After Russell Westbrook refused to answer – even allow – a reporter’s question in a post game press conference, media members excoriated him for his action. Former players applauded him.
The guy’s query was a legitimate question by a scribe who had a good angle on why one team was winning the series. Westbrook’s reply was one by a player whose team was undermanned and on the brink of elimination. As for the people who weighed in, some were more on the writer’s side; others favored the baller. Yet, for the most part, each could understand the other’s position.
Then came the post game presser following Utah’s upset of the Clippers at the Staples Center. The question seemed innocent enough. A sportswriter asked Chris Paul, LA’s point guard – and leader – “Chris, will the Clippers be back here playing a Game 7?”
Now, I coached for 35 years (granted not a one was in the NBA) but I still knew what this guy was looking for. For the life of me, however, I couldn’t believe that he phrased it in the worst possible way. When I heard it, I wasn’t sure which was the bigger faux pas – the question itself or the timing of it. Here was a guy who is the captain of a team with the richest owner in the NBA who, after purchasing the franchise for a record amount ($2 billion, in case that figure has slipped anyone’s mind), held a press conference exclaiming his major goal was a “Larry.” Larry is short for the Lawrence O’Brien trophy which goes to the winner of the NBA Finals.
And here was that owner’s club, the one that had so much promise but, not only could they not win the NBA Finals, they couldn’t get even get close to their own conference finals. From blowing a 3-1 lead one year to having their top two guys go down with injuries during the playoffs in another, they stood on the brink of elimination in the first round. Once again one of their stars was hurt – and would miss the rest of the playoffs – and once again people were talking about blowing up the team. The core players (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and CP3 himself) are so good that the salaries they command almost puts the franchise into the luxury tax category with just those four.
So it was no surprise that Paul answered the asinine question with, “What? Whatchu think? I’m on the team. Whatchu want me to say? ‘Nah, it’s over.’ That’s what you want to hear? Yes. C’mon, man, you been doin’ this long enough. Seriously, right?”
Incredibly enough, the guy pressed on, saying, “Can you expand on that?” As if his response needed to be expanded upon. Did the cat not understand Paul’s message?
“No … I don’t know,” continued the Clippers’ star – who also happens to be the president of the NBA Players Association, so if there was one guy who could speak for the players, this reporter was face-to-face with him. “Everybody in here laughing for a reason,” a visually agitated Paul said.
What was shocking – at least to me – was the stance taken by media member Jared Greenberg on Sirius XM NBA radio. Greenberg blasted Paul – as he did Westbrook – saying the players were creating a us-against-them mentality. In that regard he might be onto something but Chris Paul is usually one of the most eloquent interviewees in the league. To use what occurred at the post game press conference after Los Angeles dropped pivotal Game 5 to Utah, thus surrendering home court advantage and forcing a must-win scenario in Salt Lake City – without Griffin – was absolutely the wrong example for Greenberg to use as an illustration.
For him to draw battle lines at that time shows a growing resentment between the professional players and the media. Taking a closer look, though, it’s not the entire media that’s upset. It’s more, based on their backgrounds, the non-playing, never-played kids who, nonetheless had the same passion for sports their more physically gifted classmates had. Their skill was in broadcasting and writing about sports. It’s just that, never really knowing the true meaning of winning and losing (particularly losing a heart-breaker), they struggle to understand the pain that the athlete is experiencing. During pressure situations and trying times, they often interject how they would react to the moment. Never does it occur to them that professional players are cut from a different fabric when it comes to such tense times.
These people, referred to by some as “jock sniffers” (updated to “compression shorts sniffers”), might just have that proverbial “chip on their shoulders” they so often label certain types of players. They’re thrilled to be a part of it all and desperately want to belong – but when a fellow sniffer gets embarrassed (this time deservedly so), they take umbrage. Especially if the guy who gets called out is a friend of theirs (I have no knowledge whether Greenberg has any tie to the reporter who asked Paul the foolish question).
There’s a time to ask the “tough” questions – and a way to phrase them – but, unfortunately, many haven’t been schooled in how and when to do it. Relationship between players and media members would improve dramatically if each side would take into account Rodney King’s remark:
“Why can’t we all just get along?”