It's no secret that top-tier professional athletes must be confident to succeed. In a league where every player is very talented, slight edges make a big difference. It's a cliche to say that the team that wants it more wins, but it's usually true that the more focused, more confident team will win in the NBA.
Last week, Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated wrote a piece on Golden State Warriors center Andris Biedrins's major confidence issues. The story was enough to inspire David Aldridge of NBA.com to delve deeper into the mental aspects of playing in the NBA (via Marcel Mutoni). Former NBA sharpshooter and TNT analyst Steve Kerr had much to say, including his own methods of psyching himself up:
"I definitely had moments every season when I felt like I couldn't make anything," Kerr said. "I probably wouldn't say anything to most of the guys, but I might to my best buddies on the team. Late in my career [in San Antonio] I was working with Chip Engelland [now a Spurs assistant coach], but he wasn't on staff at the time, and that was good for me. I could bare my soul to him and not worry about any repercussions. I think everybody is afraid to tell the coach, because then the coach isn't going to play him." [...]
"I remember growing a goatee one time," Kerr said. "It sounds crazy, but I grew a goatee. I wrote the letters F.I. on my shoes, for [bleep] it. I went out there and said I'm going to shoot every time. I probably wasn't as confident as other guys. A guy like Jordan, I don't think he ever had a problem with something like that. Most mortals, you've got to train your mind just like you train your body."
Kerr makes good points here, and it's notable that he struggled with confidence even during his later seasons, when he was firmly established as one of the best shooters in NBA history, the sort of player that others have confidence in just because he's proven himself so many times.
The especially notable part of this story, of course, is exactly what Kerr did to regain his confidence. While Kerr mentions a goatee, photographic evidence of that facial hair is not readily available. On top of that, our own Kelly Dwyer — as encyclopedic a source on the last 15 years of NBA basketball as anyone — does not remember anything of the sort. Of course, given Kerr's blond hair, it's possible that the goatee was flesh-colored, gross, and therefore short-lived.
As for writing "F.I." on his shoes, Kerr probably made the correct move in not writing the full words. Something tells me that would have made it harder for TV networks to hire him after his retirement.
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