Hornets Insider: All-Interview Team

Hornets Insider: All-Interview Team
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

September 13, 2010

As defending NCAA men’s basketball champions and one of the nation’s premier programs, Duke University has accumulated its share of detractors over the years. Some of the animosity is probably rooted in pure jealousy of their success, but regardless, if you talk to many college hoops fans, they list the Blue Devils as the team they most enjoy cheering against.

While I’m not here to convince you to stop disliking Duke, my experience in the NBA over the past five-plus years has given me one reason why the “Dookies” at least deserve some of your respect. When I sat down recently to compile an informal list of the NBA players who’ve impressed me the most in one-on-one interviews, half of the guys were Duke alums.

People sometimes cynically ask me what it’s like to interact with “multi-million-dollar professional athletes.” Certainly there are some players who can be difficult or moody, but based on my interactions, there are also a multitude of guys who are consistently a pleasure to interview.

The following is my inaugural NBA All-Interview team, but first, a few disclaimers. Please keep in mind that this is by no means intended to be a complete or comprehensive list, because I’ve only dealt with a portion of the league’s 400-plus players. It’s obviously highly subjective. I also opted to leave off any player who has been a member of the Hornets, because that could comprise a separate article by itself. But here is my list, based on countless phone and in-person interviews I’ve done for NBA magazine features or for Hornets.com. I also received input from various writers and broadcasters from around the league.

Duke Division

SHANE BATTIER, HOUSTON | Hornets.com Interview 11/06/06
My first impression of Battier actually came when he was still playing in college for Duke. In 2000, the Blue Devils played in the NCAA Tournament regional in Syracuse, N.Y. One of my fellow New York media members who interviewed Battier in the Carrier Dome called the forward “the most impressive college athlete I’ve ever seen.” High praise, indeed. Other writers have speculated that Battier should consider running for U.S. President when his playing career ends.

Here’s what Rockets.com’s Jason Friedman wrote about Battier midway through last season: “If you’re desperate for a good quote, there might be no one better in the league than Shane Battier. He’s one of a kind and the type of person with whom every fan would love to sit down and chat because of his wit, candor and ability to carry any conversation ranging from sports to movies and everywhere in between.”

GRANT HILL, PHOENIX | Hornets.com Interview 01/16/07
Regarded around the league as the ultimate first-class guy, Hill carries himself with an almost regal dignity. I once approached him in a visiting locker room an hour before a game to see if he had a few minutes to speak, not realizing that he’d decided that season to move all of his game-night interviews until after games. Even though I’d shown up at his locker unannounced – so realistically, he owed me no lengthy explanation – he apologized three or four times about declining to talk during pregame, but promised to do the interview after the game. When the game was over, he spoke thoughtfully about his career for at least 10 minutes after all of the other reporters had exited the locker room.

ELTON BRAND, PHILADELPHIA | Hornets.com Interview 01/08/07
A rugged 6-foot-9, 254-pound power forward on the court, Brand comes off as soft-spoken and exceedingly polite off of it. Even while speaking to groups of reporters in visiting cities, he gives the impression that he cares about your ability to do your job. Some players display negative body language or tend to look away from the media while speaking at their locker, but he consistently makes eye contact, which reporters appreciate.

76ers TV broadcaster Marc Zumoff: “Elton Brand is media-savvy and like all of the (Sixers’) players, very cooperative.”

MIKE DUNLEAVY, INDIANA | Hornets.com Interview 01/02/07
Perhaps because he’s been around the NBA virtually his entire life – his father, Mike Dunleavy Sr. played or coached in the league for 25-plus years – the high-scoring swingman seems to grasp very well the give-and-take between the media and players. Pacers.com writer Conrad Brunner: “Mike Dunleavy (provides) the most insightful analysis (among Pacers players).”

Non-Duke Division

MO WILLIAMS, CLEVELAND | Hornets.com Interview 11/03/08
One of the most good-natured players in the NBA. The point guard has hosted a video Q&A in the past with his Bucks and Cavaliers teammates called “The Mo Williams Show” in which he gets their take on mock-serious issues such as “Which talk-show host do you like better: Tyra Banks or Oprah?”

JASON TERRY, DALLAS | Hornets.com Interview 12/17/06
Extremely friendly and upbeat, the high-scoring sixth man genuinely enjoys speaking to the media. I have to admit that another reason I put him on this list is because he’s a fellow Seahawks fan – Terry is a proud native of Seattle, with a 206 area code tattoo on his chest – who enjoys discussing our favorite NFL team. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say this season about the arrival of Pete Carroll.

JAMAL CRAWFORD, ATLANTA | Hornets.com Interview 04/04/08
I'm not sure what it is about Seattle guys, but like fellow Emerald City native Terry, Crawford is exceedingly welcoming to reporters. When he was with Chicago early in his career, I interviewed him before a game in New Jersey for an Inside Stuff magazine article. After I introduced myself and affiliation, the first thing Crawford said was “Cool. I love Inside Stuff.” When that’s a player’s first comment about your publication, you know it’s going to be a good interview.

MATT BONNER, SAN ANTONIO | Hornets.com Interview 03/29/09
Probably the most self-deprecating player I’ve ever met in the NBA. He has joked about being one of the best NBA players ever from New Hampshire, even though he’s actually just about the only one who’s a native of that state.

There are plenty of players I have minimal experience with, but they’ve received numerous rave reviews from other NBA media members:

RAY ALLEN, BOSTON | Article 05/26/04
They don’t hold this voting anymore, but back in 2003-04, Allen received the most ballots from NBA team public-relations directors in their version of the All-Interview Team.

Nuggets.com writer Aaron J. Lopez: “He will often offer an honest, insightful perspective. He won’t sugarcoat anything if he thinks he or his teammates aren’t playing up to his standards.”

Timberwolves.com writer Jonah Ballow: “He is so levelheaded and never expresses anger or frustration towards the media. The future NBA star describes his exact feelings on the floor but also takes ownership of mistakes. I enjoy listening to Flynn speak due to his maturity level and love for the game.”

Before signing as a free agent with the Nuggets, Harrington was a member of the Knicks in 2009-10. NYKnicks.com writer Ricky Henne provided this assessment: “I enjoy dealing with Al Harrington. He is an affable guy with a very fun personality, and he always has a big smile on his face. He also always gives straight forward, honest answers.”

Suns.com writer Brad G. Faye: “If you’re working on a feature and need a quote that captures what you’re trying to say, you look to veterans like Steve Nash and Grant Hill.”

Any player who so consistently comes up with creative and hilarious nicknames for himself (Big Aristotle, The Big Shaqtus) and other stars (The Big Fundamental) needs to be included on this list.

Bucks TV broadcaster Jim Paschke: “Michael Redd always gives interesting twists on basketball and life in the NBA.”

Trail Blazers TV broadcaster Mike Barrett: “(In summer 2009) he was given the Magic Johnson Award by the Pro Basketball Writers Association, which honors the player who best combines excellence on the court with cooperation with the media and fans. Brandon always talks after games, and if you don’t come up with a great question, he bails you out with a terrific answer. He’s just exactly who he appears to be, and that’s why he could run for governor in the state of Oregon and win in a landslide. People just love him.”

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