I published a story in the Daily News today that caused quite a stir in Philadelphia, and rightfully so. It divulged some secrets that the organization would like to have been kept quiet because they do not want to risk alienating a superstar — in this case, Ben Simmons.
Trick of the trade: You can tell when you’ve struck a nerve when you see a seasoned professional suddenly start acting like a 4th grader.
In this case, it was 76ers Vice President of Communications Dave Sholler, who I have known for a long time.
Sholler is the Vice President of Communications for Harris-Blitzer Sports and Entertainment, the conglomerate that runs the Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Devils, Prudential Center and renowned esports franchise Team Dignitas, according to Sholler’s Linked In profile.
So the guy makes a lot of money, and it is his job to protect his bosses, put out fires and try to control the message.
Sholler’s inability to do so with dignity in response to the New York Daily News story concerning internal turmoil within the Philadelphia 76ers was a dead giveaway that the story was right on the money.
When you have been covering the NBA for 32 years, you learn to see a few telltale signs.
And when you break a story that nobody else has, the formula usually goes like this: Deny, deny, deny. Attack the credibility of the reporter, say something venomous on Twitter to incite ridicule, and then hope everyone believes the cover story rather than the true story. They teach this stuff in journalism schools in public relations classes. I learned it myself from Professor Bill Baxter at Marquette University.
The tough part about being a sportswriter (actually, there are too many tough parts to mention) is navigating the human obstacles that get in the way of telling a story. Because the NBA and its 30 teams are so drunk on big money, they will go to almost any length to protect their paychecks and their franchise values.
In many NBA locker rooms, one-on-one interviews have become next to impossible because PR staffs make players “do media” in front of a pack of journalists. Speaking with reporters and broadcasters has become a chore more than an obligation, which is why SportsCenter is so often filled with highlights of athletes refusing to answer legitimate questions (yes, Russell Westbrook, we are talking about you.)
We live in a culture in which media members are called “enemy of the people” by the President of the United States, which kind of poisons that atmosphere for folks who try to tell the whole story and the true story while getting attacked on social media for doing their jobs.
It comes with the territory, and those who cannot handle it find jobs in other industries. Some of the strong survive, but it takes an incredible amount of intestinal fortitude to keep going. Ask any NBA writer over the age of 40 whether things are better now than they were 10 years ago, and not a single one will give a positive response.
But we plod onward anyway because we have a passion for our business … a business that has succumbed to the aggregation model to such an extent that the amount of original NBA content being produced by mainstream journalists has slowed to a trickle.
Rumor journalism is what produces traffic, especially in the NBA … which is why I am watching Brian Windhorst and Tracy McGrady debate whether Anthony Davis may end up on the Clippers as I type this column.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has an enormous problem on his hands with the postseason not including LeBron James for the first time in 13 years.
Viewership was down 31 percent from a year ago for Saturday and Sunday’s NBA playoff games on ESPN, ABC, TNT and NBA-TV … and 31 percent is an enormous number no matter how much the Tiger Woods part of the equation is factored in.
The marquee team in this year’s postseason is the Golden State Warriors, who just lost DeMarcus Cousins to an injury that will likely end his postseason. Big market teams like the Knicks, Bulls and Lakers and their fan bases are only worried about ping-pong ball possibilities, and much of the East Coast viewing public is asleep by the time the best games are played.
If the Warriors get knocked out in the first or second round, who will the public gravitate toward?
Which NBA player will replace Steph Curry as the most likable face of the NBA? It might be James Harden, who has enough old-school skills and media savvy to assume that mantle. It might become Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is to cellular phone service what Blake Griffin was to automobile sales a few years back.
Just a little food for thought as the two-month odyssey known as the NBA playoffs moves toward Night No. 5.
But do not expect this story to go away. The next Sixers loss will incite panic. And don’t forget that Anthony Davis still wants a trade.
If David Griffin’s marching orders include a prohibition on trading Davis to the Lakers, the Sixers are one of the teams Davis may end up with.
So stay tuned. Things change fast in the NBA, and things get emotional. The past 24 hours in Philadelphia have been tough. Tomorrow is a new day. We’ll see where their series takes us, and everyone involved with the Sixers … and the Nets. Right now, it’s the best series NBA fans have going.