Note: This is the second piece in a two-part series where I take readers into the marred relationship between the media and the players they cover. In part one, I gave a few examples from my eight-year professional career in Europe where I felt the media manipulated situations to create negative publicity.
Today, I want to focus on a different aspect of the player vs. media relationship: players being critiqued by people they feel are non-credible. This is a very interesting point to me because as a player, I felt much different about the debate than I do now that I am on Blazer’s Edge covering teams and players. I am neither LeBron James nor Bill Simmons, but I am one of the few people who have a foot in both camps.
Players’ point of view
Players hear other people’s opinions all the time. Media members will write about what players are thinking and feeling, fans will discuss what the team needs to do to improve, someone will be waving around a stat sheet and deriving arguments from it. The analysis is everywhere; it can easily get under a player’s skin.
Bro I'm really gettin tired of y'all throwing my name around. Maybe you should check my track record. Over 500 and in the playoffs every yr https://t.co/6ISstoIYMz— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) July 26, 2017
After every game, win or loss, someone would always approach me with things they saw that we could do better. Everyone had the answers and it was their duty to help the team out by giving me their two cents. “This player doesn’t care about the team, he just wants stats,” “This offense doesn't work,” “Coach needs to play him more.” It was just about anything you can imagine. Most of it was either ridiculous or beyond obvious.
Sure, It may be a little bit about stubbornness and pride, but not completely. All opinions that came from my teammates or coaches mattered, one way or another. I also had a very small group that consisted of my agent, close friends, a few select other players, and my family that I listened to and bounced thoughts off of.
But any advice offered by anyone outside of that group was pretty much meaningless—even from the front office.
Who knows more about installing a roof: the man who watches occasional installations from afar, or the man who’s up on the roof for a living?
It can be a little bit frustrating when someone does not watch practice and does not know the players or the game plan, or the personalities, and wasn't part of the film sessions, but feels compelled to teach what you, your teammates, or coach is doing wrong.
Watch a person with no kids tell a parent of five what they’re doing wrong. You’ll see the same look that players give the talking heads who can’t play.
How the public feels about us as a team is a different story. It matters that people like us, like the way we play, enjoy coming to the games, all of that. There is no team without the fans and there are no fans without a media presence. All players understand that. As I said a couple weeks ago, I always cared about the reputation of myself and my teams. That’s a different subject.
Some players find it even more difficult when the critic has never played at a high level. Just ask Lou Williams:
So crazy to me that all these nerds cover all sports. Not one athletic bone in their body with all the opinions and analysis.— Lou Williams (@TeamLou23) June 29, 2017
As a player, I agreed with this statement. Not in the way he put it, but the general premise (I actually consider myself a rather big nerd). But I was much less likely to take someone seriously who didn’t have much basketball playing experience or, at least, time coaching, training, or scouting at a professional level. Credibility mattered.
That is how you see things as a player. I was never rude or as blunt about it as Williams, and it was never a substantial issue for me, but it was a small thing that constantly sat in the back of my mind.
Just so we’re clear, I get how curmudgeony this all sounds. I’ve felt like a blend of Squidward, Rasheed Wallace, and Ron Swanson explaining this. But players work very hard to get where they are and they put in a lot of time, sweat, and hours. When they reach the professional level, consequently, the amount of people they feel are on their level dwindles.
Media’s point of view
I still believe there are things that cannot be fully grasped by anyone who’s not a player or coach. That will always be the case; learning a skill will always make it easier to teach.
But journalists are not training players. Their job is to help educate fans and give them information and guidelines to help make the game more enjoyable to watch. Everything is more interesting when you understand what’s happening.
We’re lucky to be in an age of information. Stats are still used as a ‘tell-all’ much too often, but to discount them is even more ludicrous. Players and teams in the NBA, overseas, and college leagues are using analytics to help improve and become more efficient.
It has become revolutionary for journalism too. Stats can always be skewed, but analysts who don’t get to watch every game and every practice can now use statistical evidence to get an abundance of information previously unavailable. It’s tough for a player to argue his value when he’s a net negative every time he steps on the court. Can a player really claim he’s good in the pick-and-roll if he shoots 30 percent in those situations with a substantial turnover rate?
These advanced stats have bridged the gap between the view from the outside and the view from within. It has educated writers and in turn, educated fans.
For 25 years I have been watching games, learning from great coaches, playing with great players, reading about basketball, teaching, and training practically every day, winning championships and earning a few MVPs along the way. But in our Blazer’s Edge staff conversations, I am the only person to have played at a high level, yet I continually learn something new every time I click over. It’s very humbling.
The on-court experiences are irreplaceable and most NBA players understand the game at another level than most, but that doesn’t mean there’s not sufficient data to make a well educated report from sitting in the stands.
It’s an arduous concept for players that most will never admit. Without the opportunity to see the other side, I probably would’ve never admitted it either.