The Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson, Montana-born, North Dakota-raised, belies his parental heritage at times. Both Mom and Dad were ministers. Known as the “Zen Master,” he often invokes Far Eastern magic in his coaching. And he also pays tribute to his region’s Native Americans, burning sweet grass in the locker room and even starting some practices with the beating of a Lakota-Sioux tom-tom.
Ah, but hardly known outside their court is the Celtics’ use of exotics. Coach Doc Rivers is masterminding an all-black starting team and in a way he has Africanized the squad in spite of the Irish moniker it goes by. Rivers is quoted as saying he got the idea from his old school, Marquette, where he came across the African Bantu word, ubuntu, which roughly translates to “all for one, one for all.” (In Musketeer-like parlance, collective success beats individual effort.) It is said ubuntu plus the shaving of the teams’ skulls early in the season accounts for the squad’s success.
That Bantu word, Rivers is quoted as saying, “has come into play all year…has been an important word for our team.” In fact, the starters are supposed to chant Ubuntu as they break huddles in preparation for play. More than 60 million Africans speak some form of Bantu, mostly in the south. And the word has formed the backbone of several small communities, some established in the time of South Africa’s apartheid days.
Few in Boston speak Bantu, or come from a Bantustan. Can you hear the late Red Auerbach pacing the sidelines and yelling “ubuntu, ubuntu!” to his charges on the court? I thought not. But look, whatever works, works.
As far as game five was concerned, there was a shortage of ubuntu, and the Zen Master was the master of the night, with more Boston Bantu to come.