If you were freshman Nick Van Exel or Jevon Carter, playing for Bob Huggins, and you blew a defensive rotation leading to an easy basket, you would get yanked from the game and seated on the bench. Then you’d probably be cussed out.

That’s accountability at the college level, where disciplinarian coaches have their way with 18-year-old kids who are six months removed from playing high school ball in small town gyms.

Similarly, if you were playing JV baseball for Garnet Valley, and failed to run out a ground ball to first base, your ass would be swapped out for some other kid, who might not be as good as you but will certainly hustle down the line.

It’s different at the professional level, where superstars have big-money contracts and powerful agents and often run the show, especially in the NBA, which is a player-driven league. One only needs to look at how Markelle Fultz handled his benching a few years ago to see how traditional techniques or innocuous coaching decisions are non-interfacing with the contemporary culture of professional sports.

“Accountability” is the buzz word with the Sixers right now. Josh Richardson brought it up multiple times this year, including after the playoff sweep, because there doesn’t seem to be any, according to him. Does the coach chew out a player? Do the players rip each other? Team pow-wow in the locker room?

I asked Elton Brand about it at his season-ending press conference:

Crossing Broad: We’ve heard the word “accountability” tossed around about a hundred times over the last couple months. I’m just curious as to what accountability is at the NBA level. Obviously this is not a college coach yanking somebody after a turnover, but you have superstars, strong personalities – how do you get more out of these guys and what is accountability as it pertains to getting Ben and Joel to the next level?

Elton Brand: I think accountability starts at the top of the organization. It starts with me. I would hold myself accountable in how to push these guys and push this group. A new coach also, they’re gonna have to find that balance in how to push these All-Star players to the next stage. It’s a great question, and it’s not the collegiate level where you pull a guy or curse him out, or maybe it is, and that’s what we have to figure out, to find that balance.

CB: So how much of that is on a coach? How much of that is on a GM, vs. self-motivation and self-starting and these guys setting a certain standard for themselves?

Brand: It’s all of the above. It’s on the GM to lead from the top down, for the coach to pull it out of the players, and for the players to hold themselves accountable. We have a great mix of veteran players, young players learning how to win in this game, and it’s not easy, especially when you have a ways to go in that department. It’s not going to be an easy task, but it’s all of our jobs. We all have to look ourselves in the mirror and figure out how to hold ourselves accountable.


It really is a balancing act. That goes for motivation and support inside or outside of sports, where you want to nudge somebody without crossing the line, to the point where they resent you or, even worse, stop listening entirely. And the sweet spot is different for different players. One motivational tactic that works for Rhys Hoskins might not work for Scott Kingery, the same way some children are spatial classroom learners while others need tactile experience.

Ultimately, in sport, it boils down rather simply to this:

You either have it or you don’t.

Accountability is innate, and it’s the product of self-motivation, determination, and drive. Natural competitors hold themselves accountable and don’t need anybody else to do it for them, because they hate to lose and treat failure as a non-option.

Case in point, Ben Simmons has shot a million jumpers in practice, pregame, and on Instagram. At some point, it’s on him to actually do it consistently in a game. The coach, general manager, agent, and fans can’t do it for him. He himself is responsible and the onus falls on nobody else, which is why it was rather pitiful that he responded to a public challenge from Brett Brown by deciding not to shoot at all.

That topic came up during the presser:

Tom Moore: The whole accountability issue, if your coach asks your star player to do something, for instance Brett asking Ben to take a minimum of one three-pointer per game, then he takes one three-pointer over the next 27 games, does there need to be repercussion? Does the coach need to make sure the players follow what he asks them to do?

Brand: So, I alluded to it earlier, there’s a balance you have to strike. The players have to be educated and have to know why you’re asking them to do this, so they buy in. If they don’t, that’s exactly what happens. The repercussions, I don’t know how many coaches would take their star player out because they didn’t listen to one or two plays. Should they have? That’s to be determined. And will the next coach? That’s to be determined also.


Maybe a different voice gets you over the hump, sure, and having a new coach would perhaps allow Simmons to look at shooting in a different way, or give Embiid a different perspective on nutrition and physical fitness. After multiple years of one head coach, you start to tune that person out.

But again, it’s not about external motivation, because the greatest athletes across all sports only need to look inward to set their own high standards. Serena Williams, Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant, and Mike Trout all have that innate competitor in them, which allows for organically-engineered and self-sustaining motivation. People always say that it’s the coach’s job to get his or her team ready to play, which is 100% bullshit, because if you’re a pro athlete and can’t get juiced up for a game, then it’s nobody else’s fault but yours, as Robert Plant would say.

Ultimately, if there’s no internal accountability, then maybe certain players just aren’t as good as we think they are. Sport is just as much about the mind as it is the body. You can have any number of people lead the figurative horse to the water, but the horse is the only one who can actually drink it.

(Joe Giglio deserves a shout here. He’s been consistent with this topic on 94 WIP)