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Govinda Patterson: The Man Who Wants to Change the Way Basketball Is Played

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Govinda Patterson: The Man Who Wants to Change the Way Basketball Is Played
Courtesy Govinda Patterson

Govinda Patterson thought maybe, finally, his big break had arrived.

After years of emails, phone calls and even impromptu demonstrations to any NBA coach, general manager, owner or player, past or present, that he could track down, none other than the Los Angeles Lakers invited him to their El Segundo, Calif. training facility last September to show what he could do.

Training camp was still two weeks away, so the facility was open to whoever wanted to come in early on their own to get in shape, but a number of Lakers assistant coaches were on hand. It was enough of an audience, Govinda felt, to prove his worth.

The team wasn’t willing to pay for his trip from Oahu, but that didn’t matter; having spent so much time, money and energy to get to this point, how could he pass up this invitation? So what if it meant selling off a few possessions and hocking a gold coin his mother gave him as an inheritance to cover the airfare and hotel and food? So what if he had made a similar trek to the Portland Trail Blazers’ facility nine years earlier that had amounted to nothing? So what if his trip to the Las Vegas Summer League a few months earlier had been just as fruitless?

To say no to the Lakers would’ve been tantamount to saying he’d lost faith, and if there’s anything that Patterson has seemingly in limitless supply, it is an unshakable belief that he has a special gift waiting for someone, anyone to recognize it.

Now, everybody has a cause that drags them out of bed and gets them dressed and propels them through their day. Some of us—maybe most—simply want to get through that day, provide for ourselves or our families and return to bed in one piece.

Govinda has his sights set higher than that. The 38-year-old single father with a bad back wants to transform the fundamental footwork of basketball with an array of offensive moves and defensive stances developed from martial arts-based principles of leverage.

He envisions doing this by teaching his concepts—and the offensive and defensive schemes specifically designed to employ them—to an NBA team and watching it win a championship with them.

“I do understand I’m asking for a lot,” he says.

It would be easier to dismiss Govinda as delusional if there weren’t NBA people who confirm his ideas have merit. Hall of Fame center Bill Walton wrote a glowing letter after Patterson demonstrated his ideas on the backyard lawn of Walton’s San Diego home.

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“He has some valuable things to offer,” says former Sacramento Kings head coach Keith Smart. “I don’t know if all of it works, but there are some things you could use. Looking at how he connects with players, there’s something there. The problem is, you have to be a big-time coach to get your team to sign off on the expense of bringing a guy in for two weeks from Hawaii. And then there’s the time commitment. It’s just easier to say no. What he needs is the chance, once and for all, to succeed or fail.”

The Lakers appeared to be offering exactly that. Patterson spent five days in their practice facility. “Oh, it was awesome,” he says. “Dream come true.”

Even though his back problems flared up the very first day and he spent much of that time as a spectator.

“I could barely move,” he says, “but I got to show my techniques to the coaches. I was scoring on Kareem Rush (who plays for the team's D-League affiliate) and (assistant coach) Mark Madsen.” Assistant coach Kurt Rambis and special scout and former head coach Rudy Tomjanovich observed. “Kurt Rambis was blown away,” Patterson says. “I’ve never seen anyone that speechless. He asked me, ‘Do you have a way to stop this stuff?’”

Patterson, however, is back in Hawaii now and has not heard from the Lakers since. While Rambis and Madsen acknowledged that Patterson did indeed spend time at their facility and demonstrated his ideas, Rambis declined to speak on the record about what he showed them or its merits. Madsen described Patterson’s technique as “interesting” and noted that Kevin Garnett utilizes some of the same rebounding principles.

“It’s not even close,” Patterson said of Garnett’s technique. “It’s similar, but it doesn’t have the same effect. And there’s so much more than that.”

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, who signed off on Patterson’s El Segundo visit, looked uncomfortable when asked about Patterson’s method. “Looks good, but I’m not an expert on that,” he said before hurrying away.

***

Anyone who works in the NBA, or around it, is bombarded with products or techniques or services that promise to provide a competitive edge. The desire to win, coupled with a healthy paranoia that everyone is out to latch themselves to the NBA gravy train, results in teams acting like spinsters who invite passersby onto their doorstep, ask, “What do you want?” through the curtains and then invariably yell, “I don’t want any!”

The Lakers were approached several times a week with ideas to solve Shaquille O’Neal’s free-throw shooting issues, Rambis said. The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference has mushroomed over six years from an exchange of ideas by executives from various sports into a million-dollar job fair where anyone can present their wares in hope of attracting the eye—and checkbook—of one of those executives.

One current NBA head coach asked Patterson, “How much money would you bet on this? Would you bet $10,000? A million dollars?” 

Few, however, have shown the persistence that Patterson has. Born in the small California mountain town of Mt. Shasta, he starred on the Mt. Shasta High basketball team as a senior and then spent time at both a nearby junior college, Siskiyou, and Chico State, but injuries and family issues derailed his playing career. Looking for a way to keep playing despite back problems led him to refine his ideas on how to control an opponent.

He took a bus from Mt. Shasta down to Portland at the invitation of then-Blazers assistant coach Bernard Smith. After a brief demonstration, Smith promised to gather an NBA ref and the rest of the staff for a second demonstration, but Patterson never heard from him again.

He has approached coaches on the high school and college level as well as the NBA. One of the first men he ever contacted was Larry Farmer, then an assistant coach at the University of Hawaii under Bob Nash. “It sounds like you’re trying to change the game of basketball,” Nash said, according to Patterson. “I like it the way it is.”

Farmer, however, provided an email address for one of his former UCLA teammates, an anti-establishment and free-spirited independent thinker named Bill Walton. “I emailed him a bunch of times and he didn’t want to meet with me for the longest,” Patterson says.

He’s been equally relentless with others. He’s exchanged emails with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, he estimates, about 15 times. “He wouldn’t meet with me,” Patterson says. He found an email address and a cell-phone number for Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey. Same response.

He’s emailed every NBA Development League player he can find on Facebook. He sold his car to make a trip to Las Vegas to attend the 2013 NBA Summer League and estimates he talked to “a couple of hundred” players there about his technique. With Jeff Hornacek watching, Patterson even demonstrated his moves on Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver on the concourse between UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center and the Cox Pavilion.

Only one player took him up on his offer to teach his secrets for free: Lakers second-round pick Derrick Caracter, who worked with him for three days before leaving to accept a contract overseas.

“Every year,” he says, “someone has promised me a job and offered to pay me a couple of thousand dollars to teach what I do.”

The promises to be paid, he says, came unsolicited. The offer to work for free, as he did with Caracter, still stands to any player or team willing to take him up on it. He says he’s already written a manuscript and made videos that are ready for sale. “I could make money now off this,” he says. “I’m not doing this to be famous, because I’m super shy. If I put videos out there, then I lose all of my edge. It’s more about winning for me. I want to help someone win because of what I teach.”

For now, he remains on Hawaii, making calls and writing emails, waiting for someone, anyone, to entrust him with their game or their team or their staff. So far, even for free, it’s a higher price than anyone is willing to pay.

Walton, though, remains a staunch supporter. “His novel concept is not about size and strength but skill, timing and positioning,” he said by phone. “I can’t speak to why no one has given him a chance. I know I learned a lot. But great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. You’ll never learn what you don’t want to know.”

 

Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.

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