There is a saying in the National Basketball Association that anybody can coach average players who will listen. The tough job is coaching superstars who think, and often perform, like they know it all.
Because the Philadelphia 76ers are perhaps the most talent-laden team in basketball, Billy Cunningham is the least-envied coach.
"I wouldn't want his job for anything," said the Bullets' coach, Dick Motta. "It seems so tough to get those guys together."
Cunningham is trying but, more often than not, failing.
Even after Philadelphia won Wednesday, no 76er felt obliged to credit Cunningham for the victory. Except perhaps Henry Bibby, who said, "Billy went with my judgment in calling the plays."
It often appear the 76ers think a coach is only a necessary evil, someone ordering them to do things against their instincts.
"I don't think it's really fair to say we don't listen," said George McGinnis, "but there are times when all of us may disagree at one time or another with what the coach wants.
"I'm not going to say this is not a difficult team to coach. There are a lot of high-strung personalities here, and I'm one of them. We all have our ideas of how to do things and a lot of times those differences clash."
Sources on the 76ers say most of the players get along with Cunningham, but that many of them feel the 34-year-old rookie coach's knowledge of the game is no better than theirs, so nobody is all that anxious to listen to Cunningham.
"We have so much natural ability that when you tell a guy to do something that he doesn't want to do, or tha the doesn't think is right, there is that bit of hesitation on his part," said Joe Bryant. "Before a player is going to listen to a coach and follow him blindly, he has to have a lot of respect. Billy is only a first-year coach. He is going to make a lot of mistakes and we as players have to accept that."
Cunningham's toughest job is keeping the 76ers happy. He has two assistants, Jack McMahon and Chuck Daly, to take care of the Xs and Os and other duties.
When the 76ers do get together, as they did Wednesday night, they are an incredible basketball team. "But we still haven't come close to realizing our offensive potential," Cunningham said.
"Our strength is our individuality and our weakness is our individuality," said guard Doug Collins. "You live by the sword and you die by the sword. When it's going good, individuality on the basketball floor is a thing of beauty; but when it goes bad, you stink and everything falls apart."
"Every game is a personal challenge, but we have to remember we are out there collectively," Julius Erving said.
"We can win 10 in a row once we get rolling," Lloyd Free said. "We're rolling and it's going to be hard to stop us now, in Landover or anywhere."