David Lee on team chemistry, fear of failure and knocking down LeBron
Published: Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 5:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 5:04 p.m.
This is about David Lee, who's having his best season in the NBA. But it's also how the West Coast offense in football leads to a good interview.
In the West Coast offense, the coordinator scripts several plays to start the game. Sure, he wants to succeed on those plays, but he also wants to see how the opposing defense responds. He is learning by calling certain plays.
Same goes for interviewing. I ask trial questions to see what my subject is like. I had a hunch Lee would be great. I had listened to his postgame interviews and he answered every question, and came off smart and polite.
I started off easy, asked why he was practicing at the Warriors' facility Thursday morning when the team was off. It was not a basketball question. It was a personality question. I was West-Coasting him.
“I feel a lot better being over-prepared than under-prepared,” he said. “Also, to see the guys.”
OK, now we had a preliminary direction. I asked what he gets out of seeing the guys
“We have good chemistry. I'd rather be around my teammates than home. It makes a huge difference between us being a decent team and a really good team.”
For a while, he talked about improving chemistry. He said he and Stephen Curry are the team leaders.
“Up until this year, Steph wasn't real vocal in the locker room,” he said, “just because he was young and he was trying to feel his way. Also, he was battling injuries. This year he's been a great vocal leader for us.”
I asked Lee to give an example how he took a younger player aside in his role as leader.
“There were a couple of times this year with Festus (Ezeli) where he has to understand things in the NBA don't happen overnight,” he said. “He's a rookie. He's helping us defensively, on the boards and blocking shots. If he has a couple of possessions where he doesn't make his layups, that's not necessarily hurting the team. It's hard to understand playing a smaller role is still very important to the team.”
I kept making my questions more probing and in the next few minutes, he said, “I'm motivated by fear of failure a lot of times,” and, “I've taken a new attitude this year. I started out the first two or three games struggling. I was 2 for 14 the first game. I started to think about it too much and worry — ‘I've got to be this captain for our team because we've got a shot to be really good this year.' Then I stepped back and said to myself, ‘I need to enjoy this more.' Now, my goal when I go out there is to enjoy the process of us becoming a better team this year.”
I felt it was time to take a risk. I said lots of people accuse him of padding his stats and this implies he is morally questionable on the court. I said whenever people say or write a positive about him, they always include a negative.
He smiled. He nodded his head.
“Yeah,” he said. “I like to think I'm a professional athlete and that's part of it. The other part is having a bigger contract. When I was in New York, I was the 30th pick and I went from being on the end of the bench to a starter to an All Star. Then I get here and sign a big contract and, all of a sudden, it's the way it was for the veterans in New York when I was there. It's ‘He's had a great season so far but ...' There's always two or three things.”
“If you were a scout scouting David Lee,” I said, “what would you say about yourself?”
“My biggest concern would be I'm able to outwork my opponent. Whoever plays against me has to match my intensity. That's something I take great pride in.”
I kept going with the scout report. I said he is an offensive and rebounding talent. He might be shaky defensively. But he is a tough, gritty defender. I said he knocked down LeBron James in Miami. Which he did. James drove the lane. Lee presented his shoulder to James. James ran into it. James fell on his back. Blocking foul on Lee.
Lee laughed. We had arrived at the heart of the interview.
“I see Lebron James go down the hole and guys foul him soft and he's looking into the crowd and chest bumping,” Lee said. “I didn't try to hurt anybody. I tried to make a statement that we weren't going to back down. Guys on the team look to their leaders to make those statements. I'm not the best defender in the world, but I'm going to compete. It wasn't by any means a dirty play, but it was a way to say, ‘This a different Warriors team.' This is a team that, in the past, when Miami made a run on us, would have gotten beat by 15 points. Instead, we found a way to win. We've won a lot of those games we wouldn't have won in the past.”
To whom did he make that statement The Heat?
“More to our team. I have nothing against LeBron James. I have nothing against the Heat. When you're on the road, and you have a younger team, they're going to look to Steph and me to see ‘Are we being aggressive? Are we being timid?' Afterward, I thought it was a turning point in the game and a turning point in the road trip. The actual play was not that big of a deal, but it was the way it was taken by the team.”
I left downtown Oakland pleased with Lee and how hard he worked in our interview. I was right about him and the West Coast offense.
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