Went to Mavericks practice Friday as a reporter, to ask, shockingly enough, basketball questions.
For a few seconds, though, I unwittingly channeled Washington Senators pitcher Chuck Stobbs, who in 1953 served up a pitch that Mickey Mantle crushed for a 565-foot home run at Griffith Stadium.
All I did was ask coach Rick Carlisle: To what did he attribute the three-game winning streak of the Lakers, who will be in American Airlines Center for a Saturday matinee game against his Mavericks?
“Great coaching,” Carlisle deadpanned.
Boom. Bat flip and home run trot not even necessary.
Unless you’ve just emerged from a week of hibernation, you know Carlisle was indirectly referring to the LaVar Ball/ESPN/Luke Walton imbroglio.
Now, just six days after NBA coaches association president Carlisle rebuked ESPN for giving LaVar Ball a national platform and unfettered rein to criticize Walton’s job performance, Carlisle’s Mavericks are hosting the Lakers and, of course, LaVar Ball’s son, Lonzo.
If we didn’t know better, we would wonder if that potentially makes for an awkward Saturday afternoon at AAC, with Lonzo dribbling within a few feet of Carlisle dozens of times.
You know, like in February 2001, when Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers returned to AAC two months after O’Neal called Don Nelson a “clown” whose Hack-A-Shaq tactics amounted to “clown basketball.”
And the first few times DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers came to AAC after Jordan in July 2015 reneged on his verbal commitment to jump to the Mavericks as a free agent.
And every time Bennett Salvatore and Jack Nies officiated any Mavericks game with Mark Cuban in the building after their 2006 NBA finals calls usurped the city of Dallas’ premature parade plans with a Dwyane Wade parade to the free-throw line. [A finals record 97 attempts, to be exact].
Carlisle, though, made it clear Friday that when it comes to the younger Ball, he has only respect and admiration, pointing out that the Mavericks had him rated near or at the top of the 2017 draft class.
“He has such a great pulse on their team,” Carlisle said. “He’s just a very unique player because his style of game is much more art than science. But he is so good at getting his teammates involved. His creativity is really unique.”
As for LaVar, although Carlisle obviously was referring to him when he said ESPN should do a better job of determining whether sources have validity and aren’t “just blowhard loudmouths,” he never specifically said LaVar’s name.
Carlisle reiterated Friday that his complaint was with ESPN’s journalistic methods, not the incendiary comments made by the father, to whom Carlisle still wasn’t referring by name Friday.
“Hey, he can say whatever he wants,” Carlisle said with a shrug. “It’s a free country.”
On Feb. 20, 2001, Nelson diffused any potential awkwardness with O’Neal by donning a red foam clown nose during pregame warmups. O’Neal left the Lakers’ layup line, hugged Nelson and tried on the clown nose. No doubt aiding the detente was the game marked Nelson’s return from a 21-game absence following prostate cancer surgery.
“Welcome back,” Shaq told Nelson. “How are you doing?”
Carlisle shouldn’t need any props Saturday, nor feel any need to apologize to Lonzo Ball because, face it, Lonzo surely has heard others call his father worse things than blowhard loudmouth.
Carlisle’s initial comments last Sunday received some blowback, primarily from reporters who took exception to his saying media should seek stories that paint coaches in a positive light.
The following morning, Carlisle clarified, in a statement on behalf of the coaches association, that his main complaint with the ESPN story was a lack of corroboration or refute from anyone in the Lakers organization.
Whether you agree or disagree with Carlisle, his comments started a national conversation about sports and journalism, and in recent days the narrative seems to have shifted.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr called LaVar Ball “the Kardashian of the NBA,” adding that the public’s interest in stories that lack of substance is a sad commentary on sports, politics and entertainment. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich likened LaVar Ball’s comments to those of “another fan in the peanut gallery with an opinion, which is meaningless.”
Popovich’s comments preceded a loss by his Spurs to the Lakers in Los Angeles, which brings the Lakers to Dallas with a three-game winning streak and tees up the only retort Carlisle needs to make at this point.
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