon and though she lost in the first round said she might play more this summer.She’s using her sister’s coach, at least for now. More

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    ‘Jersey Is Taking Over’: N.J. Hoopers Outshine the Shadow of New York

    Far more N.B.A. players have come from New York than its neighbor state. But a wave of rising stars in boys’ basketball can shift the trend.Elliot Cadeau was born in Brooklyn, but he doesn’t have any memories of living in the borough. When he was 3 months old, his parents packed up their possessions, strapped him into his car seat and decamped to New Jersey.Growing up in West Orange, Cadeau became a Jets fan. His mother, who is from Sweden, and his father, who is from Haiti, had a hard time understanding the popularity of American professional football, but they indulged their son’s obsession — to a point. He was allowed to paint his room in the Jets’ colors of green and white, but he wasn’t allowed to play the sport. His mother thought it would be too dangerous. Instead, she suggested that her 7-year-old son try out for a basketball team.Ten years later, Cadeau is a star at Bergen Catholic High School and a top-10 recruit in the class of 2024. And he’s part of an elite group of New Jersey high school basketball players who may be among the best contingent of talent the state has ever produced.Rate this layup 1-10! 🫴🍇 @ElliotCadeau @NikeEYB pic.twitter.com/4kaFOW96O2— SLAM HS Hoops (@SLAM_HS) June 14, 2022
    In addition to Cadeau — the No. 7 player in the country, according to the composite rankings of the recruiting website 247 Sports — the sophomore class includes: No. 1 Naasir Cunningham (Overtime Elite), No. 33 Dylan Harper (Don Bosco Prep) and No. 42 Tahaad Pettiford (Hudson Catholic). And the juniors a year ahead of Cadeau & Co. include: No. 1 Dajuan Wagner Jr., who goes by DJ (Camden High School), No. 3 Mackenzie Mgbako (Gill St. Bernard’s), No. 12 Simeon Wilcher (Roselle Catholic), No. 20 Aaron Bradshaw (Camden) and No. 48 Akil Watson (Roselle Catholic).“It’s been a great time to grow up playing basketball in New Jersey,” Cadeau said. “The competition and friendship among elite players here is unlike anywhere else. I don’t feel like there’s another state right now that can compete with New Jersey in terms of basketball talent.”Although New Jersey was home to some of the game’s all-time greats — including Shaquille O’Neal and Rick Barry — historically it has struggled to escape New York’s basketball shadow. In the N.B.A.’s 76 years, 419 players have hailed from New York, compared to just 146 from New Jersey, according to Basketball Reference. And on the rosters for the 2021-22 season, the disparity was just as sharp: There were 33 New Yorkers compared to just 12 New Jerseyites. But in the classes of 2023 and 2024, New Jersey has 10 top-50 recruits compared to just two from New York.DJ Wagner, the son of the former N.B.A. player Dajuan Wagner, is ranked at the top of the class of 2023.Gregory Payan/Associated Press“I don’t want to disrespect anybody,” said Billy Armstrong, who graduated from Bergen Catholic in 1994 and now coaches Cadeau. “But when I played here, the talent wasn’t nearly at the level it is now, that’s for sure. This is my 11th year as varsity coach, and I can say that in the last four or five years, the talent has really taken off. There’s this pride here when New Jersey is in the conversation as the best basketball state in the entire country.”Armstrong also played collegiate basketball at Davidson and professionally overseas. He pointed to the tenacity and toughness it takes to live in major metropolitan areas in the Northeast as part of the reason so much talent has emerged in his home state. He also thinks there’s a momentum effect in play. Players like Karl-Anthony Towns and Kyrie Irving have given children growing up in the Garden State some New Jersey-born stars to look up to. And those young players have competed against each other for years, strengthening each other’s games and helping them get noticed by recruiting services and college coaches.Since 247’s first rankings were released a year and a half ago, DJ Wagner has been considered the No. 1 player in the Class of 2023. The son of the former N.B.A. player Dajuan Wagner, DJ is a highly skilled combo guard. His game, and the attention around his recruiting, has given his teammates a leg up. Bradshaw, who plays with Wagner at Camden and on their Amateur Athletic Union team, the New Jersey Scholars, started off as a 3-star recruit. He’s now a 5-star, with offers from blue chip programs like Kentucky, Michigan and U.C.L.A.“These kids have been playing with and against each other for a long time,” Scholars Coach Jason Harrigan said. “And when you get a really special kid in a class — a kid like DJ — his competitiveness rubs off on everyone. He helps raise the level of play for the entire class, and they help him to elevate his game, too.”Nets point guard Kyrie Irving went to St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, N.J. One reason he signed with the Nets as a free agent in 2019, he said, was to be closer to home.Brad Penner/USA Today Sports, via Reuters“I’m from Jersey. Have that a little bit of trash talk, but more the swag, the confidence we walk around in our neighborhoods with,” Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns told The New York Times in April.Andy Clayton-King/Associated PressThe talent level, combined with the recent relaxation of rules that allow college and high school athletes to earn sponsorship money, has led to unique opportunities for many players in the state. Cadeau, who has dual citizenship and plays for the Swedish national team, is represented by Roc Nation and already has a five-figure endorsement through what is known as a name, image and likeness deal, or N.I.L. And Cunningham, the No. 1 player in 2024, recently signed with Overtime Elite, a prestigious professional-development program in Atlanta. He became the first player to sign with the program without taking a salary, preserving his collegiate eligibility.“Growing up in New Jersey, every kid is dreaming of getting to the pros,” Cunningham said. “When I was little, I didn’t even know what college basketball was. I was just thinking N.B.A., N.B.A., N.B.A. But as I got older, I started thinking more about going to college. With OTE, I get pro training and education, and I get to keep my options open. Plus, I can still make money with N.I.L.”New Jersey’s coaches, of course, prefer that players remain close to home. And they say that N.I.L. is helping them persuade players to stay at their high school for all four years.“These players take pride in New Jersey,” said Dave Boff, who coaches Wilcher and Watson at Roselle Catholic. “The fans look forward to having a player who rises the ranks from his freshman to his senior seasons. And the players get to take advantage of the opportunities their talent affords while still being able to sleep in their own bed.”When he talks to college coaches about what makes this crop of New Jersey basketball prospects so coveted, Boff consistently hears one theme: toughness.Cunningham left New Jersey to play for Overtime Elite in Atlanta, and he’s proud to represent his home state. “Jersey is taking over,” he said.Gregory Payan/Associated Press“The college coaches see that New Jersey guys have confidence, they have swagger, and they aren’t afraid of physical basketball,” Boff said. “When we travel to national games, our players are always surprised by the ticky-tack foul calls. In New Jersey, the refs let our guys beat each other up a little bit, and our guys welcome that. They know they’re making each other better.”For Cunningham, leaving home wasn’t an easy decision, but he hopes to make it a little easier by recruiting some other players from New Jersey to join him in Atlanta. After all, every one of these players hopes to jump to a bigger stage — be it college basketball or OTE or the N.B.A. — sooner or later.“Jersey is taking over,” Cunningham said. “Everywhere you look in New Jersey, there’s a high-level basketball player. And soon, we’re going to be all over the country. For us, it’s about showing what our state is all about and making sure it continues the success into the future. It’s not pressure. It’s motivation.” More

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    Stephen Curry’s Golden State Is the NBA’s Newest Dynasty

    Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green won four N.B.A. championship teams in eight years.BOSTON — The N.B.A.’s dynasties share certain commonalities that have helped them tip the scales from being run-of-the-mill championship teams to those remembered for decades.Among them: Each has had a generational player in contention for Mount Rushmore at his position.The 1980s had Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics battling Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Los Angeles Lakers. Michael Jordan’s Bulls ruled the ’90s, then passed a flickering torch — a championship here and there, but never twice in a row — to the San Antonio Spurs with Tim Duncan.Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant sneaked in a Lakers three-peat at the start of the 2000s.And then there were … none. There were other all-time players — LeBron James, of course. And James’s Heat came close to the top tier by becoming champions in 2012 and 2013, but fell apart soon after.Dynasties require more than that.Patience. Money. Owners willing to spend. And above all, it seems, the ability to “break” basketball and change the way the game is played or perceived. That’s why there were no new dynasties until the union of Golden State and Stephen Curry.Curry said the fourth championshp “hits different.”Elsa/Getty ImagesDonning a white N.B.A. championship baseball cap late Thursday, Curry pounded a table with both hands in response to the first question of the night from the news media.“We’ve got four championships,” Curry said, adding, “This one hits different, for sure.”Curry repeated the phrase “hits different” four times during the media session — perhaps appropriately so. Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala had just won an N.B.A. championship together for the fourth time in eight years.“It’s amazing because none of us are the same,” Green said. “You usually clash with people when you’re alike. The one thing that’s constant for us is winning is the most important thing. That is always the goal.”Golden State has won with ruthless, methodical efficiency, like Duncan’s Spurs. San Antonio won five championships between 1999 and 2014. Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were All-Stars, though Duncan was in a league of his own. Their championships were spread out — Parker and Ginobili weren’t in the N.B.A. for the first one — but they posed a constant threat because of their disciplined excellence.Tim Duncan, left, Manu Ginobili, center, and Tony Parker won four championships together on the San Antonio Spurs. Duncan won a fifth, in 1999.Eric Gay/Associated PressDuncan, left, Ginobili, center, and Parker at Parker’s jersey retirement ceremony in 2019.Eric Gay/Associated Press“Steph reminds me so much of Tim Duncan,” said Golden State Coach Steve Kerr, who won two championships as Duncan’s teammate. “Totally different players. But from a humanity standpoint, talent standpoint, humility, confidence, this wonderful combination that just makes everybody want to win for him.”Unlike Golden State, the influence of Duncan’s Spurs is more subtle, which is appropriate for a team not known for its flash. Several of Coach Gregg Popovich’s assistants have carried the team-oriented culture they saw in San Antonio to other teams as successful head coaches, including Memphis’s Taylor Jenkins, Boston’s Ime Udoka and Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer. Another former Spurs assistant, Mike Brown, was Kerr’s assistant for the last six years. For San Antonio, sacrifice has mattered above all else, whether in sharing the ball with precision on offense or in Ginobili’s willingness to accept a bench role in his prime, likely costing himself individual accolades.Johnson’s Showtime Lakers embraced fast-paced, creative basketball. The Bulls and Bryant’s Lakers popularized the triangle offense favored by their coach, Phil Jackson. O’Neal was so dominant that the league changed the rules because of him. (The N.B.A. changed rules because of Jordan, too.)Even so, Golden State may have shifted the game more than all of them, having been at the forefront of the 3-point revolution in the N.B.A. Curry’s 3-point shooting has become so ubiquitous that players at all levels try to be like him, much to the frustration of coaches.“When I go back home to Milwaukee and watch my A.A.U. team play and practice, everybody wants to be Steph,” Golden State center Kevon Looney said. “Everyone wants to shoot 3s, and I’m like, ‘Man, you’ve got to work a little harder to shoot like him.’ ”Michael Jordan, right, and Scottie Pippen, left, won six championships as the Chicago Bulls dominated the N.B.A. in the 1990s.Andy Hayt/NBA, via ESPNThe defining distinction for Golden State is not just Curry, who has more career 3-pointers than anyone in N.B.A. history. The team also selected Green in the second round of the 2012 N.B.A. draft. In a previous era, he likely would have been considered too short at 6-foot-6 to play forward, and not fast enough to be a guard. Now, teams search to find their own version of Green — an exceptional passer who can defend all five positions. And they often fail.The dynasties also had coaches adept at managing egos, like Jackson in Chicago and Los Angeles, and Popovich in San Antonio.Golden State has Kerr, who incidentally is also a common denominator in three dynasties: He won three championships as a player with the Bulls, the two with the Spurs, and now he has four more as Curry’s head coach.In today’s N.B.A., Kerr is a rarity. He has led Golden State for eight seasons, while in much of the rest of the league, coaches don’t last that long. The Lakers recently fired Frank Vogel just two seasons after he helped them win a championship. Tyronn Lue coached the Cavaliers to a championship in 2016 in his first season as head coach, and was gone a little over two seasons later — despite having made it at least to the conference finals three years in a row.The 2000s Lakers with Kobe Bryant, left, and Shaquille O’Neal, right, were the last team to win three championships in a row. Jordan’s Bulls did that twice in the 1990s.MATT CAMPBELL/AFP via Getty ImagesSince Golden State hired Kerr in 2014, all but two other teams have changed coaches: San Antonio, which still has Popovich, and Miami, led by Erik Spoelstra.In a decade of rampant player movement, Golden State has been able to rely on continuity to regain its status as king of the N.B.A. But that continuity isn’t the result of a fairy-tale bond between top-level athletes who want to keep winning together. Not totally, anyway.Golden State has a structural advantage that many franchises today can’t or choose not to have: an owner in Joe Lacob who is willing to spend gobs of money on the team, including hundreds of millions of dollars in luxury tax to have the highest payroll in the N.B.A. This means that Golden State has built a dynasty in part because its top stars are getting paid to stay together, rather than relying on the fraught decisions of management about who to keep.The N.B.A.’s salary cap system is designed to not let this happen. David Stern, the former commissioner of the N.B.A., said a decade ago that to achieve parity, he wanted teams to “share in players” and not amass stars — hence the steep luxury tax penalties for Lacob. Compare Golden State’s approach to that of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who in 2012 traded a young James Harden rather than pay him for an expensive contract extension. The Thunder could’ve had a dynasty of their own with Harden, Russell Westbrook and — a key part of two Golden State championships — Kevin Durant.Either one of the leg injuries Thompson sustained in recent years could have ended his career.Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports, via ReutersAnd there’s another factor that every dynasty needs: luck.Golden State was able to sign Durant in 2016 because of a temporary salary cap spike. Winning a championship, or several, requires good health, which is often out of the team’s control. Thompson missed two straight years because of leg injuries, but didn’t appear to suffer setbacks this year after he returned. Of course, Golden State has also seen some bad luck, such as injuries to Thompson and Durant in the 2019 finals, which may have cost the team that series.The N.B.A.’s legacy graveyard is full of “almosts” and “could haves.” Golden State simply has — now for a fourth time. There may be more runs left for Curry, Thompson and Green, but as of Thursday night, their legacy was secure. They’re not chasing other dynasties for legitimacy. Golden State is the one being chased now.“I don’t like to put a number on things and say, ‘Oh, man, we can get five or we can get six,’” Green said. “We’re going to get them until the wheels fall off.” More

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    N.B.A. Finals: Boston Celtics Take On Golden State Warriors

    Golden State has been to the finals six times in eight years. But the young stars of the Celtics may finally be ready for their big moment.It would be Stephen Curry’s fourth N.B.A. championship, or Jayson Tatum’s first. It would be a comeback story for the ages for Klay Thompson, or a fairy-tale ending to the debut of the first-time head coach Ime Udoka.Much is at stake in the 2022 N.B.A. finals for Golden State and the Boston Celtics, two teams with something to prove. For Golden State, it’s a chance to defy the odds against reviving a dynasty after two seasons away from the spotlight. For Boston and its lineup of rising stars, this is, as they say, when legends are made.Here is a look at what to expect in the N.B.A. finals, which begin Thursday in San Francisco.Third-seeded Golden State has home-court advantage over second-seeded Boston because of its better regular-season record.Experience may not be everything.Golden State during the parade for its most recent championship, in 2018.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated PressAfter the Boston Celtics won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, their words about facing Golden State in the N.B.A. finals conveyed a blend of confidence and deference.“We know we’re going up against a great team with the Warriors. Great players, great organization,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. “They have the track record to prove it. They know exactly what it takes. They’ve been here. They’re vets. We know we’ve got a long road in front of us, but we’re up for the challenge.”These finals are marked by a gap in experience, with one team well seasoned in championship basketball and another filled with newcomers to this stage. Golden State has five players who have made multiple finals appearances — Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Kevon Looney and Andre Iguodala. The Celtics have no players who have made it this far before now.Part of that is a function of age. Boston’s roster is filled with players in their 20s, while Golden State is a group of 30-somethings whose lives have changed since their first finals appearances.“Just being able to balance even just, like, family life,” Curry said after Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. “I’m blessed to have kids that are now 9, 6 and 3. Like, when I was back in ’14, ’15, chasing those playoffs, just a different vibe in terms of everything that’s going on in life.”Jayson Tatum, left, and Jaylen Brown, right are still finding themselves as the leaders of the Boston Celtics.Derick Hingle/Associated PressSmart was a 21-year-old rookie in 2015, the first time Curry, Green and Thompson won an N.B.A. championship. Jayson Tatum, who was named the Eastern Conference finals most valuable player this year, was in 11th grade. Their teammate Jaylen Brown had just finished high school and was headed to play college basketball at the University of California, Berkeley — just 11 miles from where Golden State played at the time.By the 2015 championship, with the exception of Looney, whom the Warriors drafted a few weeks after winning the title, Golden State’s return finals participants had all been through years of seasoning and early playoff exits.The 2021-22 Celtics have similarly spent the past few years learning how to win in the playoffs, and dealing with the bitterness of losing. Boston has been to the playoffs every year since 2015 and made it to the conference finals four times.But Golden State’s journey shows that finals experience isn’t everything.When the Warriors won the 2015 championship, they faced a Cleveland Cavaliers team led by LeBron James. James was making his fifth consecutive finals appearance and sixth overall. But he couldn’t stop Golden State from winning the series in six games.But James was also relatively new to that team. The depth of Golden State’s experience will help carry the team this month.Prediction: Golden State in six.Draymond Green is Golden State’s ‘emotional leader.’Draymond Green’s strength, and weakness, is his intensity.Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStephen Curry has famously drained more 3-pointers than anyone in history. Klay Thompson is still basking in his triumphant return from two cataclysmic injuries. And Jordan Poole, out of the morass of Golden State’s two seasons on dynastic hiatus, has emerged as one of the most dynamic young scorers in the league.As the Warriors return to the N.B.A. finals, several players have fueled their run. But is it possible amid all the team’s pyrotechnics that Draymond Green — the team’s highly opinionated, referee-tormenting spokesman — is somehow being overlooked? OK, maybe not. But in his 10th season, Green is making his sixth trip to the finals, and it is no coincidence. He is the defense-minded, pass-first force who binds his teammates in more ways than one.“Our emotional leader,” Coach Steve Kerr said.And Green has seldom, if ever, played better basketball than he has this postseason. In Golden State’s closeout win over the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals, he collected 17 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds while shooting 6 of 7 from the field. He quarterbacked the offense. He was a menace on defense. He used up five of his six personal fouls.He also avoided partaking in many of the extracurriculars that had hampered him in the past — at least until after the game, when he spoke about facing the Celtics with a championship at stake. The problem was that the Celtics were still playing the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. In fact, the Heat would force a Game 7 before falling short. But in Green’s mind, he was never wrong.“I thought they were the better team, and clearly I wasn’t far off,” Green said this week on San Francisco’s KGMZ-FM, Golden State’s radio broadcast partner.In his own way, Green was a source of stability for the organization as the team labored with injuries in recent seasons. He mentored his younger teammates. He was in uniform when Curry and Thompson were absent. He acknowledged that it wasn’t always easy: He was accustomed to competing for championships, and suddenly Golden State had the worst record in the league.Now, back alongside Curry and Thompson, Green has another title in sight.“I can’t say that I thought coming into this season, like, ‘Yo, we’re going to win a championship,’ or, ‘We’re going to be in the N.B.A. finals,’ ” Green said. “But I always believed with us three that we have a chance.”Prediction: More rested and more experienced, Golden State wins the series in six games.They’re both great on defense, but different on offense.Celtics Coach Ime Udoka, left, helped Boston become the N.B.A.’s best defensive team. Marcus Smart, right, won the Defensive Player of the Year Award.Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe connections between Celtics Coach Ime Udoka and Golden State Coach Steve Kerr — both former N.B.A. role players — are numerous. Both led their teams to the finals in their first seasons as a head coach, Kerr in 2014-15, when Golden State won the championship, and Udoka this year.They are also connected to San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich. Udoka was an assistant on the Spurs from 2012 to 2019, which resulted in a championship in 2014. Udoka also played three seasons for the Spurs, while Kerr played four seasons in San Antonio and won two championships. Both also worked with Popovich on the U.S. men’s national basketball team.Popovich’s influence is clear. Udoka and Kerr have preached the value of a staunch defense. Boston and Golden State were the two best defensive teams in the N.B.A. during the regular season. And like Popovich, the coaches are willing to bluntly criticize players publicly.Where they diverge is offensively.Udoka has installed a methodical, slower offense. The Celtics frequently run isolations, ranking near the top of the N.B.A. during the regular season, while Golden State was near the bottom.In part, that comes down to personnel: Boston’s two best players, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, are adept at getting to the rim and breaking defenses down one-on-one but less so at passing. In addition, the Celtics start Marcus Smart at point guard, and he isn’t a traditional pass-first guard.Kerr, meanwhile, has long preached an egalitarian offense hinging on ball movement — so much so that Kevin Durant, after leaving Golden State for the Nets in 2019, complained that Kerr’s offense had been limiting. This season, Golden State led the N.B.A. in scoring off cuts to the basket, while the Celtics were just around league average. Golden State also was second in the league in total passes.There’s another difference, too. Kerr is more willing to experiment with lineups. He has given significant minutes to rookies such as Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga, shuffling them in and out of the rotation. In the playoffs, Kerr gave the 19-year-old Kuminga three starts in the semifinal series against the Memphis Grizzlies. Moody, 20, was in the rotation against the Dallas Mavericks in the conference finals.Udoka has preferred to keep his rotations fairly predictable, particularly in the playoffs, rarely reaching down the Celtics’ bench even in the case of foul trouble.Prediction: Celtics in six. Their defense is well designed to chase Stephen Curry around. More