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  • Writer's pictureJoshua U.

Historically Unconventional NBA Franchise Makes Historically Unconventional Head Coaching Hire

The Los Angeles Lakers are the most storied franchise in NBA history.


Lakers midcourt logo

They’re the most storied not just because they’ve won more NBA championships over the course of their existence than any other franchise not named the Boston Celtics, who just won title number 18 less than a week ago. The Lakers are also the most storied because they have historically been the most dysfunctional, eccentric, and unconventional organization throughout the NBA’s 78-year history. Naturally, that makes for a lot of good story.


The latest chapter in their eccentricity & unconventionality officially began on June 20th with their hiring of JJ Redick as the 27th head coach in Laker lore.


JJ Redick at ESPN.
Redick, 39, signed a four-year contract on June 20th to become the next head coach of the LA Lakers after weeks of speculation.

Redick, since retiring from his 15-year NBA career in 2021, has farmed out quite the second career for himself in the media realm, after cementing himself as one of the greatest shooters in basketball history in his first career as a player. He is a world-renowned podcaster, starting his journey in 2016 and eventually built his empire ‘ThreeFourTwo Productions’ in 2020 with the launch of his hugely successful and popular podcast, The Old Man & the Three. He became the face of athletes-turned-podcasters as his pioneering in that field has led to an explosion of athlete-led podcasts over the past half-decade.


JJ Redick speaking during an episode of his "The Old Man & the Three" podcast.
Since its first episode was filmed in the 'Bubble' in 2020, Redick's 'The Old Man & the Three' has regularly been known as one of the top sports podcasts in the world.

Redick parlayed his podcasting success into a breakthrough in the broadcast lane at ESPN. He became a regular contributor as an analyst on network shows like First Take and NBA Countdown, then found his way into the broadcasting booth, becoming the third cog in ESPN/ABC’s A-team alongside Hall-of-Famers Mike Breen and Doris Burke in a remarkably short time, broadcasting his first NBA Finals without even a full calendar year under his belt in the booth.


JJ Redick, Doris Burke, Mike Breen for ESPN & ABC.
JJ Redick, Doris Burke, and Mike Breen readying to call a LA Lakers home game during the 2023-24 season.

His most recent media exploit came in the form of another wildly successful podcast. In March, Redick, in concert with current LA Lakers superstar LeBron James, co-launched and co-produced the Mind The Game podcast, which features James and Redick discussing the sport of basketball in its purest form. Redick is seen on each episode breaking out his coaching-style whiteboard, breaking down play calls and explaining certain offensive & defensive concepts and philosophies that the common casual basketball fan wouldn’t typically be aware of.


In retrospect, some notable commentators have called out James and Redick's curious timing in starting the pod. Clearly not everyone is a fan of 'Mind The Game'.



On Mind The Game, just as notable as the X&O content was James & Redick’s shared basketball IQ, passion for the game, and chemistry. They cracked open expensive bottles of wine and clinked their glasses together before putting their vast knowledge of the sport on display for millions of viewers across the globe. This podcast quickly became a hit as it took a zig-while-y’all-zag approach versus almost every other hoop-centric podcast in existence. Instead of heavily biased & toxic narrative talk, Mind The Game was a breath of fresh air to the basketball purist.


LeBron James and JJ Redick on the set of the Mind The Game Podcast.
LeBron James and JJ Redick's launch of 'Mind The Game' in March captivated basketball fans with its advanced, coach-like approach to the sport.

The Lakers fired head coach Darvin Ham on May 3rd, shortly after LAL’s first-round oust at the hands of the defending champion Denver Nuggets; LA’s 2nd loss to Denver in as many years, as the Nuggets also swept the Lakers out of the 2023 Western Conference Finals. Ham’s tenure as the Lakers’ lead man was the perfect encapsulation of what being a head coach in today’s NBA entails; patience & grace are nonexistent. Ham went 90-74 in regular season play with the Lakers. Not bad!


What was bad was LAL’s 9-12 postseason record under Ham, including his ugly 1-8 record vs the aforementioned Nuggets. The Lakers were also a Play-In team & 7th seed in each of Ham’s two seasons — a far cry from the Lakers’ first-seeded finish and NBA championship victory in 2020 under Frank Vogel.


That’s the thing with this Lakers’ job. Vogel, despite leading the franchise to the 2020 title, was fired in just two seasons following the feat. In fact, the Lakers haven’t had a coach last longer than 3 seasons in the head chair since 2011, when Phil Jackson retired after winning 5 titles for the purple & gold in the 2000s. Being the head coach for the Los Angeles Lakers is unquestionably the hottest seat in the NBA.


That fact is what makes this hiring of Redick, if nothing else, intriguing. The Lakers have hired almost every different type of coaching profile since Jackson’s departure in 2011. They’ve hired coaches with documented success leading teams such as Vogel, Byron Scott, and Mike D’Antoni. They’ve hired assistant coaches from successful programs; such as the hiring of Ham from the Milwaukee Bucks’ bench and Luke Walton from the Golden State Warriors’. They’ve made unconventional hires in bringing in coaches like Jackson and Pat Riley — I’ll delve into those hires later in this piece.


Remarkably, even with the Lakers’ history of strange head coach hiring maneuvers, it simply does not get stranger than their recent hiring of Redick. It’s simply unprecedented. Redick has established to the viewing & listening public that his basketball IQ is high. Most NBA coaches generally carry high basketball IQ with them, though, and that obviously does not always translate to success on the bench.


The hire is strange on its face, yes. We were given a good month-plus of time to try to rationalize the image of Redick coaching the Lakers because the accredited Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that Redick’s name was in the mix almost immediately following Ham’s firing. Shams also reported at this time that the Lakers were consulting former Duke coach & legend Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski on their search, all but cementing the fact that Redick would be the choice in many fans & media members’ minds; Krzyzewski coached Redick for four years during Redick's illustrious Duke career.


In the time period between Ham’s firing and Redick’s hiring, debates grew on whether Redick was actually capable of being successful in the position, as Shams began to state that JJ was emerging as the frontrunner for the job. That was until Shams’ reporting rival, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, dropped a bombshell of a report before Game 1 of The Finals that the Lakers had actually been keyed in on Dan Hurley, UConn men’s basketball 2x-champion head coach, as the desired target in their coaching search; NOT Redick. Par-for-the-course for the Lakers, their head coaching search now became a flat-out circus, with Hurley finally quelling the high-wire act by turning down a 6-year, $70 million offer from LAL to return to UConn, vindicating Charania's original report. Again, weird, but that’s nothing foreign to the Lakers organization.



From the discourse that I saw, most say no, Redick won’t find success in LA -- unsurprisingly so. Forget regular “forward-thinking”, the Lakers thought miles out of the box here. For that reason, it’s easy to doubt the move. While other deserving candidates such as Sam Cassell paid his dues as both a championship-winning NBA veteran AND as a championship-winning assistant coach (Cassell was one of Joe Mazzulla’s top assistants on the Celtics team that just won a title), Redick’s qualifications pale in comparison.


Not to mention that the Lakers have historically been known to make more moves for the sake of glitz & glamour than for the sake of patient, smart program-building.


They’ve struck on unbelievable success moving that way, though, as evidenced by the acquisitions of Shaquille O’Neal & Kobe Bryant in the summer of 1996, and the pairing together of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson in 1979.


Some of those flashy maneuvers have also proved costly. The failed superteam of Bryant, O’Neal, and the past-their-primes Karl Malone and Gary Payton in 2003-04, as well as the failed superteam of Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, and Dwight Howard in 2012-13 are prime examples of this.


The late, great Jerry Buss and his daughter Jeanie Buss have always ran the franchise like a sort of Hollywood production. It’s only right, I guess?


The Redick move is certainly a splashy one; a move that will receive great praise if it works but will bring unbelievable scrutiny if it doesn’t. This is the most unconventional head coaching hire in NBA history, but it’s not entirely unlike some of the others we’ve seen throughout the years. Let’s examine.


Pat Riley


According to reports before Redick’s hiring, the Lakers were impressed by him enough that high-ranking executives within the organization compared him to Pat Riley, one of the greatest basketball minds of all-time who won a title as a Laker player in 1972, won four as their head coach in the '80s, won another in 2006 as head coach of the Miami Heat, and went on to win two more chips in ‘12 & ‘13 while sitting upstairs as Miami’s President of Basketball Operations.


Similarly to Redick, Riley was thrust into the Lakers’ head coaching position before many felt he was ready, but Riley’s rush to the top came under vastly different circumstances.


Pat Riley, one of the most successful basketball minds ever, got his start in unusual fashion in Los Angeles and became the leader of the "Showtime" Lakers.

Riley, also similarly to Redick, went from playing to broadcasting before ever becoming a coach. Riley served as a Lakers broadcaster for the entirety of the 1977-78 season before tragedy struck LA’s coaching staff. Head coach Jack McKinney nearly lost his life in a bike accident, and he was never able to return to his post. Riley was appointed as assistant coach for the first time under Paul Westhead; Riley’s first coaching experience. Discontentment from Lakers franchise player Magic Johnson led to Westhead’s firing, and Riley was eventually named head coach in 1981 after contributing to a championship as assistant coach in 1980. The rest was history.


Riley wasn’t just a great coach because of his IQ and wit. He demanded respect from his players and coached them to play with physicality and tenacity on the court. To me, that will be Redick’s biggest test. For one, Redick wasn’t a physical player during his career. As we’ve seen on The Old Man & the Three podcast, Redick has the keen ability of making himself relatable to current players throughout the Association. It’s an entirely different task to consistently command the respect of 15 grown men in a locker room for an entire season, and that will be what Redick’s contractors will keep an eye on most closely as he begins his coaching career.


Erik Spoelstra


Now to the most fruitful vegetation from Pat Riley’s coaching tree: Miami Heat legend Erik Spoelstra.


“Spo” was hired as Miami’s head coach in April of 2008. He has since enjoyed a historically prosperous run as Miami’s lead man. Before that prosperity began, however, came a grind.


Spoelstra joined the Heat organization in 1995 as the team’s video coordinator at just 25 years of age. He had never played in the NBA, and attempts to go pro in the Philippines never went anywhere. Spo then relentlessly worked himself up the ranks, ascending to assistant coach, then advanced scout, then director of scouting. Even with Spo’s steadied rise for 11 years, Riley’s decision to appoint Spo as his successor was met with some uncertainty. At Spoelstra’s introductory press conference, Riley said this:


“The game is about younger coaches who are technologically skilled, innovative, and bring fresh new ideas.”


Sounds an awful lot like what might have been the current Lakers’ brass line of thinking in hiring Redick.


Riley was proven to be the genius behind the genius, as Spoelstra has won 3 championships and counting, leading stars like Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Bosh, and LeBron to the top.


Erik Spoelstra got his start in Miami as the team's video coordinator; he worked his way up all the way to head coach and has since won 3 titles.

Reports from Shams Charania soon after Redick’s hiring stated that some in LA view Redick as their Erik Spoelstra.


“The 39-year-old Redick checks many of the boxes on the Lakers’ extensive checklist for their next coach. He’s drawn internal comparisons to a young Pat Riley as a coaching prospect who jumped from playing to the broadcast booth to the coaching chair. Los Angeles is confident he can be their version of Erik Spoelstra or Steve Kerr – a culture-setter who can grow with the franchise for over a decade.”


So if you’re paying attention, Redick has drawn comparisons to two of the greatest coaches of all time, Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra, without having coached even a summer league game. Needless to say, people at-large have got to pump the brakes just a little bit.


Me? I’m just merely drawing a connection between Redick and coaches that were hired in traditionally unconventional & controversial fashion; Spo and Pat just happen to be two of the greatest to ever do it in any sport. As is the next guy I’m about to talk about.


Steve Kerr


When it comes to winning rings as both player & coach, only three men in the history of the NBA have ever been better at doing so than Kerr has been: Phil Jackson, Bill Russell (11) and Sam Jones (10).


Kerr won 5 titles as a player: three with the dynastic ‘90s Bulls behind star Michael Jordan & all-time coach Phil Jackson, and 2 with the dynastic San Antonio Spurs behind star Tim Duncan & all-time coach Gregg Popovich. In 2014, Kerr was hired to coach the Golden State Warriors and join a group with another all-time great talent in Stephen Curry. Talk about knowing how to pick ‘em. He has since won 4 titles as Warriors head coach, bringing his ring total to a gaudy nine.


Steve Kerr's willingness to take & ability to make big shots led him to 5 championships as a player with the Bulls and Spurs.

Redick’s hiring by the Lakers is reminiscent of Kerr’s hiring by Golden State 10 years ago for a few reasons. For one, Kerr hadn’t had a lick of head coaching experience before landing in Golden State, and was hired straight out of the broadcast booth, like Redick. Kerr did, however, serve as general manager of the Phoenix Suns for several years.


Secondly, Kerr and Redick both stake claims on the list of the greatest shooters in NBA history, although Redick won’t have two of the other greatest shooters of all-time at his disposal on the current Lakers’ roster like Kerr inherited in Curry & Klay Thompson.


And thirdly, their hirings share the same troubling optics. Both men, lacking any type of real coaching experience, were nonetheless hired to replace two fired, black head coaches who were both well-experienced as player & coach; Kerr replaced Mark Jackson, and, as we’ve already covered, Redick will be replacing Darvin Ham. Ham and Jackson had eerily similar profiles at their respective spots at the time of their firings:


  • Ham: 90-74 reg. season record (.548 win %), 9-12 postseason record (.428 win %)


  • Jackson: 121-109 reg. season record (.526 win %), 9-10 postseason record (.474 win %)


While the optics of the firings of Jackson and Ham and the hirings of Kerr and Redick aren’t great on merit, Kerr quickly made the chatter at the time of his hiring dissipate with a tremendous 67-win season right out of the gate, which was immediately followed by a victory in the 2015 Finals over LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in Kerr’s rookie season coaching.


Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors, in 2015.
While GSW's decision to bring in Kerr was initially met with skepticism, Kerr's system paved the way for unprecedented success and a Warriors dynasty.

Those accomplishments will be a tall task for Redick to match in his first year, but it’s not completely beyond the realm of possibility given the talent at the top of the Lakers’ roster. While it’s not a lock that LeBron will return to the Lakers this coming season — he has a much-anticipated decision to make on his $51 million player option for 2024-25 by June 29 — if James does return to LA, continuing his partnership with co-star Anthony Davis, Redick will have the luxury of coaching two of the NBA’s foremost titans right off the bat. It’s not expected that James would leave the Lakers at all at this juncture, given that LA clearly made this hire with James in mind, bringing in James’ Mind the Game co-star.


The rest of the Lakers’ roster still needs some tinkering, and it’s not like James and Davis are likely to be the most durable of superstars moving forward; James is entering his age-40 season, and Davis has a ton of tread on his NBA tires and already has a well-documented injury history, despite his pretty good run of health this past season.


Steve Nash


Circling back to my point about head coach hirings with poor optics: we land on the Brooklyn Nets’ hiring of Steve Nash in 2020.


When stars Kevin Durant & Kyrie Irving made the infamous shared decision to join the Nets in the summer of 2019, the Nets and their fans had dreams of championships and glory. What ensued instead was a clusterf— of controversy and clownery, and Nash found himself right in the middle of the fray.


Nash was hired without coaching experience to attempt to lead a hopeful, ready-to-win contender to a championship. Nash’s hiring came after the controversial firing of former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, who pulled Brooklyn out of the doldrums and had just led the Nets to the playoffs immediately preceding Kyrie & KD’s arrival. Nonetheless, Atkinson was fired largely due to Kyrie & KD’s wishes and nothing else.


So in came Nash. The Nets were hopeful that one of the greatest offensive players of all-time in Nash could lead three dynamic offensive legends in Durant, Irving, and James Harden to glory.


Given Nash’s inexperience, he & the Nets put together an extremely solid coaching staff, featuring Mike D’Antoni & Ime Udoka. The Nets’ star-studded staff led the Nets to a 2nd-seeded finish in the East & just one Kevin Durant shoe size away from the Eastern Conference Finals in Nash’s inaugural season as head coach. D’Antoni & Udoka departed Nash’s staff the following season, and that, in combination with Kyrie Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated keeping him from playing home games in 2021-22, led to Nash appearing to be in way over his head. The Nets’ play on the court suffered, they dropped in the standings, and were swept out of the first round by old friend Ime Udoka & his Boston Celtics. Nash didn’t even last past the first day on November the following year, fired after 2-plus years as coach.


Steve Nash, former head coach of the Brooklyn Nets.
Steve Kerr was fired after a much-maligned period of controversy and shortcomings throughout the Nets' organization following 2021.

So what can Redick learn from Nash’s brief-yet-eventful tenure in Brooklyn? Hire a strong staff. Thankfully for Lakers fans, all reports indicate that Redick is already ahead of the curve on that. Lakers reporter Jovan Buha of The Athletic states that Redick & LA have their eye on multiple strong assistant candidates: James Borrego, whom Redick beat out for the head job, as well as Sam Cassell, Scott Brooks, Rajon Rondo, and Jared Dudley. How many of those men the Lakers will actually be able to land remains to be seen. But all indications and reports point to potentially good things for Redick and his staff.


Derek Fisher


Derek Fisher is one of the greatest role players in NBA history. As a player, he won 5 championships with the Lakers alongside Kobe Bryant and under Phil Jackson. Fisher spent his final few NBA seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder, ingratiating himself as the prime leader in the locker room alongside elite talents in Kevin Durant & Russell Westbrook. Fisher retired after the 2013-14 season and immediately was hired by his former coach and Knicks President Phil Jackson to coach the New York Knicks despite having no coaching experience to speak of.


Fisher’s tenure started off alright but ended disastrously. Overall, he put together an ugly 40-96 record as Knicks’ coach and never sniffed another NBA head coaching job again; although he did have a better run in the WNBA with the LA Sparks. Despite Fisher’s high basketball acumen, it’s clear in hindsight that he was given square pegs by Jackson and was told to try and put them in round holes — all while trying to implement the triangle offense! See what I did there?


In other words, Fisher was given a directive to run things a certain way while not having the right personnel to execute effectively. Essentially, he was Phil Jackson’s puppet.


Former Knicks head coach Derek Fisher and former Knicks president Phil Jackson.
For much of Fisher's tenure as Knick coach, it appeared as if he & NYK President Phil Jackson operated with a hive mind, limiting Fisher's development as a coach.

For so many reasons, it’s important for front offices to let the coach be the coach. Lakers GM Rob Pelinka and co. will have to make sure Redick has full control over rotations without worrying about which player is getting paid what. General managers give out the contracts and make the draft picks — therefore, they’re often married to their draftees & signees’ successes… and failures. That fact makes it difficult for many GMs to resist getting involved in coaching matters because their jobs depend on the players that they’ve bet on to do well. This dynamic isn’t something that’s foreign to the Lakers organization either historically. That will have to change if Redick is to do well here.


Jason Kidd


If Redick happens to not do well as the Lakers’ head man, it shouldn’t be the end of the coaching road for him. Coaches should be given the rope to develop in their craft just like players often are. To drive this point home, let’s look no further than the coaching career of Jason Kidd thus far.


Kidd was hired immediately following retirement as a player, one season prior to Fisher doing the same. Kidd’s final game on the court came in May of 2013 as a New York Knick. A month later, Kidd was named head coach of the Brooklyn Nets.


Jason Kidd's introduction as Nets Head Coach back in 2013.
Just one month after the conclusion of his playing career, Kidd was hired by Brooklyn to become head coach.

Kidd was handed a roster littered with well-experienced veterans such as Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez. It’s a tall task for a rookie head coach to command a locker room full of those grizzled vets; even for a man as accomplished as Kidd was on the court as a player. The Nets had championship aspirations ahead of 2013-14, but underachieved to a 6th-seeded finish. They were eliminated in 5 games to the defending champion Miami Heat.


In controversial fashion, Kidd was traded — as a coach! — to the Milwaukee Bucks after a falling out with the Nets front office. Kidd’s tenure in Milwaukee was up-and-down overall, but he earned credit and recognition for the development of young elite talent Giannis Antetokounmpo into a budding superstar. Despite this, Kidd was fired midway through the 2017-18 season.


Former Bucks head coach Jason Kidd with Giannis Antetokoumnpo.
After departing Brooklyn, Kidd landed in Milwaukee, developing a young team led by young star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Kidd moved on as an assistant to a familiar franchise: the Lakers! Kidd was an integral part of Frank Vogel’s coaching staff that led LAL to the 2020 championship, winning his first title as a coach of any kind. Kidd has since praised Vogel and LA for preparing him for his next stop and also credits Vogel for helping him understand the importance of "putting guys in a position to be successful and also listening to [the] star player".


Former Lakers assistant coach Jason Kidd with LeBron James.
While Kidd has been a head coach in three different organizations, his most important stop may have been with the Lakers as an assistant from 2019-2021.

Kidd carried his coaching championship pedigree to Dallas and he was hired by the Mavericks in the summer of 2021. Kidd enjoyed immediate success in Dallas, leading Luka Doncic and company to 52 wins and an Western Conference Finals berth. Kidd’s hands-on coaching style was instrumental in Dallas’ second-round upset of the top-seeded, 67-win Phoenix Suns in the 2022 postseason. And how about the season that just concluded? Kidd led Dallas to their first NBA Finals since 2011, when Kidd helped lead Dallas to the title that season as the squad's veteran point guard.


Jason Kidd, Dallas Mavericks head coach.
Kidd has now proved himself to be one of the best coaches in the NBA, having just led the Mavericks to the NBA Finals.

As I stated before, the head coaching position for the Los Angeles Lakers is the absolute hottest seat in the Association. So while it’s likely that Redick will need to develop as a coach, he’ll have to do so extremely quickly if he wants to keep his job for the long run. Kidd developed over multiple stops to become one of the very best coaches in the NBA today. While Kidd’s coaching ability was questioned, what was not questioned was his basketball IQ. Kidd was universally known for being one of the brightest minds in league history in his prime as the star point guard for a New Jersey Nets squad that rode Kidd’s coattails to back-to-back NBA Finals in the early 2000s.


Conclusion


We’ve already covered how intelligent Redick is. If anybody can do well in his current position, it’s Redick. He has all the tools to be successful beyond just his smarts. He’s demonstrated the ability to connect with players, coaches, and other prominent NBA people throughout the existence of The Old Man and the Three; just look at the people he’s interviewed & leveled with on that platform.


So here lies the question: will this experiment work in LA or won’t it? If I was a betting man, I’d take the longshot odds and put my money on Redick. What can I say, I’m a riverboat risk-taker at heart.


Despite Redick’s inexperience, he’s not the first man to be hired to an NBA head coaching position without a valid resumé. He’s got certain things working for him, too. His relationship with LeBron is the biggest one. He’s shown himself to be an outside-the-box thinker; he has a creative mind that he’ll need to put to the forefront if the Lakers are to make the leap from perennial Play-In participants to true contenders in the gauntlet that the Western Conference will prove to be moving forward.


I personally foresee Redick's coaching style being similar to Celtics' coach Joe Mazzulla. Redick is an extremely analytical person, and I fully expect him to crunch the numbers to his ultimate advantage; just as Mazzulla has done in his first two wonderfully prosperous seasons in Boston.



For what it’s worth, I’m afraid to admit that I’ve been a bit incomplete in detailing Redick’s journey. He technically does have some head coaching experience — as the leader of his son’s youth basketball squad.


In all seriousness, this will be the storyline I’ll be most closely following in 2024-25. If LeBron does return to the Lakers, how will Redick co-exist with James and Davis, the latter of whom Redick curiously left off his DPOY & All-Defensive ballot as a media voter this past season?



Will egos corrupt everything? Or will Redick be able to work some magic with a Laker roster that simply has not been good enough since the 2020 title? Will he put a new system into place that will unlock the roster, similar to what Steve Kerr was able to pull off in his first season in Golden State? Will he prove his supporters within the Lakers organization right when they compared Redick to the likes of all-time great coaches in Erik Spoelstra & Pat Riley?


Leave it to the Lakers to create all these possible narratives with something as traditionally simple as a head coaching hire.


JJ Redick as part of ESPN's broadcasting team.

It’s about to be showtime in LA once again. And hopefully the lights won’t prove to be too bright for JJ Redick.



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