The "Delight" of Covering Gilbert ArenasToday on "Pardon the Interruption," Tony Kornheiser said that Gilbert Arenas acknowledges no authority other than his own and that he is difficult to coach, concluding: "He's a drama queen--and he's a delight to cover." Arenas returned to action last night as only he could (or would); he kept his coach in the dark about his plans and simply strolled out of the locker room and to the bench when he felt like playing. This is considered "Gilbert being Gilbert" instead of being called what it really is: selfish, self-centered acting out by a player whose actual on-court contributions do not even come close to matching the glowing public reputation that he has been able to construct with the help of his accomplices in the media. Dirk Nowitzki is often blasted for supposedly being "soft"; did anyone who has said that retract those comments when Nowitzki came back from his ankle/knee injuries much earlier than expected and helped his team win a crucial game? Nowitzki's actions came in coordination with the team and with the team's best interests foremost in his mind; Arenas orchestrated his comeback so that all of the attention would be focused on him and he could care less about working with the coaching staff in a manner to maximize his team's chances for success.
It is fascinating to look at the process by which players fall in or out of favor with the media. For instance, Skip Bayless terms Terrell Owens "Team Obliterator" but--at least until very recently--Chad Johnson was considered, at worst, a lovable, harmless goof; Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon used to sing his praises regularly, though--to his credit--Wilbon backtracked heavily on that score during today's edition of PTI. Owens has played a key role in taking three different franchises to the playoffs and he played in a Super Bowl on a broken ankle; Johnson's selfishness and disruptive antics have been repeatedly criticized, publicly and privately, by Cincinnati Coach Marvin Lewis, yet until recently that criticism did not gain much traction in the media. Why has Johnson consistently been portrayed as a "good guy" and Owens has consistently been portrayed as a "bad guy"? It can't be about off the field legal problems, because neither player has any. It is no more or less complicated than the simple fact that members of the media personally like one guy and they don't like the other--or, as Kornheiser put it about Arenas, one guy is considered "a delight to cover" and the other guy is not.
Why is Arenas "a delight to cover"? What exactly does Kornheiser mean by that? Before Kornheiser was a TV celebrity he was a full-time writer and a very good one. He used to do lengthy articles/profiles for Inside Sports and many other publications. He certainly is capable of doing in depth research and producing a good story even about subjects who are not flamboyant attention seekers. It should not matter to a great writer if his subject provides a lot of juicy quotes and acts out in fantastic fashion or if he is a more reserved personality like Tim Duncan; the writer's job is to seek the truth and communicate that truth to his readers. That is the big difference between writing about something and showing something on TV. Arenas is a "TV superstar" who can provide great soundbites and entertaining (at least to some people) video clips; Duncan is a legit basketball superstar by virtue of the quality of his play but TV is probably not the best medium to use to examine his greatness. What Duncan does may not look exciting to some people but why is it not a "delight" to cover someone who works hard, perfects his craft and is dedicated to performing well at the highest level? Duncan never tries to attract attention at the expense of his teammates. He and Shaquille O'Neal are the two dominant players of the post-Michael Jordan era but Duncan never acts like he is bigger than the game. The reason that Duncan is not considered a "delight to cover" is that--particularly for those who work in the TV medium--it is more work to cover him. All you have to do to cover Arenas is turn on a camera or tape recorder and he does the rest; covering Duncan requires understanding the game of basketball and it requires taking the time and effort to examine what makes him great and why his teams are successful. It would be much more honest to say that Arenas is "easy" to cover; a true NBA fan would derive much more "delight" from receiving in depth coverage about Duncan.
posted by David Friedman @ 7:15 PM