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The NBA Media Labyrinth
Posted By Travis Heath On September 25, 2013 @ 12:00 pm In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
It was a running joke as media members sat huddled in the corner of the visiting locker room. Which of the new guys would be stupid enough to approach Kevin Garnett prior to the game and ask for an interview? Usually he hangs out in the training room for the entire media availability so that he doesn’t even have to cross paths with someone holding a microphone. However, if someone did approach him, that’s when things got interesting.
You see, everyone knows Garnett “doesn’t talk pre-game.” And he’s not the only one. There are myriad of unwritten rules around star players in the NBA regarding when they will talk, when they won’t and to whom. Many fans may believe it is as simple as approaching a player, asking him to speak and then that player will simply sit down and speak for however long the reporter needs. If only the process were that simple.
The NBA locker room is its own fascinating ecosystem. Add media to that and it becomes all the more intriguing.
It’s really kind of funny when you take a step back and observe. What you often find is a group of media members huddled together in the corner of the locker room during pregame media availability while most players, who take up the majority of the space, do their best to ignore the herd – not even wanting to acknowledge their presence in many instances.
It would be like if you were watching television with your family while there were a crowd of people standing in the corner of your living room, holding conversations with one another and trying to decide whether to come up and speak to you. It’s an odd dynamic that isn’t replicated in many other venues of life.
As someone who covered the league on a daily basis for a number of years this can be quite frustrating. Of course, I was fortunate enough to learn from one of the best in Marc J. Spears, who just happened to be in my market. I watched how he built relationships with players and how he was able to skillfully maneuver past some of the rules, both written and unwritten, as a result.
I learned quickly that building and maintaining relationships was key. As media, we existed in a system that was inherently stacked against us. We were given a set of rules to which we were supposed to adhere, as were the players. The only difference was that the players could break the rules at will. A team’s media relations people can sometimes be helpful in getting access to players. For example, Tim Gelt of the Denver Nuggets has always been wonderful. However, there are other media relations folks around the league who, well, let’s just say take their jobs a bit too seriously.
Without a preexisting relationship or the help of a good media relations staff, media members are often left playing the NBA’s version of Where’s Waldo. In addition to hiding out in the training room during all of the pregame media availability, many players sneak out the back door postgame prior to the media being allowed in. This can be especially prevalent for members of the home team who know every nook and cranny of the building (you know who you are Marcus Camby). Some players just take as long as possible hoping that media members who are on a deadline will have to bail before they emerge. And these are just a few examples of what can become a tired game of hide-and-seek.
I can’t say I blame the players, at least to some extent. When I first started covering the league I was the one – the one – media member in my market in the digital space. It often seemed that I had to work twice as hard to be taken seriously. Of course, the landscape is much different today. It seems that in most markets NBA teams are letting in a plethora of websites, blogs and anyone else with a keyboard and cell phone camera. The herd has gotten remarkably hefty.
It has reached a point where the league needed to do something, and it responded recently with new media guidelines. Before diving into some of the changes and how these may impact you as a consumer of NBA information, it should be noted that there are four times when NBA players have been made available to the media in the past: practice on non-game days, morning game day shoot-around, pregame and postgame.
The new policy states, “Players are encouraged to be available to the media at both the team game day shoot-around and during the pre-game media availability period. However they are only mandated to be available at one of those sessions. If a team does not have a game day shoot-around, all players, upon request, must be available for a five-to-10 minute media session during the pregame media availability window.”
The policy goes on to note, “All locker rooms must be open to media within 15 minutes of the conclusion of the game and each player must be available within 30 minutes of the locker room being opened (45 minutes after the game). All players must be available to the media for a minimum of five to 10 minutes during the postgame media access period.”
The key words in both of the previous paragraphs were “all players.” On every team there are always guys who media members know they can go to in order to get a substantive quote. Rarely are those guys superstar players. How many of you NBA fans out there are going to want to read about Steve Blake on a daily basis? On the other hand, the words of Kobe Bryant are likely to be much more interesting. Trust me, websites such as the one you are reading right now keep extensive data around such things.
Making players available doesn’t guarantee the ever-elusive “exclusive” interview with a player, but the new rules at least give media members a chance to drive some content with big-name players.
Given the fact that TNT and ESPN both run “mic’d up” segments with coaches and players demonstrates just how hungry fans are for “insider” information. The clips of the coaches in the huddle are mind numbingly obvious and provide even a fan with a moderate basketball IQ nothing of substance, yet many fans still drool over it.
When I covered the league, I often said something like just give me 15 minutes with every player available on each team and I will write a story that gives fans exactly what they want. I was only able to accomplish this every so often and only because of relationships. I always believed that if the NBA leveled the playing field and let everyone with a credential have the same access to every player for the same amount of time, that would allow the writers to compete each game and see who could emerge with the most compelling story. Ultimately, the NBA fan would win with this model, and so would the players, as such coverage would only add to their marketability.
The new rules, as well intentioned as they are, probably will not come close to facilitating what I laid out. Moreover, as noted previously, there are too many media members in most markets for this to truly be accomplished. The new rules have lessened the overall amount of time players are made available, which is fine by me since I’ve always believed in quality over quantity as it pertains to interviews. Most interesting will be whether the NBA actually enforces the rules across the board. If you’re a fan of reading websites such as this one, you had better hope the league does exactly that.
Dr. Travis Heath is a psychologist in private practice, an assistant professor of psychology at MSU Denver and a former NBA team consultant. He also co-hosts a show on Mile High Sports Radio on Tuesday evenings from 6-7pm. You can follow him on Twitter @DrTravisHeath.
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