NBA’s Evolving Relationship With Journalism
How our athletes are now celebrities.
Celebrity Athletes and Journalists
Working relationships between athletes and journalists are important to get a job done. Athletes have always not trusted the media at large, in part because they’ve been encouraged to do that by their organizations, who want to develop a us vs. them mentality toward all outside influences.
“I’ve had players get mad at me for things that I have written,” said ESPN the Magazine’s Chris Broussard. “But as long as you tell the truth and you’re not making up quotes and not out to intentionally harm someone, you should have no problems dealing with players.”
“You become friends or at least friendly with a lot of players, so you have to be objective,” Broussard added. “I still have to do my job and tell the truth.”
During his tenure as a beat writer with the New York Times, Broussard wrote a story about former NBA All-Star Stephon Marbury, and discussed how Marbury’s teammates were not pleased with his play and lack of sharing the basketball. Marbury thought that Broussard was intentionally out to get him.
“Players were saying that they were sick of him and that he was a ball hog,” Broussard said. “I went to Stephon the night before and told him what to expect, because I didn’t want him to be left in the dark about it.”
The next day the story published and Marbury was upset. For the rest of the season, Marbury wouldn’t speak to Broussard.
“I’d ask him questions and he’d reply, no comment,” Broussard said. “It didn’t hurt me in my coverage of him and the team because I was always around a pack of beat writers.”
Broussard also developed a good relationship with Miami Heat forward LeBron James when he was a member of the Cavaliers.
Toward the beginning of James’ rookie season with the Cavs, ESPN the Magazine published an article about James that mentioned his relationship with his mom, something James wasn’t interested in discussing. After that article was written, James wouldn’t speak to ESPN the Magazine anymore.
Broussard met James during his high school years through a mutual basketball friend in the Cleveland area and the two became close after James invited Broussard to a pre-screening of a movie at James’ home in his suburban Cleveland mansion. From that connection, Broussard is the only ESPN the Magazine writer that has exclusive access to James.
“Its human nature, when you get close to somebody as a person,” Broussard said.
Broussard’s being recognizable on ESPN also gives him a chance to connect with players in NBA locker rooms because he’s seen as one of them. It also makes his job easier. Despite NBA guys having a connection with journalists and vice versa, they still have a job to do and some athletes still have apprehension to journalists.
“When an athlete senses an adversarial situation, he will keep quiet,” said ESPN Radio’s Freddie Coleman. “I think a lot of the media feel that it is their right to say what they want for a good story, or to show that they are on the same level as the athletes they cover.”
Journalists use off the record material as background for stories with journalistic ethics guiding how that information is used. In sports journalism there have been problems with this.
Off the record is the unwritten rule of whatever is said here stays here. Some don’t honor it.
Deadspin’s Daulerio doesn’t think so. “There is no hard rule in place, I think how one journalist wants to handle it,” he says. “But you can’t say something is off the record and then go behind somebody’s back and print it.”
“If someone tells you something, it’s not always news,” said Adena Andrews.
Len Berman holds on to that practice. “I remember sharing a car ride with a retired NBA player and he told me about a teammate who wasn’t really injured,” Berman said. “The player felt like taking a little paid vacation but it was understood that the information wasn’t for broadcast.”
Is off the record different with sports journalism than any other genre of journalism?
“If information is then given off the record, it means I can’t use it,” said Newsday political journalist Reid Epstein.
It’s all about trust and relationship with players and management. Some management is able to handle it better than others. Some may be even sensitive to how they and the team are covered.
Sports journalists have been accused of playing a role in myth building rather than reporting facts.
On April 4, Mark Cuban, the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, stated in one of his blog posts: “In the year 2011, I’m not sure I have a need for beat writers from ESPN.com, Yahoo, or any website for that matter to ever be in our locker room before or after a game. I think we have finally reached a point where not only can we communicate any and all factual information from our players and team directly to our fans and customers as effectively as any big sports website, but I think we have also reached a point where our interests are no longer aligned. I think those websites have become the equivalent of paparazzi rather than reporters.”
When reached by e-mail, and asked to clarify his statement further, Cuban said: “I agree with you. And you can add politics as well.”
“The practice of off the record is something that is used in political journalism and is honored depending on the nature of the topic. I can’t speak to how it works for anyone but me, but in my dealings a conversation isn’t off the record unless I say it is,” said Epstein.
“Mark was referring to a specific place and time and there are some who believe it’s unnecessary for the media to have that kind of access,” said Ric Bucher. “There was a time when every face in a locker room was familiar and strangers stuck out. Now, there are dozens of media members with tape recorders and camcorders and every other device that are unknown entities; that would make me nervous if I were Mark or an athlete.”
Multimedia, if used the right way can be a wonderful tool. Unfortunately, sometimes it can have negative consequences on character. In April, false photos of a member of Notre Dame’s women’s basketball player Skylar Diggins surfaced on the internet.
The photo shopped images were a reminder that not everyone uses the internet appropriately and may add to the distrust that athletes have of media.
“It sucks that a young woman can be so successful in the realm of her life and someone go out and do something like this,” Andrews said.