BY LACY J. BANKS SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST Advertisement
If Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal gets only one first-place vote for NBA most valuable player, it's my vote. Yes, I know I wrote last week that I was joining the consensus in voting for Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett. From a statistical standpoint, he qualifies amply for such consideration, and I was all ready to vote for him.
But a fellow NBA reporter recently e-mailed me about how rude Garnett continues to be to the media, never granting pregame interviews and making reporters, pressed by deadlines, wait long after games to talk with him. I then remembered the experiences I and other Chicago writers have had with him, and this is supposed to be one of his homes.
He makes only one trip a year to play in Chicago. But I remember that one time he visited, he was injured and was not going to suit up and play that night. Still, he refused to give me an interview. I reminded him that I was the first NBA writer to interview him before and after he was drafted straight out of high school in 1995, but he still gave me the cold shoulder.
I always have had a policy of voting for the human qualities of an MVP candidate, as well as his basketball talent. I look at each candidate's character, professionalism and willingness to promote the product of which he is a part and which has made him quite wealthy.
All of a sudden, Garnett was no longer my choice for MVP. I then turned to O'Neal, who always has been courteous to me and has granted me interviews before and after games. Besides, O'Neal is the primary reason the Pacers finished with the best record in the league during the regular season and have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
So when I entered the voting booth of my conscience and drew the curtains of reconsideration, I switched my vote with a clear mind and a warm feeling of moral accomplishment.
Garnett still is expected to win the MVP, so he doesn't need my vote anyway. But the Garnett I have come to know professionally is an arrogant ingrate who probably cares as little about those voting for him as he does about those who won't. He'll take the praise and awards, but that probably won't change how he views and treats the media.
I only wish the balloting was so close that it came down to one vote. My vote. Then I'd feel even better about the message I'm trying to send.
And that message is: It's so nice to be nice.
And little further down the article:
A scout's view of the Pacers' 6-11 starting center: He has found his niche as a role player in the post, where he serves as an excellent help defender. Although he had decent averages [14.2 points, 11.3 rebounds] his senior year at Southwest Texas State, few thought he had the toughness or could develop the skills to survive in the NBA. Now he is excelling quite well, averaging career highs with 6.1 points and 7.4 rebounds. He was always a decent athlete and a quick learner. He has great hands for the ball, is gritty enough to take charges, box out and dive after loose balls and is not afraid to bang. He leads the team shooting 54.4 percent from the field, and he complements the team's veteran stars like Ron Artest, Jermaine O'Neal and Reggie Miller. He does an excellent job of running the floor and is a good power finisher on transition.