Intelligence is a scary word and reality of life. It's also revered and bragged about. People who are highly intelligent often feel superior to those who aren't. They are haughty sometimes and hard to be compared to if you are not as smart as them. Many of those who are less intelligent go through their lives feeling inadequate, somehow a little sub-human. They wish they were smarter because they look around at what the smarter people are doing and see them, usually, making more money, wielding more power, influencing more people. Their houses tend to be bigger, their cars flashier.

Intelligence comes in many forms. One of the most prevalent centers on the ability to reason and think through complicated problems to arrive at rational and logical decisions.  Companies pay hundreds of thousands and sometimes tens of millions of dollars to employ people who do this well. Those who can't do this as well often don't get hired by such companies nearly as often. They are not as useful.

In the world of sports, these same rules frequently apply. Arguably one of the smartest coaches in the history of all sports is Phil Jackson. I've read his writing in a book he wrote a few years ago about one of the Los Angeles Laker seasons. The man writes clearly and with flair and it's not even his profession.

Jackson's smarts enabled him to win 11 NBA titles, the most of any coach in the league's history. His story is about an exceptionally smart man outsmarting all the other coaches again and again.

Another exceptionally bright guy from the world of sports was Greg Maddux. As a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves during the 1980s and 1990s, he won five Cy Young Awards, which were bestowed about the league's best pitcher. For decades he dominated hitters for two decades with a pedestrian fast ball. It was his mind more than his arm that lifted him to the top of his profession. He excelled because he outsmarted hitters better than anyone of his era. Word has it many professional baseball managers acknowledged he was smarter than they were. Managers are, at least in theory, supposed to be smarter than their players. If not, they are not the types who readily admit they are not. But with Maddux, the comparison was obvious.

Like Phil Jackson, Maddux was intellectually bright but also, and perhaps more importantly, a mind manipulator. Both of them played the psychological game of sports, which is often more impactful than the physical side, better than their rivals. Against Maddux hitters mentally freaked out before they entered the batter's box because he had a reputation for being guileful and tricky. More so than any other pitcher of his era, they were baffled about what pitch he might throw next. You couldn't guess right with Maddux very often; or, if you did, he would still have you beat, because on the next pitch you would have no idea what he would throw. He had your mind in his pitching palm.

Similarly, Jackson's reputation as a smart human being intimidated opposing coaches. They knew he was smarter than they were because they had heard so much about his innate intellectual gifts. Being competitive and proud, they tried too hard, overthinking and over preparing in order to beat him to show they were the smarter ones. Overthinking did them in. He had their minds compartmentalized and neutralized in a corner of his Zen world. He won the psychological confrontation often before the game started. Once in a while Phil would say something critical about the referees. Because he was so smart, the refs figured his attacks were correct. They acquiesced and gave him the benefit of the doubt more often than with other coaches who ripped them. Intelligence intimidates. His mind controlled them. It also controlled his players in a way that motivated them to play harder and more effectively than they would have for any other coach, because they knew he was right about so much. When players think a coach knows more than they do and can lead them to a championship, they fall in line. Players have to be sold that a man knows what he's talking about and thinks on a higher level than they or any other coach does. Jackson closed that sale.

A great mind is a ferocious animal. For Maddux and Jackson, it made them roaring success stories.



May 9, 2013  12:55 PM ET

I remember a line from Northern Exposure (Maurice): "F. Scott Fitzgerald (of The Great Gatsby) wrote, 'The rich are different, they've got more money,'" meaning, I think, people are people, emotionally speaking. Black or white, young or old, male or female, rich or poor, wise or ignornant, arrogance, greed and the like know no boundry. Personally, I've met at least as many seemingly ignorant, less-educated (often a choice) folk who are selfish & arrogant, acting "superior," as I have seemingly "smart," "highly-intelligent" people. The winner changes, depending on the week.

I know someone who works in healthcare. They say many of their most demanding and problematic patients are uneducated and too often choose to remain ignorant about their own treatment, and then of course complain if problems arise down the road related to their choosen, uninformed state.

Knowledge has always gotten a bad rap from power brokers (religious / political) and regular Joes alike. Bill Bennett's best-seller from a few years back ('The Book of Virtues," talk about "haughty") had some great inclusions but left out wisdom. I wasn't surprised, coming from Bill, but troubled by its exclusion.

I can tell you're intelligent Charles, from the interesting, thoughtful topic on which you chose to write. Knowledge, intelligence can sometimes be "scary," for sure, but I'd be proud of what you know and the desire, the courage to always learn more. I think Phil & Greg would wholehartedly agree. Kudos on a terrific write. You got me thinking!


Remember to keep your posts clean. Profanity will get filtered, and offensive comments will be removed.

Start Your Own Blog

Start Now

Truth & Rumors


  1. 1
    Clippers, Warriors exchange barbs
  2. 2
    Time to penalize NHL's perennial losers?
  3. 3
    Report: Raiders to release Terrelle Pryor on Monday
  4. 4
    Will NFL owners blackball Donald Trump?
  5. 5
    Packers lovers have own dating site

SI Photos