Motta the motivator gets Kings interested in practice--for a price

October 28, 1990|By R.E. Graswich | R.E. Graswich,McClatchy News Service

SACRAMENTO -- Dick Motta may have found a way to motivate millionaires.

He baits them with nickels and dimes and fun and games.

After two decades of coaching in the NBA, Motta, now with the Sacramento Kings, has settled on motivational techniques that turn mundane practice sessions into lively, competitive workouts. His system is simple, appealing to those basic human characteristics, greed and ambition.

"I play to their competitive juices," Motta said. "When you cut away all the distractions, all the contracts and agents, you find that the kids play because they love the game. They love to win. They love the competition."

Motta realized early in his career that few players shared his passion for practice. To keep the talent interested, he cooked up an elaborate recipe of fines, rewards and games for every workout.

For example, if players sink 10 consecutive jumpers during their daily catch-and-shoot drills, they win $50. If they hit 30 consecutive shots, they win $500.

The Kings can also lose money. If a basketball hits the floor after Motta whistles, the offender is charged $10. Scotty Stirling, a scout, was the first man fined for an errant bounce. If someone lets fly with a shot after Motta whistles, the shot costs $50.

The scoreboard always glows during Motta's practice sessions, reminding players that winning matters, even in practice.

"It makes practice fun," veteran guard Bobby Hansen said. "It makes it a lot more interesting if you can laugh at a guy getting fined or compete for a little money or something."

Motta's ability to keep his players interested is critical this month, when he is pushing the Kings through twice-daily workouts. Few teams devote as much time to practice as the Kings do.

In a gilded culture where annual paychecks range from $120,000 to $2.3 million, a $10 fine would seem irrelevant. Experience has convinced Motta that the chance to save $10 turns most NBA millionaires into good students.

"As long as they have something to compete for, they're interested," Motta said.

Few things in life are more boring than training camps and practice sessions. Basic, repetitive drills take up most of the time. Players can't wait for workouts to end and games to begin.

Motta doesn't sacrifice fundamental instruction. He can't afford to overlook the basics with the Kings, a club that includes four rookies, five free agents and five players who worked elsewhere last season.

Accordingly, Motta devoted large chunks of training camp to passing, shooting and execution. In the past week he worked on defense, installing traps, rotations and presses.

"We never divorce ourself from fundamentals," Motta said. "This game is about basic skill. Everything is designed around the basics."

Motta tries to walk a fine line in practice. He wants his players to enjoy themselves but also wants them to understand the serious nature of the lessons.

"I want to be fun without being funny," he said.

Motta began to develop his practice techniques when he was a graduate student at Utah State. One of his assignments was to serve as the school's intramural sports director. He wanted to make intramurals exciting.

Motta had been impressed by a teacher who captured his students' attention with a simplified system for basketball one point per basket, five-minute quarters. Motta borrowed the scheme for his intramural games. He brought it with him when he began coaching at Grace Junior High School in Idaho.

As Motta gained experience, he began using other tricks, such as jump-shot tournaments and footraces.

Making practice sessions competitive helps pull the team together, Motta believes. Players learn to rely on each other when they break into teams and battle for cash and pride in drills.

"It feels like a college camp," center Eric Leckner said. "The whole attitude is more like a college team than an NBA team."

The idea of running a college-style camp appeals to Motta, whose plays and strategies are essentially unchanged from his days as a coach at Grace and Weber State.

"I know this is supposed to be serious and professional," Motta said. "But when this ceases to be a silly game played by children, I don't want to be here. I want to be somewhere else."

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