Pippen Denies Specifically Criticizing Hinrich, ThomasI mentioned in a recent post that the Chicago Tribune's Sam Smith quoted Scottie Pippen offering several blunt criticisms of various Chicago Bulls players. Smith now says that Pippen angrily denies that his comments referred to specific players. Pippen claims that his remarks were simply general statements about the drawbacks of utilizing small guards and about the limitations of players who are not students of the game; he insists that Smith erred by applying Pippen's quotes to Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas. Pippen called up Smith and told him, "I've always liked Hinrich a lot and would have him finishing games. I think Thomas could play someday like I did and just needs to develop." The original quotes attributed to Pippen were quite harsh but they really did not create much of a stir--mainly because, as TNT's Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith noted on Thursday, they were true.
Although Smith begins his most recent article by writing, "Scottie Pippen says I owe him an apology," Smith neither apologizes nor does he categorically state that the quotes are accurate. Instead, he recalls the furor that accompanied the release of his book The Jordan Rules and how all of that faded as the Bulls racked up victories and championships; the book's behind the scenes look at the team contained frank--but fair--portraits of the team's players and coaches and discussed Michael Jordan's competitiveness and how hard the coaching staff had to work to get him to pass the ball to lesser teammates. No one has denied the truth of these stories but not everyone liked that these things were brought to light for the general public to see.
It is possible that Pippen really did mean to speak in general terms and that Smith erred in applying the quotes to specific players. This is a little hard to believe because Smith has covered the NBA for years and has interviewed Pippen on numerous occasions. Would Smith really not be able to tell the difference between a quote about small guards in general and a quote about a specific small guard? One interviewing technique that I find helpful in such situations is to repeat back to the subject what he just said and confirm that this is what he meant. I get the impression that some writers--not necessarily Smith--don't do this because they don't want to give a subject the chance to modify a potentially inflammatory quote. One time, I was interviewing Paul Silas, then the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, for an article that I was writing about Bob Dandridge, who Silas played against twice in the NBA Finals. Silas told me that Dandridge was "a talker." I interpreted that to mean "trash talker," which is completely at odds with what I know about Dandridge. Rather than just running with that quote, I expressed surprise and said to Silas that I thought that Dandridge was not a boastful player. Silas immediately clarified that by "talker" he meant someone who communicated with his teammates on the court, calling out screens and relaying other information. If I had not asked the follow up question then I could have ended up writing something--quite unintentionally--that would have misrepresented both what Silas thinks and how Dandridge acted. Fortunately, I made sure to get the complete story. Moments like that happen more often than you might think during interviews; it is very easy for an interviewer who is either unskilled--or deliberately manipulative--to create a wrong impression about what someone says. The best way to avoid problems is to do enough research to be very familiar with your subject (I knew that Dandridge was not considered a boastful player), ask good questions and, above all, listen carefully to the answers; some people are so focused on the next question on their list that they don't really hear the answer to their current question and thus don't realize that a follow up question is necessary to clarify something.
Although I am often skeptical of the reporting and analysis done by many writers, I trust Smith. I suspect that after seeing the quotes in print, Pippen felt badly about how harshly he had spoken and regretted saying what he did. Although Pippen shoots from the hip when he makes public comments, sometimes after further reflection he tones down his initial statement.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:01 PM