Once, when I was covering the Chicago Bulls, Scottie Pippen decided to boycott the media.
It took several weeks for anybody to notice.
It wasn’t that Scottie didn’t speak to us before that. He did. But we recognized those who were especially quotable and those, like Scottie, who were somewhat deficient.
I bring this up because much has been made by what two NBA players have not said over the last few days.
LeBron James has drawn much criticism after he walked off the court without congratulating his opponents following his Cleveland team’s loss to Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night. He was taken to task further for not speaking to reporters after the game.
Also over the last few days, Bulls’ guard and the league’s Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose decided to “No comment” allegations that his high school transcript was falsified and that his SAT test was fraudulent as well.
In both cases, the media wanted something. Now that I’m a member of the general public, I can say with some confidence that I didn’t need anything
In James’ case, he came back the next day and, rather than apologizing as some athletes might have done and certainly many would have advised him to do in the interest of p.r., he tried to explain himself.
“It’s hard for me to congratulate somebody after you just lose to them,” James said. “I’m a winner. It’s not being a poor sport or anything like that. If somebody beats you up, you’re not going to congratulate them. That doesn’t make sense to me. I’m a competitor.”
It’s funny that in this day and age, so much was made of so little. While I am certainly a proponent of good sportsmanship and walking off the court without a simply congratulations for his opponents was both childish and churlish, I doubt very much that Orlando’s players cared at all, so why should we?
If boxers can pummel each other and then hug at the end of a fight; if tennis players can battle for five sets and hug at the net; if hockey players can knock each other’s teeth out and line up to shake hands after a brutal playoff series; then James should certainly be able to shake a hand or two after the game.
But clearly, though James is considered a good NBA citizen by that midget-sized measuring stick, it is not in his makeup to pretend he is a gracious loser when he admittedly is not.
As for not speaking to the media, I admit that would have undoubtedly ticked me off had I been covering the series. And I’d be particularly annoyed if I was a Cavaliers’ beat reporter who was counting on some comments from the star of the team who might very well have played his last game for the franchise with free agency looming.
But sometimes as a reporter, you have to ask yourself just what it is you’re counting on. I remember early in my career, I once wondered aloud how it would be to cover a sporting event as if it was a play or a rock concert and simply write a review. You wouldn’t need to know what the actors or the musicians thought of their performances and frankly, it would not matter in how you reviewed them.
But soon I retreated into my job as quote collector, and more often than not over the years, I relied much too heavily on what athletes said, especially when they said things like, “We’ll put this behind us,” and “It’s not about me, it’s about the team.”
I pretty much had an unspoken agreement with other sportswriter friends that if any of us were ever caught quoting someone saying, “We’ll take it one game at a time,” we were to be forever ostracized, so some of us do have our standards.
But there “we” were again after the Rose allegations, when I heard people in the media demanding that he say something, anything – a denial, an apology for poor judgment, a b.s. non-denial denial like, “I’d like to answer the allegations but I’ve been advised not to say anything.”
The sad fact is, we’re conditioned not to believe what most public figures say. Both James and Rose had nothing to say and so they said nothing. But how dare they not spout trite nonsense for our amusement and to fill our stories?
Apparently, it’s not what they say anymore, but rather how they don’t say it.