Riding the train, talking ball

June 12, 2001

By Jacob Quinn Sanders

Leave Dikembe Mutombo on the bench. Put him on the floor. Substitute Matt Geiger for Tyrone Hill. Replace Hill with Todd MacCulloch.

Fewer outside shots. More outside shots.


And that’s just the start.

Straining to make sense of the predicament in which the 76ers find themselves – down 2-1 in the best-of-seven NBA Finals after a 96-91 loss on Sunday – some fans yesterday turned in their beers and replica jerseys for a clipboard, playing the role of coach Larry Brown.

At work, on the train, in the park or the living room, Sixers fans know the same thing: “We’d win for sure if they’d just listen to me.”

Shakira Butler, 9, of Philadelphia, wants to see more of the Sixers’ bench play tomorrow night in Game 4 against the Lakers.

“They should start giving the ball to Raja Bell,” she said.

Paul Moberg, 40, of Media, hopes to see more discipline.

“Every time they get an offensive rebound, they thrash around under the basket instead of finding someone open outside,” he said.

Tony Powell, 38, of Yeadon, expects more of an inside presence from the Sixers.

“Enough with this shot-shot-shot stuff from the outside,” he said.

And Mike Burtnick Jr., 21, of Wallingford, said, “Get Geiger off the court. He’s even playing? What the heck is that about?”

Of course, said Heather Collins, 37, of Media, the Sixers’ problems might run deeper than just basketball.

“It could be Phil Jackson’s feng shui haircut,” she said. “Maybe that wards off the basketball demons. I mean, I don’t live in L.A. and I don’t go to L.A. and we don’t worry about haircuts back East. Maybe that’s where we’re going wrong.”

Not everyone with advice is a coaching wannabe citing Chinese geomantic mysticism or regurgitating sound bites from sports-talk radio. Some are the real thing.

Mary Beth McNichol, for 10 years the girls’ basketball coach at Notre Dame Academy in Rosemont, said she believes Brown should free up his offense by not pressing so hard with the defense.

“All that does is make his offense more ragged by tiring out his already hurting players,” she said. “It’s great that they play as a team, but they’re a tired, hurting team.”

Kelly Greenberg, head women’s basketball coach at the University of Pennsylvania, suggested practicing free throws, hammering Shaquille O’Neal with a double team and inducing more offense from Hill and Aaron McKie.

“That would get us over the hump,” she said.

Inexperience and unfamiliarity with the game haven’t hampered some from speaking like hoops savants.

Barbara Pringle, 53, of Aldan – by her own admission “not really a basketball fan” – said she believes “they just need a new coach. That’s what it is. They need somebody younger with fresh ideas that could build up the physical aspect of their game.”

Perhaps, however, an old hand could best guide the Sixers with dignified restraint.

John Chaney, Temple University men’s basketball coach for the last 19 years and a recent inductee to the basketball Hall of Fame, said Brown should answer to no one but his team.

“To take a broken-down machine the way he has and drive it is one of the greatest things I’ve seen in this game,” he said. “No one can tell a coach what job he needs to do. It’s his team. His machine. His guys.”

In short: Just let them play the game.

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