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Russell Westbrook feud with reporter dings NBA

April 23, 2019

Maybe it’s not completely his fault. But I blame agent Drew Rosenhaus.

Nearly 14 years ago, standing alongside client Terrell Owens in front of the star receiver’s home, Rosenhaus answered several consecutive questions with a dismissive phrase that pops up sometimes when interview subjects object to the query:

“Next question.”

Owens had just read an apology in hopes of returning to the Philadelphia Eagles, who dismissed him the day before facing Washington in Week 8. Rosenhaus stepped forward after Owens’ statement and proceeded to embarrass himself in front of the assembled media, repeatedly uttering the unprofessional and unclever response.

(Rosenhaus obviously had a different take on the matter, considering that he later wrote a book titled “Next Question.” The best one that day in New Jersey was from a reporter who asked what Rosenhaus had accomplished exactly in eight months as Owens’ representative besides getting him kicked off the team. Classic.)

In the years since, N.Q. has been trotted out by some athletes, coaches, executives, and other public figures, whenever the topic isn’t to their liking.

The latest glaring example is Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook. His beef with The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel has become national news during the NBA playoffs, even though Westbrook hasn’t answered Tramel’s questions for most of this season.

“I keep asking, with no hope of getting an answer,” Tramel wrote in a column earlier this month, “because the media shouldn’t give in to Westbrook’s desire to control everything.”

Perhaps in response to his non-answers becoming a story, Westbrook changed his routine a bit after Sunday’s Game 4 loss against Portland. Asked by Tramel about the defense against Damian Lilliard, Westbrook went with: “Uh, that’s a good question. Uh, not sure.”

See? How hard was that? Here are some other examples of replies that are way better than N.Q.:

“I prefer not to say.”

“Let me think about that and maybe get back to you.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Both teams played hard.”

“I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”

Those last two lines, famously delivered by Rasheed Wallace and Marshawn Lynch, get the message across with a laugh to boot. (Wallace was fined for his antic after a victory in the 2003 NBA playoffs; Lynch wasn’t fined for his mode of participation at Super Bowl Media Day in 2015).

Look, most athletes fulfill their media obligations to the best of their ability, realizing that it comes with the territory whether they’re extroverts or introverts, glib or glum. And by no means should anyone lose sleep when athletes shirk their responsibilities or treat the media poorly. It’s not like they’re elected officials whose answers/non-answers can have a direct impact on our everyday lives.

Even some fans couldn’t care less if an athlete talks before, after or in-between games. As long he or she plays hard and contributes to wins, that’s enough.

But athletes who are rudely uncooperative do a disservice to their league, in general, and to emotionally invested fans, in particular. That’s not good for business or public relations. Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr is fearful of Westbrook’s approach spreading.

“More than anything, (fans) love the connection they feel to players,” Kerr said Sunday, per The Athletic. “I think it’s important for the players to understand that it’s a key dynamic to this league. I don’t think (‘next question’) is a healthy dynamic for this league, for any player, any team, any local media, any national media.”

Big stars don’t have to be media darlings. Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard is rarely heard from. His former San Antonio teammate, Tim Duncan, was as quotable as an embryo. Given enough bland answers, the media learns to look elsewhere for insight and analysis.

But come playoff time, the spotlight intensifies and the stage widens to include postgame podiums and nationally televised interviews. That’s when true professionals suck it up and endure, even if they’d rather be doing anything else.

“It’s dangerous when you go down the path of no communication,” Kerr said. “One of the reasons people like the league right now is we have a lot of great players, really good guys who handle themselves well. So don’t kill that. You’ve got to keep that going.”

As long as most players see N.Q. for what it really is a noncreative retort that makes the user look simple and weak Westbrook won’t start a trend.

Following his lead would be the epitome of what the Fat Albert Kids meant on their cartoon show when they talked about “N.C.”

No class.

⦁ Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.