Most of you are familiar with The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons. If not, you should be. Chapter One is titled "The Secret," and some of you won't like what Gallo has to say about it, but it is the truth, even if it isn't really "a secret."
In short, the first Isiah speaks with Dan Patrick (and later with Simmons himself) about what The Secret might be. Isiah doesn't explain it very well, nor did he sustain his understanding during his time in the front office. But he saw something that "you wouldn't understand" during his winning years with the Pistons, and that thing can be understood, though there isn't a word for it, exactly.
I won't try to reproduce the first chapter of The Book. It speaks for itself well enough. But The Secret was something Gallo came to understand during his time playing and coaching and watching basketball in the '70s, '80's and '90's. Like most professional "secrets" it can actually be explained, but that doesn't make it easy. And, as Simmons says, it is most difficult to implement in basketball. In baseball, the concept of "Team" has less influence. In football, it is less of a fluid force. Hockey would come closest, but even then the weave isn't as tight. It is in basketball that this juice is integral.
Gallo played in high school (but didn't start) for a highly successful team at a small rural school in the Central Valley of California. We regularly beat big urban schools in Clovis, Fresno, and Bakersfield. I couldn't have explained why at the time, though it seems clear now. I couldn't have made the team at UC Irvine, but I went to Europe and played for the U of Madrid. Of course, I watched the Magic Lakers and the Pistons, The Celtics and Princeton.
The real lessons in The Secret came when I sponsored and played on my own team in Orange County open leagues, usually Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. These were teams with semi-pro talent, mostly college but many NBA guys trying to stay in shape. I payed the fee, so I had complete authority, though I didn't have that kind of talent. I chose my guys from pick up games at UCI and at Laguna Beach. I did it badly at first. But then I understood the big idea, which is precedent to The Secret. It applies at all levels.
My original team was just myself and some beer buddies, few of them college players. Then I met Jerry. He was a Marine lawyer at El Toro. Former QB at Colorado and built like Tim Tebow, but never played college bounceball. We usually teamed up at Laguna pick ups and often won against teams way better and bigger. He was 6'3". I'm 6'1". But we both did the stuff that matters. Let me put it this way: He could jump and move bigger guys around; I would keep the best opponent from getting the ball. None of this is a mystery.
I needed a point guard and found him in Louis, an Oakland lad who had washed out on the UCI team. I needed a shooter and found him in Stanley, from Manual Arts High in LA (really), a defensive demon as well, and the shyest man I've ever met off the court. The rest of us were still my 30+ friends from my real life.
We won league titles for nine straight seasons, about three straight years. We called ourselves "Brave Bunny Intergalactic," because it was my team and that was my organization. It didn't matter . . . we embraced the secret, with a 6'3" center going against guys scraping 7'. I didn't always start; I didn't deserve to. I recruited a guy named Sam along the way, and he was about my size but could slam with one hand and fire from beyond . . . but he wouldn't stop the other guys and wouldn't give it up for a better shot. So I went in for him one game, which we eventually won, and told him not to come back. It was the right thing to do.
Let me also attribute Fresno State in the late '70's. Boyd Grant was the coach, from Illinois. This was the old WCC, with Long Beach St, Pacific, Fullerton, San Diego, and others. FSU hadn't been in the hunt for many years. But Grant brought a new sensibility to the team, as well as some players from Illinois, including a 6' 5" center. He inherited a skinny white boy named Doug Streater and another at the other guard whose name I don't remember. He also brought along Ron Anderson and Rod Higgins from Illinois, and they became the "bookends" because they were similar in size and talent.
But if you didn't play hard defense and unselfish offense for Grant, you didn't play. They won the NIT in '82 by beating DePaul, and if they'd been in the NCAA (this was a previous format) at the end of the year, they'd have won that. I remain convinced. They were ranked 9th nationally at year end.
So here's the part you won't like: Isaiah doesn't understand it. He might score 38, or 50, but he doesn't understand. Recognizing it is one thing; acting on it is another, and Isaiah doesn't. Jimmer and Ben certainly don't either, though they might say the right things, they don't do them. Mike Conley, he does both, and look where his team is.
It's no secret. But it seems to be.