Word on the Street

Wounded Tiger Theory (woond’-ud ti’-ger thir’-e) noun. The theory that a basketball team (or any other sports team) tends to play harder and (at times) perform better despite the loss of one or more key players.

Usage example:The Phoenix Suns did everything they could Wednesday night to validate Dick Motta’s old Wounded Tiger Theory. They came within a couple possessions of the fairy tale that the NBA’s justice department was secretly – but surely – wishing for as much as the fuming locals waving those “Dirtier Than Dirt” signs, wearing “Stu Sucks” T-shirts and fully blaming the league for this predicament.”

Word history: The term was coined (for use in basketball-related commentary) by Dick Motta. According to this Jimmy Burch article from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Dick Motta, former coach of the Dallas Mavericks, loved to invoke the Wounded Tiger theory any time his team suffered a key injury or played an opponent missing a pivotal starter. Motta’s theory, in a nutshell, suggests that the wounded tiger fights hardest, making it the most difficult jungle cat to subdue.”

You say tomato, I say zucchini: Bill SimmonsEwing Theory is probably an offshoot of Motta’s Wounded Tiger Theory. The basic tenets of the Ewing Theory are identical to the Wounded Tiger, and it was created several years after Motta first explicated his doctrine (and it seems improbable that Simmons, a diehard sports zealot, would have been totally unaware of it). The main divergence in the two theories is that Motta believed that the team played better despite the missing player(s), while Simmons’ theory seems to hold that the team improved because the missing player(s) received too much media attention, ruined team chemistry, or were vastly overrated to begin with.

Famous Wounded Tigers: You can read Simmons’ Ewing Theory article for an expansive list of teams that qualify for Wounded Tiger status. But his list has one glaring omission, a team I would rank as the greatest ever example of the Wounded Tiger Theory: The 1993-94 Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan retired (for the first time anyway), but the Bulls inserted Pete Myers into the lineup and barely missed a step. That team won 55 games – only two fewer games than the previous championship season – and they were a couple questionable calls away from heading to the Eastern Conference Finals. And the team that beat them, the New York Knicks, eventually made it all the way to the NBA Finals, where they lost a tough seven-game series to the Houston Rockets. When you think about it, it’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to say that that Bulls team could have made it to the Finals, and could have competed with the Rockets, and even could have won it all (since they wouldn’t have had to overcome John Starks’ dreadful 2-for-18 shooting performance in Game 7). Nobody, and I mean nobody, expected that much from a team that replaced Michael Jordan with Pete Myers. And all the idiots who claim that Jordan did won all by himself – yes, I’m talking to you, Chris Broussard – really need to go back and review that season.

Wounded Tigers of Today: Take note, my friends. There are some Wounded Tigers roaming the NBA this season. Take the Portland Trailblazers, for example. They’re missing Darius Miles. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. But seriously, most people (myself included) wrote them off after Greg Oden’s knee injury, but now they’re breathing fire and leading their division (ahead of favorites like the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets). The Wizards of Washington have also shown a lot of spunk, and some seriously determined defensive intensity, in winning without Agent Zero. And make no mistake, at 22-17 they’re nipping at the Magic’s heels for the divisional lead. And if yesterday night’s dismantling of the Nuggets was any indication, I think there might be a Wounded Tiger on the prowl in L.A.

The Wounded Tiger is on the prowl.

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Labels: Michael Jordan / Pete Myers / John Starks / Darius Miles / Greg Oden / Gilbert Arenas (Agent Zero) / Washington WizardsOrlando Magic / Portland Trail Blazers / Denver Nuggets / Utah Jazz / New York Knicks / Houston Rockets / Phoenix Suns / Chicago Bulls / Dallas Mavericks / Dick Motta / NBA Eastern Conference / NBA FinalsNBA / Word on the Street

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