Monson: The secret to the Jazz’s continued ascent is ... ‘practice’
Ex-Philly star’s mantra doesn’t apply to this young Utah team.

By Gordon Monson

Tribune Columnist

Published: May 16, 2012 05:23PM
Updated: August 28, 2012 11:33PM
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Utah Jazz's Gordon Hayward (20) drives past Golden State Warriors' Klay Thompson during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

A few days ago, we passed the 10-year anniversary of one of the more remarkable news conferences in the history of sports. I can write just one word as proof of its memorable impact and you’ll bob your head in acknowledgement:

“Practice.”

Yeah … Allen Iverson’s classic quote explosion on the importance — or lack thereof — of that one thing, the one thing that is at the core of the Jazz’s improvement for next season. With youngsters Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter at the beginning of their NBA journeys, having barely tapped into how good they could become, their work in the gym over the next few months will be critical not just for their development, but also for the ascent of an entire team.

Back to the quote bomb, spoken after the Sixers lost to the Celtics in the 2002 playoffs, after there had been complaints from Philly coach Larry Brown about his guard missing practice:

“If I can’t practice, I can’t practice,” Iverson said. “It is as simple as that. It ain’t about that at all. It’s easy to sum it up if you’re just talking about practice. We’re sitting here, and I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we’re talking about practice. I mean, listen, we’re sitting here talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, but we’re talking about practice. Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last, but we’re talking about practice, man. How silly is that?

“Now, I know that I’m supposed to lead by example and all that, but I’m not shoving that aside like it don’t mean anything. I know it’s important, I honestly do, but we’re talking about practice. We’re talking about practice, man. We’re talking ’bout practice. We’re talking about practice. We’re not talking about the game. We’re talking about practice. When you come to the arena, and you see me play, you’ve seen me play right, you’ve seen me give everything I’ve got, but we’re talking about practice right now. …

“It’s funny to me, too, hey, it’s strange to me, too, but we’re talking about practice, man. We’re not even talking about the game, when it actually matters, we’re talking about practice.

“… I am the MVP, but it has nothing to do with practice.”

Later, when Iverson was asked about putting forth a stronger effort in practice to improve his game, about working to boost his 40-percent shooting to, say, 44 percent, he said:

“I don’t know about that. That is in God’s hands. I do not know if that will help me or not. That’s God. God does that. It ain’t up to you to say if Allen Iverson does this, then he’ll do that. That’s up to God. … He handles that.”

Back to the youngsters on the Jazz.

They can’t afford to put their improvement in anyone’s hands other than their own, and that’s the point here. They can’t settle for what they’ve got, what they’ve already done, what they already are, what they think nature or deity has given them. They have to take more, earn their right to take more.

They have to practice and practice hard.

At the time of that 2002 presser, Iverson had been in the NBA for six years and he was the MVP. He was dealing with a lot of personal issues and frustrations that also spilled out as he answered questions. Maybe he thought he was good enough already and was willing to simply ball out and let everything fall where it would. He was, indeed, a fearless competitor and worked hard in games, throwing his diminutive frame all over the court.

But — and here’s the thing — he could have been even better than he was.

There’s a mistaken notion around the NBA sometimes that a player is what he is, and it’s written out in the stars that way. He’s either great, good, competent or marginal. That’s how it is, and that’s the way it always will be.

If Favors, Hayward, Burks and Kanter fall for that, if they settle for that, the Jazz are screwed.

Kevin O’Connor recently revealed his intention to give each Jazz player a list of specific things to improve during the offseason. For Kanter, for example, that agenda includes getting in better shape and working on recognizing defenses. For Hayward, one item will be to improve his outside shot.

After Game 4 the other night, Hayward was a mess. And that’s a good thing. He said he hated losing, hated it, and that he would work hard on his perimeter shooting throughout the offseason. It was as though every one of his missed shots in the playoffs — and there were a lot of them, including an 0-for-7 showing in that final contest — were seared into his brain. And he would remember every one of them as he goes to the gym over the summer to make it better.

Iverson’s rant is memorable, but a more important quote for all the Jazz, especially the teens and 20-somethings, to think about is one from Michael Jordan, who said:

“I play to win, whether during practice or a real game. And I will not let anything get in the way of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win.”

GORDON MONSON hosts the “Gordon Monson Show” weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.