The triangle – Manhattan Mercury (subscription)

Posted: July 30, 2017 at 2:28 pm


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The Triangle Offense, an existential basketball strategy so complex that it was quite simple, and so simple that it was maddeningly complex, died of complications related to confusion on Wednesday. It was years old.

The Triangle, also known as the Triple-Post Offense, the Sideline Triangle Offense, and the Trade-Me-Coach Offense, reportedly collapsed under the weight of its own pretension in the front office of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. But no one with the requisite training in astrophysics and Zen Buddhism could be located in time to provide resuscitation.

Its demise coincided with the decision by Knicks management to dismiss Phil Jackson, the teams president for the past three years and the Triangles closest living relative. Jackson was so attuned to its almost mystical intricacies that he became the Triangle whisperer although critics say that his channeling of the offense could not be understood at any volume of voice.

The Triangle Offense was born on the hardwood courts of the University of Southern California in the 1940s, the offspring of the universitys innovative basketball coach, Justin McCarthy Sam Barry. It was then raised and refined by one of Barrys many acolytes, Morice Fredrick Tex Winter, who attempted to capture its many mysteries in a book called The Triple-Post Offense, published in 1962.

Since the publication of Winters book, others have attempted to explain, clearly and concisely, what the Triangle entails. But many have gone mad in this pursuit; trying to do so is the basketball equivalent to gazing at the face of Medusa.

In 2014, Scott Cacciola of The New York Times provided a short primer, saying that the Triangle was predicated on reading and exposing soft spots in the defense. He continued:

The triangle and there is an actual triangle formed by the post, wing and corner players on the strong side of the court revolves around seven guiding principles that include maintaining proper spacing (about 15 to 20 feet between players), penetration by passing and the interchangeability of positions. Every player ought to be able to score, and from different angles.

In 2015, writer Nicholas Dawidoff in these pages immersed himself in the sacred text that was Winters book. Part of his search for enlightenment included asking the basketball analyst Jay Williams who played in the Triangle Offense while with the Chicago Bulls one season to explain.

You hand me a piece of paper and say, Jay, define the Triangle for me, its kind of like a kid with Magic Markers drawing a cartoon. Its all over the page. So many series of actions, I get lost trying to explain it. Now, give me four guys who know how to run it on the court, I can get out there and do it.

Still, even the harshest critics had to acknowledge that Jackson had carried out the Triangle Offense to astounding effect during his long basketball career. As the coach for the Chicago Bulls and then for the Los Angeles Lakers, his insistence on running the Triangle paid off with a combined 11 NBA titles.

(It is reported that Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, of the Bulls, and Kobe Bryant and Shaquille ONeal, of the Lakers, also played roles in those championships.)

When Jackson joined the Knicks front office in 2014, he celebrated the Triangle Offense new to the city as the key to basketball success. Hopes were high, given that the once-proud Knicks had for years been adhering to a style of offense technically known as lousy.

But the Triangle Offense struggled to find acceptance in its adopted city, where even the most astute basketball fans did not appreciate the suggestion that watching a Knicks game meant keeping a protractor close at hand. Nor did it help that the Knicks star Carmelo Anthony was reluctant, if thats the word, to embrace the Triangle.

By November 2016, Anthony didnt even want to hear the phrase. Were just playing basketball, he said after yet another Knicks loss. Were making adjustments offensively regardless of what were running. At this point Im getting tired of hearing about the Triangle. Just getting tired of hearing about it.

The Knicks ultimately proved resistant, even allergic, to the mysterious charms of the Triangle Offense. During the three-year tenure of the Triangle whisperer, the team posted three losing seasons and never reached the playoffs. In order to survive, it seemed, the offense required elements that were in short supply in the Garden: discipline, patience, and flowing movement.

In addition to Jackson, survivors include a player in the post, one in the corner, one on the wing, and two on the weak side. Funeral services, which are private, will include a shaman, several popcorn-scented candles, and the ritual burning of a Chuck Taylor All Star high-top.

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The triangle - Manhattan Mercury (subscription)

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July 30th, 2017 at 2:28 pm

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