Sorting Out the Super Bowl Bluster

It Ain't Over Till the Clichés Are Spoken

* Focus. Another staple of Jordan's postgame interviews, "focus" is often used to describe an individual or team performance, as in, "We were focused" or "We need to focus," et cetera. What players and coaches fail to realize, however, is that the term usually falls short of answering how the team and/or player actually did. What were they focusing on? The postgame argument with the coach over minutes?

* Minutes. This term's usage probably coincides with the rise in player salaries in the NBA, the only professional sports league to record playing time as an official statistic. Synonymous with phrases such as "PT" (for playing time), minutes are often watched by players much more closely than their teams' wins and losses because playing time leads to higher averages in scoring, assists, and rebounds (and therefore higher salaries). Today's hoopsters will frequently say things such as "I need my minutes" or "I'm not getting enough minutes."

* The system. Sportscasters began referring to coaches' game plans or techniques as "systems" in the mid to late '80s, as the coaching profession's profile began to even out with that of their players (see deified former Jets coach Bill Parcells). Broadcasters and beat writers will frequently comment on the success or failure of one's "system": "He needs players who will buy into his system." Players like to discuss their feelings on their coach's "system," as in, "I fit into the system here" or "I signed here because I like the system," et cetera. In other words: "Coach gives me my minutes."

* Step up. We owe this one to former Knick and current Heat coach Pat Riley, the King of Coachisms. Riley frequently talked about the need for and/or ability of certain players to "step up" or play well in crucial situations. For example, in describing the often enigmatic and inconsistent play of former Knicks guard John Starks, Riley might say, "John really stepped up tonight," or "We really needed John to step up tonight." Now players don't just play well, they "step up." His star pupil—current Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy—at least has the decency to question the term. Last year, when the Knicks were making their playoff run, Van Gundy was asked what it would take for his team to beat San Antonio in the finals with several key players injured. "Our other guys, it's that old cliché, have to step up," he said. "I'm not really sure what that means."

* Trying to find the answers/looking for answers. After falling behind 2-0 to the Spurs in the NBA Finals last spring, the Knicks' Allan Houston told the media that his team was "looking for answers." But what was the question? This phrase has become the standard answer to queries such as, "What do you think you need to do to improve in the next game?" It's a way for players and coaches to address issues without letting on that they really don't know what's wrong.

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