Sunday, May 15, 2005

Rasheed's Guarantee Is One Of Confidence, Not Bravado

Has Rasheed put more pressure on his mates?

So Rasheed Wallace thinks the Pistons will win Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Indiana Pacers. How dare he!

"Oh, we're definitely going back to Detroit with this thing 2-2, no question about it," he said. Wallace, actually, is one of the reasons the Pistons trail the series, 2-1, heading into today's Game 4. He has been, in a word, awful in this series.

But he is convinced the Pistons will win, and what's wrong with that? Shouldn't everyone on both teams show up to the arena every night believing that?

For some reason, we have created an environment in sports where it's unseemly to talk publicly of confidence in victory. The funny thing is, we'd be horrified if a player said, "I guarantee we'll blow the next game. We are definitely going home down 3-1." Perhaps the only person who could have gotten away with such a statement would have been former Pistons coach Chuck Daly, a.k.a. The Prince of Pessimism. Once, with the Pistons up 2-0 in a best-of-five first round series with the Celtics, Daly said of the trip to Boston, "I'm taking enough clothes for several days." In other words, there just might be two games to play. The Pistons swept, of course. Daly didn't look at a glass as being half empty -- he worried about the glass breaking.

In Daly's world, there was always evil lurking

The ballyhoo about Sheed's comments, made in the highly emotional aftermath of Friday night's ugly Game 3 loss, is that Wallace made a similar "guarantee" following Game 1 of last year's Conference Finals series with the Pacers. "All I'm saying is I'm guaranteeing Game 2. That's all I'm saying," Wallace said then. "They will not win Game 2. You heard that from me. You all print whatever you want. You put it front page, back page, middle of the page. They will not win Game 2." The Pistons won Game 2, and the series in six games.

Actually, when you think about it, there should be much more teeth-gnashing had the Pistons not backed up Wallace's boast last year. But the Pistons won it, so what's the big deal? And really, what's the worst that can happen when a player does this? He says "we'll win it," the team loses, and....oops, guess he was wrong! These are pros, after all. Are we really to believe that just because a teammate boldly promises victory, it puts more pressure on his guys to deliver? Are they thinking, "Geez, I better make this jump shot because Rasheed said we'd win"?

Highly doubtful.

Even the most famous guarantee in sports history, Joe Namath's promise to win Super Bowl III, was much to do about nothing, frankly. Namath's New York Jets were 17 point underdogs. The Baltimore Colts were 13-1 in the regular season in the supposedly superior NFL. They seemed invincible. What did Namath have to lose by saying what he said? Besides, even Joe himself admitted he may have had a cocktail or two prior to blurting it out. The Jets won, of course, but it had nothing to do with Namath's prediction. They simply outplayed a Colts team that may have beaten them eight out of ten times normally.

Two opposite ends of the guarantee spectrum: Namath (left) and Brown

In Detroit, some Lions fans might remember offensive tackle Lomas Brown guaranteeing a playoff victory against Philadelphia in 1995. Now, I admit that such a guarantee coming from a player whose franchise has exactly one playoff victory since 1957 is a tad odd, but Lomas just got caught up in the moment. The Lions were riding a seven-game winning streak and were actually playing quite well. Many pundits had them beating the Eagles, even though the game was in Philly.

The Lions lost, 58-37, in a game in which they trailed at one point, 51-7.

Guess Lomas was a little off, huh?

Critics of guarantees say all they end up being are bulletin board material for the opponents. Somehow I don't see Reggie Miller walking into the Pacers lockerroom and saying, "Okay, boys, Rasheed thinks the Pistons will win. Good thing he said that, because now we have motivation!"

No, I think the only folks who care about such things are the ones who get paid to watch the game at courtside, sipping free pop and eating free hot dogs.

I guarantee that's what they do.

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