Summer 2011 Interaction with players all business

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Often when I meet someone and they find out what I do for a living, one of the first questions they ask is “So, does that mean that you get to hang out with the players?”
It’s a reasonable question and somewhat predictable I suppose, since many people are fascinated by the celebrity aspect of professional athletes’ lives. Sports fans sometimes think that players lead glamorous lifestyles that are infinitely more interesting than that of the average person. Fans believe that it’s “cool” to be friends with the players.

Of course, I’ve always thought one of the funny parts of someone asking this question is that it often assumes that the players would actually want to hang out with ME.

This may be a letdown to some, but the truth is I’ve never socialized with Hornets players. It’s not that I’m necessarily against being friends with them, but for my job, I am completely content with having a professional relationship. I’ve always felt the best approach to interacting with the players is sticking to a philosophy that the only thing I will ever ask is for them to allow me to do my job.

Successfully doing my job requires the cooperation of the players, including often sitting down for interviews with me – even after discouraging losses, when they may not be in the best mood to talk. But my ability to do my job does not require extraneous things such as obtaining autographs from the players. It doesn’t include badgering them if I see them in New Orleans at a restaurant, to use one example.

I know there are some NBA team employees who believe it’s no big deal to get memorabilia sporadically signed by players, but I see the potential to create unnecessary problems. Certainly there are far worse things you can do in your job than that, but think about the position in which it puts the player. Theoretically, given the access I have to Hornets players, I could ask them to autograph items every day. Since they ostensibly have no choice but to deal with me on a frequent basis – unlike a fan, who they may not ever see again – they’d have to continually say “yes,” or risk making themselves look like a jerk. I’d rather not even start down that path.

Realistically, the majority of NBA players’ day-to-day, off-the-court experience isn’t much different or more exciting from anyone else’s. They are interested in many of the same things as most members of the 20-to-35-year-old male demographic, with many of the same hobbies. Obviously though, there are a few huge differences. The average annual salary in the NBA has climbed over $5 million. The players also have more free time on their hands than virtually any employed person I’ve ever seen (so let’s think about this: Extremely high pay, lots of down time… not a bad gig, right?).

Certainly there isn’t much downside to being paid exorbitant amounts of money, but it definitely should make athletes more leery of people trying to use them or take advantage of them. I once witnessed a local New Orleans radio reporter ask one of our players to invest in a business deal, seconds after the reporter had just interviewed the player in the locker room. Completely unprofessional? Absolutely. But I’m sure that wasn’t the first time it’s happened, either. Maybe not even the first time it happened that WEEK in an NBA locker room.

Even though I don’t actually hang out with the players during their free time, I’ve still been around them at various Hornets-related events to observe how they’re treated and witness some of the peculiar aspects of their celebrity status. There is no question that I would describe 99 percent of the interaction NBA players have with the public as positive. Most of the time, it’s a smiling fan who recognizes the player, tells him he supports the Hornets, then maybe asks for an autograph or to get their picture taken with the player.

A small percentage of the time, though – like with the case of the radio reporter who decided to make a sales pitch in the locker room – people who meet the players approach them with some scheme or angle. Since player salaries and contracts are frequently printed on the front page of newspapers for everyone to see, it’s no secret that they are wealthy. I imagine I could write an entire column on this subject alone, but the attention players receive from some women partly due to their checkbooks makes the savvier athletes much more skeptical of females who approach them. In fact, in part because of this, a surprising percentage of professional players end up marrying a girlfriend they dated in high school or college, back before the player became rich and famous, because they know they can trust her intentions. They know that she is not interested in him primarily because he has money or is on TV, for example. The same goes for many of the random people the players meet on a day-to-day basis: It’s very difficult to know what anyone’s true intentions are when a player first encounters someone.

That’s also partly why I feel so strongly that it’s wise for me to give players their space and not give them the impression that I am seeking anything from them. I’ve been with the Hornets for five-plus years now, and I’ve worked with the team’s two All-Star players, Chris Paul and David West, for that entire time. I’d like to believe that no matter how famous they get – and Paul has undoubtedly become a megastar – they understand that the only thing I need from them is to be interviewed when necessary throughout the season. There are already plenty of people trying to get something from them. I’d rather stay out of that group.

Five Observations: Hornets 93, Nuggets 88

The Hornets (3-0) posted their most impressive victory of the young season Sunday, rebounding from a sluggish offensive start to overtake the Nuggets in the Pepsi Center. New Orleans experienced a few anxious moments late in the fourth quarter when Denver sliced into what had been a double-digit lead, but Chris Paul drilled three free throws to help secure the big road win.
Here are five observations from Sunday’s game:

1) Hornets hold one of West’s best to only 88 points.
Behind the prolific duo of Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson and a fast-break attack, Denver is one of the most high-powered offensive teams in the NBA. Given that fact, the Hornets would gladly take an 88-point output from the Nuggets every time they play them. Overall, Denver was held to 37 percent shooting, while Anthony and Iverson actually brought the Nuggets’ accuracy rate DOWN, going a combined 16-for-49 (33 percent). Melo and AI totaled 43 points between them, another stat that had to please the Hornets. New Orleans swatted eight shots, led by two apiece from David West and Tyson Chandler. “We forced (Anthony and Iverson) into some tough shots,” West said. “We take pride in what we’ve got to do on the defensive end. Offense is going to come. Especially coming into a game like this knowing what Carmelo and AI are capable of doing, we knew we had to concentrate on limiting them.”

2) Bench to the rescue.
New Orleans only tallied 14 points in the first quarter, as Peja Stojakovic and West struggled mightily to locate their shooting touches. Backup guard Bobby Jackson then provided the sputtering Hornets offense with a huge spark, totaling 10 first-half points, including two three-pointers. Jannero Pargo also scored four points during a 34-point second period by the Hornets. Later, with the game hanging in the balance, Rasual Butler (11 points) canned three three-pointers in the fourth quarter alone, and Jackson (13 points) added another key trifecta. Overall, the bench outshot the starters – the reserves were 12-for-24 (50 percent), while the first five went a combined 21-for-62 (34 percent). In addition to contributions by Jackson, Pargo and Butler, Ryan Bowen scored a first-quarter layup on a heads-up, over-the-shoulder layup that beat the shot clock; dug out a loose ball that led to a Butler corner three-pointer; and swatted a close-range shot by Anthony. Julian Wright played five minutes in the second quarter, throwing down a fast-break dunk, but committing a sloppy turnover when he grabbed a defensive rebound and coughed up the ball as he tried to immediately dribble up the court. Hilton Armstrong was inactive due to a viral infection.

3) Three-point prowess continues.
The Hornets drilled 10 and 11 treys, respectively, in the wins over Sacramento and Portland. They followed up those outings with eight more three-balls in Denver, led by three apiece from Butler and Jackson. Morris Peterson (12 points) and Stojakovic (5 points) added one each. Denver TV analyst Scott Hastings commented several times that New Orleans may possess one of the best groups of perimeter and mid-range shooters in the NBA; the Hornets backed up that assessment by torching the Nuggets’ defense from long-range.

4) The overall talent on the roster is showing.
Looking for an excellent omen from Sunday’s win? How about the fact that the two players who could be the team’s leading scorers this season – West (7-for-23) and Stojakovic (1-for-10) – went a combined 8-for-33 from the field, and New Orleans still prevailed against a quality opponent. Right now the Hornets are getting enough contributions from all over the roster that they can win games even if their big guns have below-average outings.

5) Offensive execution with a fourth-quarter lead is a concern.
Some of the Hornets’ most crushing defeats in 2006-07 resulted from scoring droughts in the fourth quarter of road games, when they couldn’t hold on to a lead in the final minutes. Defeats at Miami, Toronto and San Antonio were a direct result of the halfcourt offense failing to generate high-percentage shots in the final few minutes of regulation. The Hornets experienced some of those same issues Sunday while trying to protect their lead, including one possession that ended with West having to fire up a 25-foot heave against the shot clock that failed to draw rim. In order to kill off some time, New Orleans didn’t look to attack until about 8-10 seconds remained on the shot clock, but that resulted in several empty possessions in critical junctures. The Hornets are going to have to improve their late-game offensive effectiveness in order to be more consistently successful away from New Orleans Arena this season. MVBee of the Game:
Tyson Chandler was his usual energetic self all night, finishing with 12 points and 17 rebounds, including an impressive eight offensive boards. The 7-foot-1 center kept balls alive on the glass and outhustled the Nuggets’ big men, including one sequence when Chandler chased down an offensive rebound out to near the halfcourt circle. Sixth Man of the Game:
Butler was clutch, sinking three three-pointers in the fourth quarter among his 11 points. Butler has been excellent during the team’s 3-0 start, going 11-for-21 from the field.