I like to talk to people face-to-face and be honest. Sometimes that means people want to punch me out, but at least, hey, they know the truth. I don’t want people to say, “Oh, this guy lied to me.” I want them to say, “I have respect for him.” So I talk straight to people. That’s just the way I am.”
-Bismack Biyombo, via Davy Rothbart, “What’s your deal?” 06/19/11
Henry Abbott wrote a fascinating piece today inspired by Keith Richards’ memoir. The premise is that there aren’t enough Keith Richardsy stories written about NBA players. He’s not saying that Brian Cardinal has a secret heroin addiction, but there are amazing stories going untold because there’s a perception that it’s safer for players to keep the private aspects of their lives private. The Biyombo interview quoted above doesn’t even have anything controversial in it, really, but we NBA blogosphere people went crazy for it because he was genuine and showed his personality.
Abbott doesn’t judge individual NBA players for keeping quiet/boring, but he does challenge the notion that they wouldn’t be accepted if they spoke up. He acknowledges that there’s an huge, obvious racial component to this, but also brings up the fact that Jay-Z has detailed his drug dealing past that began at age 15, yet is “one of the most truly empowered people in entertainment.”
A few questions, as a dude who has yet to cover the NBA up close:
- What would it take to get teams/agents to change their advice to players on dealing with the media? Would the “leader” Abbott asks for have a best-selling book? Amazing jersey sales? Huge sponsorships? When Gilbert Arenas was blogging and at the peak of his popularity, there weren’t exactly a slew of peers following his lead.
- What would happen if the NBA approved a 24/7 or Hard Knocks-type show, with expletives left in and almost no restrictions on access? Are we that scared of the reality of how NBA’ers interact? Even if it is a fairly large percentage of people who will ignorantly judge the league and its players negatively when they get to see them up close, should the league be pandering to them?
- How much of this can be blamed on the media? On the one hand, I’m pretty sure every young journalist I know would rather have a long sit-down with a player and produce an interesting, real story than ask him about “the key to tonight’s game.” On the other, I think Mark Cuban had a point when he called out journalists for seeking controversial stories and sensationalizing in order to get more pageviews. If you’re reading a feature that feels honest and true, then you know the player feels comfortable telling the writer his story. Without being an insider, I don’t know if empathetic journalists are in short supply, but I’m sure they’re essential if fans are going to connect with these guys.
- Will Bismack Biyombo close himself off at some point? ‘Cause that would suck.