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Thursday, April 03, 2008

The "Delight" of Covering Gilbert Arenas

Today 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.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:15 PM



At Thursday, April 03, 2008 11:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

very well said!

though in fairness to arenas, he does say a some funny things if you don't take him too seriously.

i have never read an article about duncan, other than usual quotes of "we played hard, tightened our defense, ..." and the usual stuff that players feel obliged to say. there aren't a lot of things said about him though..


At Friday, April 04, 2008 6:38:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that Arenas has said some funny things but what I object to is the double standard in the coverage. A lot of members of the media like Arenas because he makes their jobs easy, so then they are soft on him when he does things on the court or off the court that are detrimental to the team. It doesn't bother me if Arenas does some quirky things or if Chad Johnson does an endzone dance or if TO does situps in his driveway; what bothers me is how the media arbitrarily and superficially makes some guys villains and other guys heroes. I don't think that Arenas, Chad Johnson or Terrell Owens are really bad people at the core but it makes no sense to blast one guy and canonize the other two. Johnson is going so far over the edge now that he is losing a lot of the support that he used to enjoy but for a long time Kornheiser and Wilbon praised him and killed TO. That just isn't right and it's a sad commentary on how being a TV star has eroded the quality/depth of Kornheiser's work; of course, he is laughing all the way to the bank and could care less what I or anyone else thinks about this but I used to love reading his longer, in depth pieces for various magazines. He did a great piece nearly 30 years ago about Nolan Ryan; I think that it came out right around the time that Ryan became the first athlete to make $1 million a year. Ryan was hardly the life of the party but Kornheiser went down to his ranch, spent some time with him and tried to find out what made him tick.

Duncan was training to be an Olympic swimmer until a hurricane destroyed the pool where he trained. Then he became a world class basketball player. We know the bare bones facts but there is a really great, in depth story just waiting to be written.

At Saturday, April 05, 2008 7:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

i agree that gilbert arenas is somewhat overated if you think he is as good as lebron james kobe etc. to me he is top 15 player in league he is not a distraction to his team to me he is just a little corky guy i dont see anything wrong in what he does you cant compare hi m to terrell owens based on what terrell owens is a bad teammate he's a great football player just a bad teammate he called out all his coaches and quarterbacks he has dissed other players on teams constantly whines about not getting the ball when he gets thrown too more than most recivers he was good last year other than dissing bill parcells.

chad johnson is terrell owens jr he is worst than arenas i dont see where you bring arenas in with them 2 at. i like chad but he is starting to become a distraction with his trade demands thing diffrence with him and owens he hasnt called out coaches and his quarterbacks or the organization like owens has. he has just responded to coach marvin lewis saying that people are seeing him in a diffrent light now. lewis and him had a run in a couple years ago but that was not really that big of a deal.

chad wants to be on a good team like kobe did last year kobe went wrong saying they should get rid of kupchak for jerry west and dissing bynum etc chad is going wrong going on every publication whineing about wanting to be tradeing threatning to play in the afl. cincnati has to trade him or he will be a even bigger distraction and become terrel if he doesnt want to be there then get rid of him. chad does celebration thats really it he is a good teammate till of late. owens is diffrent he whines i dont have a problem with the sharipe or him doing situps but he seems to never be happy in any situation he is in he threw everybody under the bus in those situations. chad can become it if he starts throwing his teamates under the bus and keep saying chad got to look out for chad thats owens type talk in some ways he is owens but clearly not totally owens but it could be is the bad part for the bengals and you dont want that so chad needs to think about the team and not him self.


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