I love the NBA just as much as the next guy. I would even go so far as to say I’m an ardent, die-hard fan. I am dazzled by the physical prowess and skill of the players and the brilliant minds of the coaches. I’m devastated when my team loses and am filled with fiery vengeance during the rematch. But one of my most favorite aspects of the sport doesn’t even take place on the hardwood—it’s the press conferences.
Public relations in sports is a tricky lady. On one hand, you’ve been hired to play, coach, or officiate a game at an exceedingly high level—not much talking required. But on the other hand, you’re expected to be a role model. Dealing with a scandal or other PR blunder can be more difficult than shooting free-throws is for Shaq. Here are 10 PR blunders from the past few decades that made an already bad situation even worse.
10. Kobe Bryant’s Sexual Assault Case
When you’re on top of the basketball world, everything you do is analyzed under a microscope. So when superstar Kobe Bryant was accused of sexual assault and eventually sued for the same charge, the public, the press, and each of his sponsors knew his days on top would be short-lived. Or so we thought. Ever the clutch player, Bryant attempted to shoot his way out of this scandal by not only admitting adultery, but by also purchasing a $4 million, 8-carat diamond ring for his wife (you know, to show there were no hard feelings).
Maybe in the long run, this wasn’t so much a blunder because he somehow managed to get us all to like him again. He retained all his sponsorships, his wife dropped the divorce claim, and he went on to win a couple more rings for himself.
9. Tony Parker Cheating Scandal
All-star point guard Tony Parker seemed to have met his match when he married the beautiful actress Eva Longoria in 2007. The prenuptial agreement the pair signed at the beginning of their marriage, while smart, should have reminded us all that celebrity marriages tend to have short shelf-lives. Not only did Longoria discover her husband’s infidelity, but she also learned that he had been cheating with Erin Barry—wife of former teammate, Brent Barry.
This story might not have gotten Parker such bad press had he cheated on someone a bit less pretty than Eva Longoria.
8. Kevin Garnett, Kevin Garnett, and Kevin Garnett
KG is one mean dude. Both on and off the court he’s simply not to be messed with. A veteran of the game, he is not above getting creative with his trash talk. In Round One of the 1999 Western Conference Playoffs, Garnett’s Timberwolves squared off against Tim Duncan and the Spurs. As Duncan was preparing to shoot a free-throw, Garnett yelled out, “Happy Mother’s Day.” This might’ve seemed like an innocent jest had Tim Duncan’s mother not passed away from breast cancer when Duncan was only 14-years old. And the insensitivity continues! Something similar occurred in 2010 when Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva, accused Garnett of calling him a “cancer patient.” Villaneuva suffers from alopecia universalis, an autoimmune disease that results in hair loss. Most recently, KG told Knicks guard Carmelo Anthony that his “wife tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios.”
In other words, if you really don’t want people to like you, take a page from Kevin Garnett’s book.
7. Rodman (Need I Say More?)
It should come as no surprise that Dennis Rodman finds himself on this list. The first real “bad boy” of the NBA could all but escape the tabloids—that is, if he even wanted to escape. Long after his myriad of drug and alcohol abuses, marriages and divorces, and legal troubles, the Worm once again found a way to crawl into the limelight by forming a most unlikely and taboo friendship with North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un. This alliance came at a dangerous time between North Korea and the U.S. as the supreme leader announced that North Korea had conducted its first underground nuclear test that very month. Rodman later said that Kim was a “friend for life.”
6. LeBron: The Decision
With unrestricted free agency in his sights, then rising star LeBron James would soon face a decision common among all unrestricted free agents: renew his contract or get a fresh start with a new team. Trades are a big part of professional sports. Without trades, Dirk would never have gone to Dallas, Wilt would have stayed in Philly, and Bill Russell would have won his record number of championships somewhere other than Boston.
But there’s a classy way to go about a trade, and then there was LeBron’s way, which involved a 90-minute live TV special in which James would not reveal his decision until the very end, keeping everyone—his own team included—in the dark. At the words, “I’ve decided to take my talents to South Beach,” Cleveland fans all but rioted in the streets.
Three years and two rings later, most would agree that he made the right move for his career.. Most.
5. Ron Artest’s (Metta World Peace’s) Courtside Brawl
Kobe Bryant once said of his now former teammate, “he’s the one guy that I can rely on night in and night out to compete and play hard.” This is true. Whenever Metta World Peace sets his mind to beating you, he usually accomplishes that feat—even if you’re not necessarily wearing a jersey . . . or are a member of the opposing team . . . or a member of any team.
Towards the end of a heated game between the Pistons and the Pacers, an altercation erupted between Artest and Pacers center Ben Wallace. After the fight broke up, Artest retired to the scorer’s table in an effort to calm down. An allegedly drunk spectator threw a drink at him, then all hell broke loose. In one of the worst melees in basketball’s—and probably any sport’s—history, players, fans, officials, coaches and police squared off in an all-out war. This free-for-all resulted in several suspensions, probations, and even a few hospital bills. It also revealed key insight into just how unstable Ron Artest can be.
While Artest’s name change to Metta World Peace in 2010 came as a bit of a shocker, all of his subsequent assault charges did not.
4. Jason Kidd’s DWI
There are few things more awe-inspiring than seeing an NBA veteran making plays with the same ease as the rookies half his age. On the other hand, there are few things more disappointing than seeing that same veteran player-turned-coach being arrested for a younger man’s misdemeanor—namely driving while intoxicated.
3. Jayson Williams’ Manslaughter Case
In 2002, Jayson Williams officially established himself as one of the dumbest people alive.
While giving a tour of his 30,000 sq. ft. mansion to his NBA charity basketball team, the former New Jersey center shot and killed Gus Christofi, the team’s limo driver. Now, before you start mentioning Williams in the same breath as OJ and Aaron Hernandez, you should know that this tragedy was in no way premeditated—it wasn’t even meditated! Williams shot Christofi by accident. Accidents happen all the time, but he brought even more bad press upon his head when he attempted to cover up the incident by tampering with evidence.
Why Jayson Williams thought it was necessary to carry a shotgun during the tour, we may never know.
2. Tim Hardaway, Sr. and the LGBT Community
Sometimes what a person says in the public arena can easily be taken out of context. In the case of Tim Hardaway, Sr., well, read this statement from 2007 and you can decide for yourself:
”Well, you know I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don’t like it. It should not be in the world or in the United States.”
Kudos to Tim for his honestly. He did later apologize for his comments, but this statement has taught me at least one lesson: ignorance is not bliss.
1. Tim Donaghy Fixes Games
Remember those awful replacement refs from last year’s NFL season? Well, at least they were unintentionally awful. In the case of NBA referee Tim Donaghy, there was a definite method to the madness. After steeping himself in massive debt resulting from a gambling addiction, Donaghy was approached by a low-level mob representatives who told him there was a way out: fix the games. From 2003 to 2007, Donaghy placed bets on games that he himself officiated.
When this story broke, all the positive PR in the world could not have saved him; his decision not only ruined his career, but also tarnished the reputation of the entire league.