One of the difficulties of working at a relatively new TrueHoop Network blog, as opposed to a major newspaper or a well-known website, is the ability to nail down good relationships with actual NBA players. Veterans like Michael Lee, David Aldridge and Marc Stein, have been around long enough to cultivate solid, trustworthy relationships with certain players, and they are granted more access because of their well-known employers (The Washington Post, NBA.com/TNT, ESPN.com). When you’ve only been around for only three years like I have it is more difficult–but not impossible.
My quest to get to know some of the NBA players a bit better has been even more difficult this year, because I mainly cover the opposing locker rooms (thus the title of this particular post). I see the Wizards players in passing, and if I’m lucky I’ll get a head nod or a “What’s up man?”, but nothing close to a substantive conversation that produces some juicy bloggable information. When I’m in the opposing locker room, the beat writers for whatever team is in town that particular night usually have a monopoly on those close relationships–as they should. Players are friendly to me, and they are willing to answer questions, but I can never really get over that hump where they are comfortable enough to truly talk to me–with one exception.
I first caught up with New Orleans Hornets forward, David West in March of 2009, when they took on the Wizards. I had seen him talking to Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson (Dr. Dyson is a minister, a professor, a radio talk show host, and he has written numerous books on race and cultural matters in this country. He’s also a frequent guest on the HBO Show, “Real Time With Bill Maher), and I wanted to ask him what they talked about. Before disappearing in the training room for treatment, West explained that he admired Professor Dyson, and he just wanted to finally meet the man. He thanked me for noticing, and we parted ways.
Seven months later in January of 2010, the Hornets came to town again, and I caught up with West before the game. I introduced myself to him once again, and he didn’t remember me. But when I asked him about Dr. Dyson, he instantly remembered my name, and shook my hand before resuming the interview (which can be seen here). After I wrapped up the interview, he told me to have a happy New Year and said he’d see me next time.
That next time was this past Saturday when the Hornets again made their annual visit to Washington. West had been battling a sore ankle, which meant that he spent all of his time in the training room before the game, so I had to wait until afterward to catch up with him. Before I entered the locker room, I saw Dr. Dyson waiting for him outside as well. I asked him if he was waiting for West, he said he was, and I then told him how I knew of their relationship. Once the locker room opened, I let Dr. Dyson talk to West as I gathered post-game quotes from other Hornets players.
Once I finished, I went over to West’s locker and listened in on what he was saying:
On The Washington Wizards:
“They are a talented team man, they are probably the longest team in the league, they probably have the biggest starting frontcourt in the league with Lewis, McGee and Blatche, and we knew we had to be aggressive. They are one of those teams that are dangerous if you let them hang around, and they could possibly steal the game, and we didn’t want to let that happen.”
On Not Really Getting The Credit He Deserves As A Player:
“I don’t need that, I don’t have a propaganda machine behind me, it’s just not my makeup. I don’t set personal goals, I think if we’re winning as a basketball team it makes the season that much sweeter, it goes by quicker, and it’s easier to deal with some of the rigors of the NBA season. So no, I don’t look for anything like that, it’s just not in my makeup.”
Once the other journalists left, West saw me and I started to introduce myself again, but he interrupted, shook my hand and said, “Come on now, I remember you Rashad.” We talked a bit off the record, but before he had to depart, I asked him a couple of quick questions on the record as well.
On his relationship with Dr. Dyson:
“That’s my guy now. As you know, I first met him in ’09 just to pick his brain, and now we talk all the time via email, phone and now face to face. He’s my elder and he’s wise, so why wouldn’t I cultivate that relationship? We talk about community, we talk about the plight of New Orleans and how I can help individually and how they need help in general, and I look to him for guidance too. You cover the Wizards, so you know all about how things can be as an NBA player if you aren’t focused and level-headed, so since he’s an elder, a scholar and someone I admire, I’d like to keep him around. Something has to rub off on me right?”
On preparing for a possible NBA lockout
“Well I would consider myself to be pretty fiscally responsible, so I’m not really fearing the lockout, because more than anything it’s part of the business. Obviously we as players want the best business deal, but we understand it has to be fair for both sides. And personally, I’ve been talking to some of the younger guys, not just on my team but around the league, about being fiscally responsible and holding on to your money … not just pre-lockout, but all the time. We have no excuses not to do that, especially considering what some older and recently retired players are going through with their finances. Our generation has no excuse to be irresponsible with their money, and given that we’ve known about this possible lockout for a minute now, no one should be complaining about not being able to work for pay for a few months. We need a better deal, so sacrifices have to be made, simple as that.”