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I was puzzled to find the headline – ‘D’Antoni Adjusts Playbook with a Pencil, Not a Sharpie’ in the sport article in today’s New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/04/sport/basketball ).

Although I understand ‘a pencil, not sharpie’ is a figurative expression comparing metal cylinder sharpie to wood pencil, what does it exactly mean? Adjust his hard style to softer style? Is ‘Adjusts playbook with a pencil, not a sharpie’ a kind of cliché?

The headline is followed by the following sentence:

Mike D’Antoni is fighting against perceptions, resisting his impulses and wrestling with his playbook. For years, D’Antoni cultivated an image and an offense based on speed and small lineups, constant movement and contrarian thinking. In Phoenix, that offense produced 60-win seasons and deep playoff runs. In New York, it re-energized a moribund franchise. But circumstances have changed, drastically.

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for non-basketball fans the 'circumstances' are a DRASTIC turnover of player personnel on the NY Knicks. he's having to make temporary changes to the playbook (try out new strategies) because his new team is ill-suited to play with his previous style :) – robert_x44 Mar 4 '11 at 22:14
@RD1 thanks - I was trying to understand what writing on RIM's tablet had to do with basketball! – mgb Jul 11 '11 at 16:31
To add, Sharpie is a manufacturer of permanent writing utensils. – tenfour Jul 11 '11 at 16:35
up vote 3 down vote accepted

I believe the analogy being drawn is between writing with a pencil — light colored, erasable, fine/hard to see; and writing with a Sharpie marker — bold, dark, permanent; with the point being that D'Antoni is less effective, or at least less revolutionary, in his new job than he has been in others. Think of solving a crossword puzzle with a pen vs. a pencil.

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I read it as an implicit comparison of the nature of the Sharpie (an unerasable marker, generally making a heavy line) to that of the pencil (a lighter writer which can easily be erased or modified); D'Antoni is approaching his new situation with an eye toward making smaller changes that can be easily undone or adjusted to match his players, as opposed to coming in with a bunch of big ideas about exactly how things are going to work and making his players adjust to them.

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I don't think the weight of the mark was a factor in the comparison: it's simply permanent (Sharpie) versus non-permanent (pencil, because it's erasable). – JPmiaou Mar 4 '11 at 21:48
So far, I'm receiving different interpretations.So‘a pencil, not sharpie’ isn't cliche, but an invention by NY Times sport writer? – Yoichi Oishi Mar 4 '11 at 22:43
It's not a cliche that I've ever heard before, at least. – Hellion Mar 4 '11 at 22:47
I think a more common sports cliche would have been "D'Antoni's Playbook Not Etched in Stone". – Dave DuPlantis Apr 15 '11 at 13:54
I would have given +1 rather than made my own answer, but I'm with JPmiaou and others on this. It has nothing to do with the visibility of the mark. It's all about permanence. – T.E.D. Jul 11 '11 at 17:43

The chief comparison here is that pencil marks are erasable while "Sharpies" are also known as "permanent markers" (not erasable).

The basic idea is that the person in question, when they make a change, is prepared to change it again if need-be.

Note that the part of the article you quoted talks all about changes.

I'd also like to point out that in the USA we call it "sports", not "sport". I generally let that one slide, but you linked an article in a USA paper, so you ought to at least know.

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It means he is making very precise adjustments. A pencil has a much finer point than does a Sharpie.

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Not necessarily: as the name Sharpie implies, it's a sharp-pointed permanent marker (as opposed to the usual chisel point on a Magic Marker). – JPmiaou Mar 4 '11 at 21:47
Silly wabbit.... – user5531 Mar 4 '11 at 21:52

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