As is the case in just about all pro sports, the NBA is a copycat league.
When coaches see something on film from an opponent that works well, they’ll adopt and adapt the play into their own design, usually disguising it a bit so other teams don’t catch on as easily.
ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan recently wrote about how certain plays have made their ways through various coaches and franchises in the NBA, and it turns out the Knicks are responsible for what’s now known as the “What the f—k” play call, of WTF for short.
MacMullan explains that Phil Jackson told her the origins of the play date back to when Red Holzman was coaching the Knicks in 1969, when Jackson played for the team. When trying to recall a sideline out-of-bounds play that he had drawn up earlier in the season, Holzman asked “Now what the f--k was that play again?"
The play, as MacMullan writes, has been “stolen” and adopted by a number of different coaches, including Steve Kerr, Frank Vogel, and Luke Walton, among others.
“Almost everybody runs a version of it," Kerr told McMullan.
The WTF play helped Jackson’s Bulls win the fifth of their six titles in the 1990s, as Jackson told MacMullan that the Bulls ran “a segment” of the play when Michael Jordan found Kerr for the game-winning jump shot against the Utah Jazz in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals.
Over the past two decades, Knicks fans have probably muttered those three letters to themselves plenty of times as the team has fallen on tough times, but now we know that the WTF play actually holds a key place in the history of the NBA.