By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief
What if I told you Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen each walked across the court last night to staff the team huddles of a game they were covering, with Van Gundy drawing up a play for one club while Breen made a substitution for the other?
What if I told you Adrian Wojnarowski actually made a draft pick for an NBA franchise rather than merely reporting it by Twitter 90 seconds before Commissioner Adam Silver announced it on live television?
What if I told you Rick Carlisle left his post as head coach of the Dallas Mavericks to edit a story ESPN (dot) com’s offices in Bristol?
Lonzo Ball, (right), top draft choice of the LA Lakers
In the NBA’s world, circa 2018, only one of those statements – easily tagged these days as “Fake News” – is somewhat true, but the location was changed to protect the innocent bystanders in Bristol. In the NBA’s world of 2018, it’s a crying shame that the media is singled out and blamed when a story should be told to the public, especially when a wrong needs to be righted.
Carlisle cried foul yesterday, not as coach of the Dallas NBA franchise but in his role as the President of the NBA Coaches Association, a union of sorts that represents the best interests of the head and assistant coaches of the NBA branch of pro basketball. In some cases, the NBA Coaches also look out for the interests of retired or out-of-work members of their union. It is an admirable cause for Carlisle; after all, he was taught well by the late Michael Goldberg who recently passed away after decades guiding the group. Goldberg lobbied for coaches young and old, and he protected his association exactly the way you’d want a family lawyer to protect interests of the, well, family jewels.
Carlisle cried foul and took serious exception for a media report that ran tape-recorded video of the father of an NBA player. Carlisle and the Coaches Association thought the report was an “unsubstantiated opinion” that should’ve been checked, double-checked and run up and down through the front office of the Los Angeles Lakers before it saw the light of day. Carlisle barked to protect Lakers Coach Luke Walton. Carlisle believes he and his fellow coaches should be calling the plays to control media content and protecting the job security of his colleagues.
The trouble with Carlisle’s view and the statement issued by his union is that they both have no place in the editorial functions of any media outlet in the land, nevermind NBA cable-TV outlet ESPN, the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader of Sport.
Carlisle took a step that cuts at the very foundation of the First Amendment, written clearly in the Constitution of the United States of America, the place which 29 of the 30 NBA teams call home. Carlisle side-swiped the document on two fronts, first questioning the right for the father of an NBA player to voice his opinion to the media and, secondly, questioning the media exercising its right, to print the quotes. Carlisle then used undue influence as the presiding head of the Coaches Association to put additional pressure on ESPN, calling into question the access and trust that the larger group of league-wide coaches allow to ESPN in its remote game coverage of the NBA, hinting “in exchange for that, they should back up the coaches.”
“Printing an article where the father of an NBA player has an opinion that is printed as anything like legitimate – erodes trust,” he said. “It erodes the trust that we’ve built with ESPN.”
When an ESPN reporter assigned to cover the NBA in Dallas questioned Carlisle about the issue and whether the media should only cover what the coaches (as a group) deem newsworthy, Carlisle replied:
“I’m saying that they should look at their sources and do a better job of determining whether they have any merit or any validity. Or, are they blowhard loudmouths? That’s what I’m saying, you got that?”
Now every legitimate reporter in the land and probably every fan in the basketball-loving world fully understands Carlisle’s point. Most of us agree with his viewpoint and his underlying intentions in this terrible situation.
Yet Carlisle’s modus operandi is so misguided and his words of frustration are so misdirected, it’s no wonder the First Amendment of the Constitution is under siege in these United States, albeit because of statements made by a NBA player’s parent, a “Phil Knight Light,” bellowing in Lithuania as his two youngest sons are sold on the meat market of international basketball.
What if I told you that in this story, everyone is wrong? But, while underscoring all the wrongs, all the wish-it-would go-aways, for anyone involved to lash out and blame the media might be the wrongest of wrongs. After all, conflict is good, but unresolved conflict is bad.
Very clearly, the spiraling, out-of-control situation needs to be resolved by a single Lakers employee, Lonzo Ball, and the team’s front office, specifically Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who heads up the basketball operations for the franchise. Goldberg’s successor, David Fogel, or Coach Luke Walton and his representatives have every right to take it up with the club’s hierarchy.
When the Los Angeles Lakers drafted rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, they did so with the proverbial ‘elephant in the room,” that being the fact that their prospect came with an opinionated, self-indulgent, publicity-seeking, brand-building parent. A guy Carlisle aptly described as a “blowhard loudmouth.” That is a fact, not opinion. Then, as the Lakers moved forward with their draft choice, they publicly addressed the issue, and the Lakers new team president (Johnson) and his staff confronted their draftee’s father to set ground rules. On November 29th, after the father’s public comments about the Lakers “being soft” and his opinion that “they don’t know how to coach my son,” the Lakers hierarchy had another tete-a-tete while instituting some strategic moves to limit media access to Ball’s father while he was at the Lakers’ home court, the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles.
The Ball family navigated additional challenges, including the mid-November legal problems for LiAngelo Ball, one of Lonzo Ball’s younger brothers, who was picked up and detained on shoplifting charges while his UCLA basketball team travelled to China. Then, in early December, the father decided to yank 16-year old LaMelo Ball, a sophomore at Chino Hills High School, out of school for family “home schooling.” That led the two younger brothers and the father to settle in Lithuania, the father directing the kids to forego further NCAA basketball eligibility to sign with a B-level pro team in the town of Prienai, which a little under 10,000 people call home and root for their team in the Baltic League.
With such a backstory, suffice to say, after highly publicized basketball and diplomatic blunders and embarrassment on three continents, including a tongue-lashing and chastising by the President of the United States, the Ball family antics are fair-game for any media outlet in the world to cover. Thus ESPN’s dispatched NCAA basketball reporter Jeff Goodman to Lithuania to file daily video and print stories.
For the basketball reporting media, the fine line of deciding what is newsworthy and what is not remains a difficult, but personal and an institutional decision. Those decisions for Goodman and his bosses at ESPN remain protected by First Amendment rights, the very right to inform the public of news or to share an opinion, based on the reporting. For the NBA Coaches Association, and any member of its rank and file, to even hint that it might punish a media outlet by controlling access and weighing any sort of retaliation for the reporting of a story is simply wrong and totally unacceptable.