photo & text by nacrowe
no doubt there was a healthy bit of mischief involved when NBA coaching legend PHIL JACKSON (or the publisher) decided to entitle his book regarding leadership philosophy ELEVEN RINGS: THE SOUL OF SUCCESS (PENGUIN, 2014). its funny because ironically the championship hardware was never the point of his process, more just the fortunate outcome of a successful realigning of egos within his massively talented set of rosters over the years.
and i think that point is missed in the greater discussion of JACKSON. sure, he had transcendent stars like MICHAEL JORDAN and KOBE BRYANT along with supreme talents such as SCOTTIE PIPPEN, SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, DENNIS RODMAN, PAU GASOL and others. but BASKETBALL is a team sport and the focus of this book is how JACKSON went about creating a team that played like a cohesive tribe and not an assemblage of players. his unique gift was the ability to model and communicate an authentic sense of compassion and empathy upon his players, who in turn doted such on their fellow teammates. this provided a foundational mindset that helped establish in both CHICAGO and LOS ANGELES dynasties built upon a shared sense of common purpose and interdependence.
raised in a strict pentecostal household in NORTH DAKOTA by two parents who were fervent ministers, JACKSON shed the religiosity aspects of his upbringing but not the curiosity to explore alternative spiritual practices, rituals and ideas including that of BUDDHIST and NATIVE AMERICAN traditions. this would prove instrumental in his leadership approach.
the culture around the NBA is pretty good analogue for AMERICAN culture in general in that there is an intense, out-of-proportion celebration of the individual with lip-service allocated to more essential notions of group collaboration or teamwork. you can see this in the insatiable appetite for gossip and clickbait within our digital culture and a total utter dearth of basic understanding of notions of civic duty and responsibility. maybe it is a generational thing, but the emphasis in the NBA, much like in the broader culture since the 1980s has been squarely on me as opposed to we. i would argue that this focus on group dynamics seems very in keeping with the mission of his parents, albeit to secular ends.
his method is less about the techniques and more about the mindset he was trying to engender in his players. that mindset was transforming them into a selfless, ego-less whole who used the fluidity of the TRIANGLE OFFENSE to suss out weaknesses in the their opponents defense and exploit it as a single entity. he was attempting to get them to play as a single unit, not a collection of players seeking to increase their stats (and thus future paydays). it is an approach that is antithetical to the marketing and popular influence of the NBA. JORDAN is celebrated for his individual achievements and records, as seen in his ubiquitous endorsement deals, movies, apparel, documentaries that still hold a firm grip on the AMERICAN psyche nearly two decades later, but his real achievement was one of self-sacrifice to the team concept. not just him, all his teammates tirelessly focused on improving weaknesses in their team identity at the expense of satiating those of the sycophants (agents, fans, partners, family, etc) that no doubt had their ear at the time. the fact that JORDAN recognized the structural benefit of self-sacrifice and playing with intention not ego is a testament to his greatness as a competitor, ironically.
by submitting the wants of their individual egos to the collective needs of the team, the CHICAGO BULLS as well as the LAKERS succeeded in winning multiple titles under JACKSON. this success, again, is not the focus of the book. instead the very BUDDHIST notion of being present and controlling your thoughts and actions now in this moment is the key to success. winning is just an outcome, but being able to appreciate the fluidity of life and not being caught up in the disappointments of the past or anticipatory anxiety about the future frees one to be present and be truly awake and able to tackle problems as they arise in the present. and BASKETBALL is nothing but a set of problems arising that need to be settled within a group construct. a group synchronized with a sense of intention to adapt effectively as a cohesive unit. compelling stuff.
what is also interesting is how this book ends. JACKSON accepts a job with the NEW YORK KNICKS as president of BASKETBALL operations with the goal of transforming the culture along the precepts outlined in this book. of course with hindsight this endeavor was destined to be a failure as owner JAMES DOLAN has no appetite for a cultural shift and his entire operation is the very embodiment of futility, nepotism and everything that is wrong with AMERICAN culture and capitalism writ large. but it was worth a shot. if anyone could pull it off it was JACKSON.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
ABSTRACT: THE ART OF DESIGN is an ongoing NETFLIX series of documentaries that highlights exemplars associated with various fields of DESIGN. in this entry i am focused on the episode related to the revolutionary and widely-admired creative work of the modern AMERICAN shoe designer TINKER HATFIELD.
i think whats remarkable about the HATFIELD is the fact that these coveted objects he's manifested throughout the years via his collaborations with NIKE and various athletes are all in a sense engineering solutions to specific problems. by definition his designs are pragmatic in approach. it makes sense when you take out of the conversation how much influence the AIR JORDAN and AIR MAX lines have had on urban fashion and popular AMERICAN culture through the preceding decades.
but again, as originally conceived, form followed function. not the other way around. in terms of narrative, this episode does such by using a current technical objective at the time of filming (an adaptive-lacing technology called E.A.R.L. created during development for the AIR MAG) to contextualize his design process before going back and discussing solutions to past problems (i.e. the parameters that led to the AIR TRAINER 1, AIR TECH CHALLENGE 2, AIR JORDAN 3 and AIR JORDAN 20). the lacing system came out of the reality that by the time basketball players become professional, their feet have been mangled and deformed due to over tightening their laces over many years. he thought that if there was a shoe that could loosen and tighten during inactive parts of a game (free throw, sitting on the bench, etc), that such would be of long-term benefit to the athletes themselves.
HATFIELD also displays the curiosity and open-mindedness to take inspiration from unconventional sources to incorporate into his designs. my guess is that this is probably due to his architectural and engineering background where multiple solutions can satiate specific site parameters. this ability doesnt break from function informing form, if anything it spurs it. examples of this range from the POMPIDOU CENTER in PARIS inspiring him to make NIKE's pressurized air units visible to FIGHTER JETS and PANTHERS informing design choices for various AIR JORDAN models (5 and 13, respectively). there is a definite storytelling aspect to his work which carries over with the NIKE range write large, as such engages the consumer base in a way that transcends mere performance and technical capabilities of the product. MICHAEL JORDAN is obviously the cornerstone example, but HATFIELD also mentions how meeting then-TENNIS upstart ANDRE AGASSI informed his conception of him as being ANTI-COUNTRY CLUB and created products that bolstered that image entirely. in this sense, the athlete and his personality helped inform the design of his products, which were often neon-colored and loud, which was absolutely anathema to the crusty, conservative white traditionally worn on court.
the work of HATFIELD is renowned for its ability to address the needs of his clients while also presenting big, disruptive ideas that have largely defined the market several times over.
i appreciate him if only because the black/cement AIR JORDAN 3s are the most gorgeous basketball shoe ever. period.