TRUTH CAN REALLY HURT
Michael Jordan had favorite interviewer when he played, and it wasn't former Wizards coach Doug Collins (left), now working as analyst with TNT.
October 26, 2004 -- NOBODY'S asking Doug Collins, or other NBA (sports) analysts, to make a living looking into closed closets or accentuating negative aspects of a player's game or a coach's game plan.
We understand that's too much to ask or hope for, though, I suspect, viewers wouldn't mind getting a whiff of the league's underbelly now and then (without having to buy Phil Jackson's latest book) just to break up the monotony of the malarkey they're being spoon-fed.
Trust me, as someone with 15 years on national television I recognize the repercussions of delving too deep into taboo territory, breaking weighty stories, posing touchy, no-feely questions, or paying no attention to the stipulations of an interviewee's publicity posse or agent.
I know what can happen when too much reality is revealed and fools, frauds and those full of themselves are exposed. I know the consequences of forthright coverage and being straight up with audiences.
I know the ramifications of taking on those with clout. The biggest babies complain long and loud. Assignments change in direct proportion. When a network is faced with the prospects of getting blown off for an interview the big boss almost always is the first to fold. If Michael Jordan, or Kobe Bryant, or Phil Jackson, or Pat Riley doesn't want so-and-so in his face asking pertinent or impenitent questions, changes are automatically made to oblige.
That's how Ahmad Rashad wound up opposite, er, genuflecting in front of His Airness all those years. During the '93 Bulls-Suns Finals, NBC's executive producer, Terry O'Neill, had told me I would do the pre-game interview with Jordan — whose gambling habit was being intensely scrutinized at the time — that would air during halftime. However, as Jordan was walking toward the chat room he demanded his "main man" instead; O'Neill quickly complied as if on cue.
That's also how Charles Barkley wound up in TNT's studio without me opposite him. From the outset of our pithy and testy studio relationship, producer Tim Kiely was in our ears provoking us to dump on one another (as if either of us needed any encouragement; we really do despise each other) regardless of whether we were working together that evening.
Near the end of the season I get an alarmed call at home from Kiely saying he's sorry but he can't save me, that the boss, Mark Lazarus, is steaming at how I've been killing Barkley on the air and in the paper. He warns me I'll be fired if the attacks didn't stop immediately.
Within a week or two, no exaggeration, Lazarus (since shifted to president of Turner Entertainment) is quoted in USA Today boasting about TNT's lack of censorship on the show. "We don't tell anybody what to say," he lied, like a man running for office.
Not to vaguely imply Collins (or anyone else behind a TNT mike) is forced to operate under such restraints or ultimatums. No need for that. Saying something bad about anybody, except a league-licensed target, is too much to expect from someone so insecure and fragile. If someone truly quit dealing with Collins because of something he said he'd have a nervous breakdown.
Better to skirt real issues or merely sideswipe them. Better to scold the guilty in spineless generalities and pump up the undeserving to extremes. Better to repeat the obvious. Better to jump on a popular or unpopular bandwagon than to take a tough or original stand. Better not to offend anybody. Better not to wind up, let go like Marv Albert was with the Knicks.
And we haven't even touched on Collins being one of TV's many card-carrying members of a coaching fraternity he does everything to protect . . . and re-pledges for every presidential term.
TNT's slogan is, "Nothing is more dramatic than the truth." Last time I subscribed to Pravda I could swear that was also in its masthead.