I do know that, if true, she probably doesn’t need to be the person hired to heal a program from the psychological scars of a coach who often governed by fear and intimidation. I do know that even the greatest motivators sometimes cross lines they can’t step back over.
But I also know I am nowhere today were it not for an f-bomb-dropping, verbally abusive, emotionally manipulative coach who — this is hard to admit — cared about me more than I cared about myself at one point in my life.
I know this is no great defense for the late Bob Nakagawa and some of the motivational “tactics” he implored.
I know when I was a sophomore in high school, playing on the varsity, four seniors walked straight from the bench right out of the gym — on Senior Night, moments after the game started — in protest of what they perceived as wrongs Nakagawa had done them.
Profane, crass, the word “Nakagawa” was echoed in the halls of Campbell High School in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, during the early 1980s with the same contempt befitting the evil warden in “The Shawshank Redemption.”
He got our attention more than a few times by violently slapping our knees in anger during timeouts, called us “mahu,” the Hawaiian word for gay. If I’m honest, I think he once slapped one of my knucklehead teammates across the face.
When I once asked privately after practice why I wasn’t getting much playing time my sophomore season, even though I was sure I was quicker than Matt Rodrigues, a senior, Nakagawa yelled across the gym in that instant: “Hey Matt, Wise thinks he’s faster than you. Line up. Now.” Humiliated after I lost a line drill by more than a few steps, I walked out of practice that day never wanting to play again.
And I know two years later — when I started on a state-ranked team and took my schooling seriously enough to earn a college scholarship — that Coach Nakagawa had instilled more purpose in me than I knew possible. I know that if it wasn’t for a coach such as that, I likely would have fallen in with the D-building losers crowd, one foot propped up against the wall, stoned out of my mind, hoping to work construction during the summer.
I also know if Nakagawa doesn’t cruelly dangle my high school career in front of me while I was late to another class one day — telling me to forget basketball and to go out for something else, that he doesn’t need slackers like me on his team — I coast instead of thrive. I get by. I don’t realize my potential as a person or a player.