How Do You Sell Havoc?

You are no doubt familiar with the concept of wreaking havoc. If you know some Shakespeare you would know about the cry of havoc. But how do you sell it? And perhaps you want to take a step back and figure out why anyone would want to sell it. We have found the greatest salesman in the history of havoc. Screen Shot 2013-03-20 at 2.07.48 PM

Luke Winn, at Sports Illustrated, took a great inside look at the formerly upstart and now contender Virginia Commonwealth Basketball in his article, “Cry Havoc And Let Slip the Dogs of Hoops” (February 4,2013). We loved the article for many reasons: well written, great background on the program, and great look at coach Shaka Smart with his well-developed system that has led to a meteoric rise. But here at Sportaphorically Speaking we love Winn’s article for another reason: it’s a textbook example of what we are all about. Winn gives us the inside story; the story behind the story you might say. He gives us insight into VCU and Shaka Smart that make us know them and want to follow them. Now, we want to take it from there. How does this inside story fit within the bigger story? First, I better give you a little summary of the article. I highly encourage you read it for yourself, but here’s a snapshot.

VCU surged onto the national stage primarily through relentless, full-court pressing, turnover-making defense that isn’t aware there is a game clock. Shaka Smart saw the fruits of this kind of a system in his playing days and coaching experience before stepping on the campus in Richmond. It requires a certain type of player. It requires a certain type of planning. It requires a certain type of conditioning. It requires a certain mentality. Winn gives us the the backstory on all this in vivid style. You finish the article feeling like you know Shaka and his program. In fact, you are rooting for them.

The next step, sportaphorically speaking, is to ask how this happened and why it worked? Winn gives insight and tidbits in his discovery, but I want to organize some details in a way that was rightly beyond his goal in the article.

Shaka Smart understood how to sell havoc. He knew what it would take to sell it–sell it to coachers, sell it to players, sell it to recruits, and sell it to fans. Turns out, he actually sold it to a whole city and now beyond. Screen Shot 2013-02-21 at 4.31.16 PM

On April 2, 2009 the nearly thirty-two year old Shaka Smart introduced himself to the VCU community with these words: “We are going to wreak havoc on our opponents’ psyche and their plan of attack.” Perhaps unknowingly at that moment, Smart unleashed a marketing extravaganza that would brand his program with one word: havoc.

A consultant called in to work with program picked up on the word. It became the all-encompassing term that replaced various synonyms: frenzy, spurtability etc. It quickly made it out of the team room and onto the back of the black warm up jerseys. The student section wasn’t far behind. And yes, it made it to billboards in Richmond: “Havoc Lives Here.”

Why did it work? After all, other programs were modeled on the same principles but we aren’t talking about them. One of Shaka’s mentors focused on the same system under the ever-catchy acronym MTIXE. Now, that’s hard to sell. You are unlikely to see a band during March Madness with those letters plastered across the slide of the trombone! Shaka sold havoc. He needed a brand. He found it. And he sold it. He sold it to coaches: His 5 month old daughter wore it with pride. He sold it to players. He sold it to recruits. He sold it to fans. And they bought it. Why? Because we all love to be a part of a new story–a new identity that’s bigger than we are, especially if it’s marketed well and backed up with performance. You might be thinking: “Hey, you guys over at Sportaphorically Speaking–maybe it worked simply because he got good players and they went to the Final Four.” That was a huge factor. No argument here. But over here at Sportaphorically, we want to turn it around on you: Are you sure it worked because they got players and made it to the Final 4? After all, 5 star recruits are not known to fly into Richmond for a visit. Maybe, just maybe, they made it to the Final 4 with good players because they had a brand that they believed in. What’s the difference between a VCU first round upset that is followed by a well-respected exit and a run to the final four? What’s the difference between one great March Madness first round upset that ends 2 days later and a program that simply makes that upset the first chapter in a story that hasn’t ended? We suggest it’s that Shaka sold a brand. He gave them a new identity and it has never left. It’s the chicken or the egg question—players and success led to the brand or the brand led to the players and success?

In some ways, this memorable sight from the A-10 Tourney this past weekend says it all.  Screen Shot 2013-03-20 at 2.09.12 PMScreen Shot 2013-03-20 at 2.10.59 PM

Hey Spike, I’m sold too.

If you live in the Eastern time zone, Havoc will be most visible to the naked eye Thursday night at 9:45 PM. And don’t miss the potential second installment against Michigan on Saturday.

(Thanks to Will Weaver @ for use of the photos)

Bo Knows Story

How can you create a sports documentary about one of the great athletes of all time and include virtually no stats and few highlights? That’s exactly what ESPN did recently in their bo raider jerseynewest installment of the outstanding 30 for 30 series. The title, “You Don’t Know Bo: The Legend of Bo Jackson,” must have been selected over the less popular, “Bo No Stats. Bo No Highlights.” Was this a filmmaking faux pas? Will this be the first failure for 30 for 30? Far from it.

In the late 80s and early 90s, I was a Bo Jackson fan as far as the dynamic way he put his mark on the sports world. I wasn’t a super fan and he was never on one of my teams, but I always enjoyed watching him, knowing I was watching one of the most gifted athletes to put on cleats and step out on both playing fields.

I’ve watched other biographic treatments of Bo and enjoyed them. He is an intriguing figure. The subtitle of the film taps an overused phrase that is rightly placed in this case onbo kc jersey the legendary athleticism of Bo Jackson. I was particularly drawn into this film recognizing that from the start I was being given a different perspective on the life and legend of Bo. Near the end of my first viewing, my mind started to wander as I realized some of what was different about this film—or at least my perception of the film. I was nearing the end of the 90 minutes and started to think about what I now knew about Bo’s career. I didn’t know anything about his statistics. I didn’t have a good sense of his achievements, though some specifics were sprinkled throughout. I didn’t feel like I saw many highlights of games, and I knew there weren’t any extended chronological treatments of his playing career. There was no focus on a particular season with looks at multiple games in any detail. But I finished the film very gratified that I both enjoyed the ride and did in fact know Bo. I couldn’t tell you one career stat, but I knew the man. I knew his story.

I gave it some thought for a few days and then took a second look to investigate. Did I miss the stats? Were there more highlights than I thought? I remembered that the film opened with a comment from the director about his intent in revealing Bo. There, in the opening, was my key to unlock what took place in the film. Michael Bonfiglio, the filmmaker, explains:

“I wanted everything in this film to reflect the legend of Bo—this superhero kind of idea—and for the film to be about the mythology surrounding Bo Jackson. In some ways it’s a deconstruction of how myths and heroes are created and what they mean to us in our lives and why they are important to us.”

There it is. Allow me to summarize: Story. This film is the story of Bo. Not stories about Bo, though those are included. This was a film about gathering the legends of Bo into the legend of Bo in a way that the viewer identifies with it and is readily able to recall it and pass on the legend.  Bonfiglio achieved his goal at Oscar level caliber.

Bonfiglio’s method in achieving this is worthy of its own article, but that’s for another place. Let me simply highlight some unique ways in which this was achieved:

* There are in fact no real statistics in the film. There are a couple track stats from High School. There’s a mention of his remarkable 4.12 in the 40. There’s a quick reference to his rushing yards in one Monday night game, but even that is quickly brushed into the real story of “Bo vs. Boz” that night in Seattle.

* There are no real highlight packages—at least not the way you would expect them. Instead Bonfiglio takes a few select moments in Bo’s career and spends 3-4 minutes to tell the legend of Bo, each segment ultimately only showing 1 play.

* The real statistic in the film is how many stories are told to tell the story—the legend—of Bo. There must be 100 if we were to sit down and count. This is a thread of stories to tell a story, while the highlights and clips play in the background to give the visual context. In fact, at a number of places, cartoon sketches are used to visualize the legend, even in some cases when live footage would be readily available.

One thing is clear: This film is a master class in the use of story to present a memorable and engaging picture of Bo Jackson. It raises an interesting question for consideration. Is Bo Jackson’s career uniquely suited for a film of this style, or is a film of this style uniquely suited to convey the legend of many sports stars? To clarify: Bo’s career was cut short and he split time among two sports playing partial seasons. His stats aren’t what make his career. He didn’t hit 500 homeruns and run for 15,000 yards. Is that what makes story as the foundation of this film work? Or is that secondary and what we learn is that story is really the means to communicate the legend in a way that we “get it?” And if so, why?

Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Check out the film on ESPN or here it is on YouTube in several parts (Don’t be fooled by the opening set of highlights!):

Sports Transcends & Transforms


Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers.  It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.

~Nelson Mandela


What Are We Doing Here?

(This post is taken directly from our About Page)

Sports. Story. Life.

When all three converge you have far more than a memorable moment. You have a “where were you when….” kind of moment. An event by which you track the progress of your life. A mile marker on your journey. A reference point. Think about it. Do you remember field flagWhitney Houston’s rendition of the National Anthem at the Super Bowl? How about the return of sports after 9/11—the president throwing out the first pitch in NYC, Piazza’s homerun for America, and those stirring national anthems that NFL Sunday? What about when your team that you followed as long as you can remember won the championship? The satisfaction. The celebration. In fact, you don’t just remember it, you know what life was like

field confetti

during those times. You remember the culture of that time period of your life. There is something very powerful when all three come together.

The idea of sports as a metaphor for life is widely known. Sportaphorically Speaking is about more than that. The name may draw you to the common comparisons of sports and life, but the content will draw you in to the uncommon connections of the sports world and your world. Or at least it will show you an uncommon perspective. There are lots of venues for the story behind the story, where you get to know the athlete behind the statistics. But we will begin there and continue on to how the story behind the story fits into the bigger picture—how it fits into your story, how it fits into a story bigger than your story. Have you ever wondered why there are so many seemingly universal responses to different things that happen in the sports world? Have you thought about how certain themes come up time and time again but always in a different way and fresh perspective that seems like you are hearing it for the first time? We love the story behind the story, but we want to discuss the story behind the story within the story.

That’s what we are about. And whether you are just curious about these things, have thought about them for many years, or are just interested in a slightly different perspective on the world of sports, we want you to be a part of the discussion. We look forward to not just imparting our perspective, but to discuss it on this site. We welcome comments on the blog and look forward to interaction.

We look forward to creating a culture and a community that explores sports, story, and life and that better sees the connection of that story with our own story, within the bigger story.

Sports. Story. Life.

Understand the intersection of the three and you will have a new lens through which to view the sports world and your own world. Well, sportaphorically speaking, that is.