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This Week in NBA History: Nuggets Coach Doug Moe Tells his Team to Stop Playing Defense
Sometimes, when all hope is lost, you can't help but ask, what's the point? Thirty-five years ago this week, Denver Nuggets coach Doug Moe asked that question when his team was losing badly to the Portland Trail Blazers, and decided the answer was: Screw it. With a little over a minute remaining in the game, Moe told his team during a timeout to stop playing defense. Literally. Not to stop fouling and sending them to the line. Not to drop into a relaxed zone defense to let the clock run out. He reportedly told them to "part the waters." The result: The Blazers went on to score a franchise-record 156 points. After NBA officials reviewed the game film, Moe was declared an enemy of sportsmanship and fined $5,000. Then NBA Vice President Scotty Stirling publicly scolded Moe, saying his order to his team to quit playing defense "is contrary to the very essence of sport, which demands a full effort for the entire length of a game." It's worth noting that Moe had been fined for another instance before the fiasco with the Trail Blazers; the Nuggets coach orally abused a ref and threw a cup of water in his face. How did the league expect him to react to another fine and a tongue-lashing from the VP after he told his team to stop playing defense? Moe surprised his critics by issuing a sincere apology and vowing to honor the game by playing hard to the very end. Just kidding! Moe's response to the fine and Stirling's criticism was zero percent remorseful, 100 percent smart ass: "Our defense was so tenacious there, I was afraid they weren't going to get to 150." (One can't help but wonder if this quote was the inspiration for Jack Black and Kyle Gass' comedy rock duo, Tenacious D.) Apathy is never a good thing. I don't agree with Moe's decision to tell his players to simply give up, even if it was clear they were going to lose. But there are several things I love about this story. First: Moe dropped all pretenses of thinking his team could win.If you played sports in high school like I did, you probably remember coaches telling you to "play till the end". As a naive youngster, I believed the coaches thought it was truly important to play as hard as you could until the last second, like Tim Allen's character's motto in Sky Quest: "Never give up! Never surrender!" When I would overhear coaches make off-hand comments to other adults about how the game was hopeless from the start, it was like hearing that Santa Claus wasn't real. Playing devil's advocate in Moe's case, you could give him credit for not exhibiting a spirit of false hope. When a coach's team is down by a big margin late in the game, they often put in the bench-warmers, signaling they've given up. Was Moe's order to stop playing defense really that much worse? I almost wish Moe had taken it even farther. He could have told his team he'd see them on the bus, and with the game clock still running, left the stadium and started drinking in the parking lot. Second: Moe would be burned at the social media stake in today's constant-news-cycle culture. Again, while I don't think Moe's order to stop playing defense is (excuse the pun) defensible, I love that he doubled down on his decision and basically told NBA brass to take a leap. You have to admire a guy who sticks to his decisions so fervently.There was no social media in the early '80s. If you weren't a loyal Nuggets fan, the only way you would have heard about Moe's antics would be if your regional or a national newspaper picked up the story, or if they discussed it on the news. Even then, if people around the nation derided Moe, most sports fans would likely move on within a few days.Imagine if an NBA coach today was accused of telling his players to "part the waters" for the opposing team. Twitter, Facebook and ESPN would hound the coach 24/7 until they regurgitated one of those repulsive politically correct, public relations-approved "I'm sorry I offended some people and promise to do better" apologies. It's like throwing a bucket of chum to the sharks that keep swimming around your boat. Back in the "good old days", if you wanted to stick to your guns, refuse to apologize and accept the consequences, by golly you could do it! The more I dwell on Moe's decision, I start to develop conspiracy theories. Maybe he wasn't just simply giving up; maybe, when he saw that the Blazers were going to wax the floor with his team, he realized that by obviously giving up, he could take away from the legitimacy of the Blazers' victory. People don't remember that game because of the Blazers' brilliant offense. They remember it because Moe pulled a stunt. Perhaps he was playing people then, and he continues to play us to this very day! Or, maybe Moe never intentionally told his team to give up, and an outside force was responsible for their sudden inability to play fundamental defense, something ... out of this world: Or maybe Moe had had a long day and decided it wasn't worth pretending to care anymore. Again, apathy isn't healthy, in sports or anywhere else in life. But sometimes, when it's obvious things just aren't going to go your way, isn't it nice to just be done with it and move on? Sometimes, when something just gets ugly, you need to tell yourself it's over. Quit. That's why I'm going to end this article right now. Articles I used for reference NY Times Oregon Live
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