Ask a group of people which super power they’d most want and a majority of them will tell you invisibility. Sure, plenty of people would say they’d choose the ability to fly, have x-ray vision or do celebrity impressions like Frank Caliendo for a myriad of reasons but the chance to go through certain aspects of life unseen supersedes them all. That’s because only the power of invisibility gives you the chance to accomplish things and do it with the element of surprise.
In sports it is a power that teams don’t necessarily want but sometimes will accept if it’s thrust upon them. The element of surprise for a team in sports isn’t called invisibility. It’s better known as being the underdog.
When you hear the word underdog you think of one of two things — or maybe it’s just me. Either you envision a scrawny cartoon dog with a cape and a corny theme song or you conjure up images of a sports team or competitor who isn’t expected to accomplish much by the “experts.”
It’s a term the Suns are more familiar with than Kevin James is with making bad movies. (You can’t watch the trailer for Here Comes the Boom and not agree with that statement.) Over the years the franchise has had its fair share of underdog stories. They are teams that national and local pundits didn’t give much thought to who would go on to surprise everyone.
If you read this year’s national NBA previews the 2012-13 Suns find themselves in that exact position. National talking heads and scribes have given them no respect and many local media types are lukewarm on the team at best, thanks to a roster that is younger and had been revamped more than a list of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends.
The question remains, is there a benefit to being overlooked in the preseason? Does a team gain a mental advantage by playing the “no one believes in us” card? The answer, like whether a person enjoys Lady Gaga’s music, depends on who you ask.
If you ask Suns shooting guard Shannon Brown the role of underdog is one he feels he’s played his whole life and played it well.
“It should,” Brown said of whether being overlooked provides a team extra motivation. “Everybody is different. Personally for me it does. I’ve always been one of those guys that other people had low expectations for me. I’ve always set the expectations high for myself.”
With high expectations for yourself comes a large responsibility. That doesn’t mean Brown won’t be enjoying the ride this season.
“It’s just going to be fun to go out and compete and prove everybody wrong,” he said. “All we have to do is band together, stay together as a team and get a little bit more mentally tough. We have to go out there and prepare ourselves for a battle, a fight and a grind every time we go out there”.
His coach, Alvin Gentry, agrees with the sentiment that the team needs to band together and work hard but he doesn’t necessarily think being overlooked provides much of an edge.
“I don’t think it’s an advantage per se,” Gentry told me. “As I told the guys, we just have to go out there and play and execute regardless of what anyone says about us.”
But what about the boost many underdog teams get and the “no one respects us” mentality that occurs in sports? Gentry has an answer for that, too.
“If you’re a competitor, you are naturally motivated.”
Naturally motivated or not, there’s no denying that Gentry coached teams have thrived in situations where expectations weren’t there. He has become great at getting the most out of talent. Since he’s been at the helm, the team has exceeded what people predicted they’d be able to accomplish. Maybe that’s because of the lack of expectations or his coaching abilities.
Either way, no matter what anyone says, flying under the radar can’t be a bad thing. With people curbing their enthusiasm and not paying attention it makes it easier to sneak up on them and surprise them. While being a favorite is great, invisibility, or playing the underdog, can be quite the powerful ability.