9.27.2006

PCA: From the Archives


Upon hearing about my encounter with Julius Erving in Vegas a few weeks back, my girlfriend's dad pulled out some old photos he shot of Dr J at a Virginia Squires vs New York Nets game back when he was about 15. (click on all images for a larger view)


Apparently the Squires were terrible and the ineptitude of the front office drove the fans away to the point that more people in 1976 were probably watching high school girls play 6-on-6 basketball in Iowa than were attending games at Hampton Coliseum. (I found this site strangely compelling, especially for the aggressive threats of litigation for stealing his pictures. And for the girls in Klan hats with the peach baskets.)


Anyway, this left ample room for a kid with a camera to wander around the arena and snap blurry photos, unknowingly paving the way for me to take blurry pictures years later. I didn't have time to scan the pics (that he'd packed around through 30 years and 17 moves), so I just took pictures of them on the tailgate of my truck.



(Perhaps to celebrate my recent encounter with Erving, NBA TV Broadband is airing a featurette of the Doctor.)



Speaking of rubbing shoulders with NBA types, I recently found myself unexpectedly attending a $10,000-a-plate benefit dinner (not on my dime) for the Hogle Zoo in SLC. I ended up sitting with Frank Layden and his wife, sharing exotic Thai curry while animal handlers showed off chinchillas and snakes with vestigial legs.



Layden was amazingly nice and seemed genuinely interested in what my friend Kristen and I do when we aren't attending zoo benefits. I'd overheard Layden at the Rocky Mountain Revue listening to some unathletic kid talk his ear off for 45 minutes about how to be a better basketball player. So meeting Frank Layden at the zoo, chatting with Eddie Jordan at the summer league, meeting the Team USA players, and thinking of how nice the Doctor was in Vegas even though he was in the middle of a conversation with friends and had every reason to be disinterested, left me very impressed with how incredibly adept these NBA players, former players, coaches, executives are at chatting up and making pleasant conversation with people they'll never see again in their lives.

These conversations, along with the way TO and Bonds have been depicted in the media (accurately or otherwise) left me feeling misled by mainstream sportswriters who claim that most NBA players and executives are insufferable misanthropes. I don't want to play the race card here, but for some reason I think a lot of the sportswriters I grew up reading came from the Paul Shirley school of sports thought: That these athletes and agents and coaches and executives are impossible to be around, and a thinking man would do well to stay away.

Certainly some of the people I've met over the last few months are notorious ambassadors of the game of basketball, (Julius Erving, Frank Layden, etc.) so I shouldn't be surprised that it would be a pleasure to chat with them. But still, why do NBA writers paint those involved in the league as incorrigible and unapproachable?

Watching Bill Simmons on the Colbert Report a few weeks ago was eye opening for a variety of reasons regarding the fan/writer vs player/coach/exec dynamic. In response to Colbert saying "you have the common man approach to sports writing, what does that mean?", Simmons mentioned that he stays out of locker rooms because "you don't want to meet Barry Bonds and kind of like him and then have him be a jerk to you and have him tell you to get away from his locker." I thought that was very strange, because why would you want to avoid real human interaction with someone you cover/watch?

But perhaps his comments are in line with my nascent perspective of the athletes and executives I've met: If you can meet these guys in a casual setting and treat them with respect, they come off like world class people. If you're in their jock right after a tough loss asking them why they missed two free throws, they're more likely to use profanity.

These sportswriters chose their line of work of their own free will, and perhaps because of the somewhat adversarial nature of their position, taking the jaded "who cares about these petulant millionaires anyway?" point of view might be their way of maintaining a sense of dignity. Still though, I feel cheated by the broad brush strokes of the writers who paint the whole league as a group of overpaid narcissists who aren't worth getting to know.

28 Comments:

At 9/27/2006 6:14 PM, Anonymous tmp said...

Hampton Coliseum, represent! Though, I think that might be Norfolk Scope...

Don't want to hijack a post, but damn, I wish VA had a franchise. Every few years, folks talk about bringing some variety of professional athletics here. Hampton Roads Rhinos NHL actually energized the area mid-90's. There was an ephemeral hope of Expos baseball. And the Hornets were dangled before us, supposedly for Charlotte contract leveraging purposes.

Largest metropolitan area without a professional sports team, and I'll be damned if the 757 ain't Free Darko.

 
At 9/27/2006 9:45 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

not to doubly hijack pca's excellent flip through the 'ol collective nba scrapbook, but i've added an unflinching qualifier on my owens post. while apparently no one had any feelings on it, anyway, this at least ensures it won't have been a total waste.

 
At 9/27/2006 11:01 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

"If you can meet these guys in a casual setting and treat them with respect, they come off like world class people. If you're in their jock right after a tough loss asking them why they missed two free throws, they're more likely to use profanity"

I thought this was an excellent point and this is precisely why I think Simmon's approach is the way to go. It seems that, by avoiding possible scenarios in which the athlete is a jerk to him, he's avoiding becoming one of those sports writers who "paint those involved in the league as incorrigible and unapproachable".

 
At 9/27/2006 11:03 PM, Blogger Kames the Jelly said...

Further to Owens,

I think the conflagration of coverage on his "overdose" was a reflection of the media/NFL fans' Janus-like need to create a recluse out of Owens while also jumping on the first opportunity to expose his brittle humanity, his fragility: the stifling insecurity we all have. Better put, Owens was supposed to be an invincible athlete pariah, one people loved to abhor because he lacked humility, and it threw them into paroxyms of envy. Love-hate is too simplistic. People hated him because he was right to not back down; he was impudent, yes, but that just brewed more projected hatred from white America. The media lit the bigotry brushfire with Owens because he was just smart and enigmatic enough, with just enough hubris, to uproot the old just-grateful-to-be-black-and-rich athlete paradigm so expected these days.

Think not? Then I ask you this: Why are Owens, Bush, Pacman Jones and slew of other black NFLers always vituperated for financial issues while Matt Leinhart holds out all summer and Eli Manning essentially forces an entire franchise to do his bidding because he didn't want to play there? I have yet to hear of any criticism on these two WQBs. I'm not playing the race game, this is much more nuanced. The point is Owens scares me and tantalizes me at the same time. He makes sheltered pigskin commentators awkwardly mutter "look at that body" -- and I assume every female NFL voyeur as well; and he can apparently take the wrath of the media that spitefully separates him from the "much obliged" and still receive numerous phone calls from players all over the league, people worried about a man who might just take 35 hydrocodone pills and end it all...

Maybe Owens does feel he has 25 million reasons to stay defiant, but 300 million rancorous ones to let Chronos swallow him whole.

There's your fret, Shoals.

 
At 9/28/2006 8:50 AM, Blogger c-los said...

@Kames....ur right on with this...not to start a racial debate on these lines but sometimes the writing's on the wall and people still can't see it...with black athletes its all about the money when they hold out....take in point Javon Walker 2 years ago..he held out because he wanted a deal and Brett Favre criticized him...but if it was Favre who held out and Walker who ripped him all hell would have broken loose....Eli pulled the same shyt saying that he wanted to play in NY when the Chargers were/are the better team with a better offensive line but no one seems to care because he's from a pedigree of QBs...can't say anything about Pacman cuz he's been in trouble since he first stepped on the West Va campus

 
At 9/28/2006 9:23 AM, Blogger bayaz said...

shoals, I think the reason no one commented on your owens post was that the comments page wouldn't load up all yesterday. at least not for me

 
At 9/28/2006 10:13 AM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

Kames the Jelly,

ugh.

I wrote some of this down below on the football post, but, ugh.

I don't know if you follow football closely, but Eli Manning was pretty loudly booed when he was drafted after he said he refused to play for the Chargers. And if you read anything in the football blogosphere, you'll see that the Mannings are probably more universally despised than any black player in the NFL.

Let's not forget that with T.O. it wasn't just about refusing to back down, it was about his attempt to bring everybody else down. He made suggestions about his former QB's sexuality (which shouldn't in itself be an insult, but in the context was), criticized his current QB, disrespected his offensive coordinator (not as a coach, but as a HUMAN BEING; when Childress said "How's it going, TO?" Owens responded by telling Childress not to speak to TO until spoken to). You can make him your posterchild for White-Football-Fan's-Hatred-of-the-Black-Athlete if you want, though I'm not buying it.

And I've seen a fair number of TO interviews: "smart" has never been a word that comes to mind. His answers to questions, his use of logic, it's all pretty lousy.

 
At 9/28/2006 10:16 AM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

BTW, just so you don't think I'm another reactionary white football fan, my all-time favorite football player is Randy Moss. I don't have any narrow-minded "football establishment" attitude that I'm aware of (hell, I read this blog and usually like it).

 
At 9/28/2006 10:18 AM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

c-los, Favre came under a lot of criticism when he chastized Walker. Yes, it would have been worse if the situations were reversed, but part of that has to do with Favre's veteran status, not his color.

 
At 9/28/2006 10:46 AM, Blogger Kames the Jelly said...

Pacifist V,

Your points are valid to an extent, but you are comparing fussy undercurrents (when describing the football blogosphere's reaction to Mannings) to patent outrage (mass media, pushover fans, etc. constantly excoriating Owens, Jones, Walker).

Additionally, I was raised in Wisconsin, and people there were furious over Walker BECAUSE Favre called him out. Now, I only heard perfunctory admonishment of Favre from fellow Wisconsinites, but no one liked Walker. This stems just as much from the idea of "team" ball as it does from race, but the ostensible truth is more beautiful than the metaphor: The WQB throws the black receiver the ball, without the WQB the black receiver is nothing -- his livelihood is contingent upon the charity of the WQB (read: our charity). No more pontificating, sorry. Back to the books!

 
At 9/28/2006 11:22 AM, Blogger c-los said...

pacifist...it was Walker that eventually got shipped out of GB but your right...Favre is a God up there... as for TO, yes he's an ahole, and yes he's never been accused of being smart but I think fans no matter what color hate him equally for how he carries himself and his actions...personally i think he's funny and try not to get caught up in all the hype but its hard when the media watches him 24/7 for any soundbite...any guy that says "i love me some me" is cool with me

 
At 9/28/2006 11:38 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

"I'll be damned if the 757 ain't Free Darko."

hells yeah.

 
At 9/28/2006 11:56 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

pv--the nfl can probably wriggle out of this debate, and a personal attachment to the game can override a generalized critiques. at the end of the day, though, you've just got to gloss over or apologize too much to buy wholesale into the "america's new pasttime" brand. the standards should be higher for that sort of thing, and instead they're lower. . .almost because of its standing in this culture

 
At 9/28/2006 12:13 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

If it's attacks on the MSM, then I'm all for it. But sometimes when I read the Free Darko critiques of "football culture" I feel like I hear "white football fans don't care about black people" or "NFL fans love conformity and NBA fans love individuality," but I'm sorry if I get on the defensive.
The media overcoverage of Owens is largely responsible for me being bored with Owens. But I put the onus on the MSM, not on "football culture" or reactionary fans or NFL status quo, etc. I think they're two separate things.

(Just a note: I've often thought one reason Favre's receivers get blamed for so many of his INTs are because of race; I started thinking this when Terry Glenn was there, and when Favre threw his third pick on a slant to Glenn, Collinsworth shredded Glenn. Later, Favre threw a terrible pass, Collinsworth ripped the WR, and only after several replays did he admit, reluctantly, that that INT "was probably on Brett." Race is a big issue when 90% of the commentators are white guys).

 
At 9/28/2006 1:07 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

the msm doesn't preach to no one. and the nfl media is powerful/influential beyond its wildest dreams. at some point, this is on the consumers, if nothing else to point out that they're being braindwashed.

 
At 9/28/2006 1:36 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

You'll probably find this interesting:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/writers/dr_z/09/27/nfl.psychological/index.html

As far as being "brainwashed," look around the web: there are all sorts of blogs about how lousy members of the sports media (and the institution as a whole) are. Unless there is an incredible disconnect between web users and everybody else, I would strongly question the sports media's ability to brainwash us (while I fully realize and accept the media's ability to paint pictures in particular ways, i.e., wars).

 
At 9/28/2006 1:58 PM, Anonymous HenryAbbott said...

I love this post, I love the NBA, I like to think the NBA is full of warm souls, and I'd love to agree with everything you have to say. (I also have my beefs with the joyless souls who typically cover professional sports.) But as someone who has had the often disenchanting experience of spending a lot of time in locker rooms, I can't sign on.

Chance encounters with Frank Layden at a high-end fundraiser and a quiet chat with Dr. J just don't give you any frame of reference at all for how many NBA celebrities treat the media. When you're famous, talking to the media is a pain in the ass, and most of the time it feels that way. You just don't get the sunny side of players and coaches as a journalist.

For instance, Gregg Popovich is by all reports incredibly brilliant on the topics of wine and international affairs. An interesting and deep guy. But if you, as a journalist standing in the hallway outside the locker room, ask him about that, he's not going to be Mr. Expansive. He wants to talk about that stuff with his friends and family, who you are keeping him from seeing. You're a nuisance, and he acts that way much of the time. In fact, I have seen him be shockingly rude to reporters for little cause at all.

Now, if you met Coach Pop at a fundraiser, I'm sure any one of us would love him. But after a game, with a credential around your neck? That's no place and time to make friendly, even if you're open-minded and in the mood.

The Simmons approach is obviously transcendant and wonderful for what it is, but sometimes someone has to ask the hard questions. No good being a fan then.

The only real solution I have found is to beg, plead, and weasel with the PR people for extended one-on-one time--which almost always must be in the off-season. It's usually not possible. But I have had, at times, long phone chats with Dwyane Wade, or time in the billiard nook just off Jason Kidd's living room. That lets you talk like humans, which is always better than the alternative. But the problem there is, you're sucking up a lot of face time for one measly story, which often doesn't make sense for the players who really don't have a lot of free time.

Would that we could hang out casually at our whim with NBA bigshots--I'm sure it would radically alter the tone of sports coverage. But it's simply not in the cards, and that doesn't mean reporters are misguided in saying a lot of sports celebrities rub them the wrong way.

 
At 9/28/2006 1:58 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

blogs on the whole are probably more their own demographic than part of the mainstream, but within them there's probably a spectrum.

and the fact that the media coverage of the most savvy, lucrative professional sports league is the way it is can't simply be written off as its being out of touch.

 
At 9/28/2006 2:13 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

Alright, forget bloggers: many people I talk to about sports that have never heard of a blog still complain about announcers, writers, broadcasts, etc. Give football fans a little credit to be aware of what is being presented to them.

I always like your basketball comments, shoals, but when you talk about football, your comments are sometimes rather vague and I don't always get your drift. How do you mean "out of touch"? You mean you don't entertain the idea that the networks and announcers for the NFL are out of touch with what fans would actually care to see? Unless it's me that's out of touch, I'm guessing it's the networks: for example, who is it that thinks a Pink song will help football fans get excited for a football game? I'm more than willing to believe the networks are out of touch.

 
At 9/28/2006 2:56 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

I guess all I'm saying is this: don't be so quick to make assumptions about the fans of a sport based on the way that sport is presented. I think the passage that put me on the defensive is this:

"the NFL, its business, followers, mores, culture, and goals of utter domination are the closest America gets to a soccer-style sports army. And in typical USA fashion, we don't just put our stamp on a universal langugage; we've built our own fortress, armed our troops to the teeth, and pushed forward through a policy of utter intolerance and ignorance."

Since I'm a pretty devout follower of the NFL, I'm taking that to mean that I'm interested in "a policy of utter intolerance and ignorance." To make this assumption about followers of a sport is laughable; there are all sorts of reasons an individual make like a given sport or league, and those reasons don't necessarily reflect the political, ethical, or social positions of the fans.

 
At 9/28/2006 4:23 PM, Anonymous Pichi Campana Aguanta said...

Henry, thanks for the insightful comment. I guess the logical extension of this discussion is what a writer can do to avoid becoming jaded, etc.

For example, in the Tom Knott vs. Etan Thomas spat, Thomas made some good points about professionalism in journalism that he felt Knott had overlooked or simply didn't bother with (i.e. contacting a person to get their opinion before throwing them under the bus).

What does it take for a journalist or fan to stay objective and above the fray when the objects of study are involved in all kinds of offensive behavior? Like you say, I have the luxury of not working under a deadline or having an editor demanding awkward questions, so my interaction with the athletes and execs has been much more cordial.

wv: hhjujopf = hip hop jews understand diop

 
At 9/28/2006 4:42 PM, Blogger Amadeo said...

Loving it.

On the Football issue I did hear some players reference the fact that it is a sin amongst them to speak out when one of their peers is dealing with his contract but, no one really took it to Favre...seemed like they were all scared to get caught criticizing a legend. A legend who can keep a whole franchise and town on edge pending his choice to play or retire. That leads me to my next thought.

Despite what anyone says about T.O. I find it hard to believe that a football player who is not a QB, and one of Favres status to boot, has to power to hijack a team like Owens was accused of. I could say he's the best WR playing but, hell even McNair got the treatment from a crappy Titans organization. I also don't recognize any incident of him screaming at a coordinator either cause plenty of QB's have done that. Lastly no fan should ever bring up the money issue, in a league where teams will cut players who never cause disruptions and always go along with what the team wants so they don't have to pay out roster bonuses or to sign them back for less money (Troy Brown anyone). Hell, if my job acts funny I start looking around, when we're talking millions of dollars in a career that could be ended by one hit and ensure that your contract won't be paid out you HAVE to get what you can, when you can.

 
At 9/28/2006 4:56 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

Amadeo,
I'm with you on the right of players to hold out. I see it as a system/game. Teams use their leverage within the system/game to the detriment of players all the time, and I consider it well within the rights of players to use their leverage as they can. I often disagree when a particular player is holding out, but it's a question of validity and tactics, not ethics.

So when Peter King says "a contract is a contract" and says the player's union has made a deal that allows teams to cut players, I say within the terms of that deal, sometimes holding out is the best way a player can work within that deal.

 
At 9/28/2006 5:06 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

henry, that's why john thompson needs his own weekly interview program.

pv, you're right, that was a little silly. i guess i meant to locate the problem within the institution of the nfl, with the fans falling for it or going their own way.

 
At 9/28/2006 6:33 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

Shoals, that's more understandable. Certainly there is an institutional NFL culture with ideology worthy to be questioned. And it could be that the people I generally associate with are the fans that don't fall for it and go their own way.

 
At 9/29/2006 12:38 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

one last t.o. thought: when they prescribed vicodin, they tell you to take one or two at time. if they want you to get any more medicated, they write for something stronger. so even if the suicide version of things has fallen out of vogue, by his own admission t.o. "took too many" pills

when this story stopped being an obvious bombshell, the press decided to turn this into a comic misunderstanding, the sort of hi-jinx that dogs owens whether or not he intends it. what's gotten lost, though, is that he was probably trying to get high here.

if this were just an allergic reaction to a normal dosage, why would the spin on the matter have involed his "taking too many?" when taking it as prescribed, there's really not much room for variation in quantity.

 
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