David Blatt might be new to the NBA. To most readers, even those who familiarize themselves with his extremely successful basketball resumé, the onslaught of media attention he is receiving since the start of the season, and particularly after the Cavs’ recent losing streak, might seem like too much for a rookie to handle. But that couldn’t be further from the truth – Coach Blatt is far from a stranger to the critical blood thirsty media. Moreover, he is also used to being the center of attention in especially ugly power struggles masked as objective media coverage.
Just last year Blatt was coaching Maccabi Tel-Aviv in Israel, not just Israel’s premier basketball team but also one of the longstanding powerhouses of European club basketball. Maccabi Tel-Aviv, their players and their coach draw an inordinate amount of the sports media coverage in Israel. Two of the country’s most popular sports channels regularly echo the agenda of two different Maccabi Tel-Aviv owners and last year, while Maccabi were in an early season crisis, this turned into quite an ugly debate about the reasons for the crisis and guess who got center stage? That’s right – Coach Blatt. To add to this lovely mix, a third voice was also adding fuel to the fire – one of the leading commentators from a third sports channel was one of Europe’s all-time great coaches, ex-Maccabi and “secretly” eyeing the same coaching position. Whose side do you think he was on?
Fast forward to today and apparently last year was just a warm-up to an even bigger challenge – no, I’m not talking about coaching in the NBA, but about handling the power struggles with one of the most controversial players in American sports – King James.
Unfriendly coverage started when the Cavs were 17-10, with Brian Windhorst from ESPN reporting “rising concern in team circles about the level of response that Blatt is getting on the floor…” Following that, after a few more losses, even more juicy details were published by Windhorst claiming the players were running different plays from those that were drawn up and that Blatt’s assistant coach, Tyronn Lue, was calling timeouts behind his back.
Just like last year in Europe, it is important to take all these reports with a grain of salt and check who is writing them. Windhorst is known as one of the closest reporters to… of course, Lebron James. Remembering that ESPN got exclusive rights when Lebron decided to “take his talent to South Beach” in the academy award winning “The Decision”, it is not hard to deduce whose interests ESPN reports look after.
But it wouldn’t be much of a power struggle for Blatt with just one angle to cope with. On the other end of the spectrum we have Adrain Wojnarowsky of Yahoo! Just a few days ago “Woj” published an aggressive post saying Lebron has yet to show the character and leadership he promised to Cavs fans when he arrived.
But maybe even more interesting from Blatt’s point of view are the details Wojnarowsky claimed around the former coach, now commentator, Mark Jackson, who just moved to work with Lebron’s agent, Rich Paul. Woj was not surprised by the fact that Jackson rarely speaks against Lebron and has a lot of criticism towards Blatt. Could Blatt’s coaching position again be eyed by an ex-coach-turn-commentator looking for a comeback?
Wojnarowsky’s methods might be controversial, as described in this interesting article by Kevin Draper, but “Woj” definitely has a reputation as one of the most reliable reporters in the league – his draft night tweets before the commissioner’s official announcements have been spot on and when he reports trades it is pretty much a “done deal”.
Until it comes to Lebron James.
Draper’s article details the problematic relationships of Woj and Lebron, that has led to multiple critical articles by Woj about the King. It is therefore not to be ruled out that there is more than objective basketball analysis leading Woj to take a “different” angle on the Cavs’ season’s struggles and blame someone else other than Blatt – Lebron.
Last year Coach Blatt was in more familiar territory both on and off the court. Now as he learns the ropes in the NBA, it appears he is learning to handle the media in parallel to working out the NBA game. After his “slip” about Kevin Love’s contract, Blatt made sure he corrected himself and clarified his point through the media. When reporters tried pushing him into a corner about the latest rumors, he didn’t hesitate to respond saying the question “is not fair and not to the point”, and took it even further after ESPN’s latest Blatt-blast saying “That's a lot of nonsense and I think it's kind of cheap, to be honest with you… An assistant coach can't call a timeout in an NBA game, if you didn't know that…”
In ignoring the Europe-to-NBA adjustment, the injury to the team’s starting big man, the absence of the best player in the world and the second team star, and just putting together a brand new team, the American media has proven that agenda-driven reporting is not unique just to Israel.
In fact, with two opposing media agendas, a job-hungry ex-coach and Blatt in the crosshairs, this story is just like The Hangover 2 was to The Hangover – same same but different.
Well then, in the original “movie”, Coach Blatt fought back and survived the media onslaught. More than simply surviving, Blatt rallied Maccabi Tel-Aviv to one of the most unbelievable European championships in recent memory and the ravenous media reporters were forced to eat their words.
How will Blatt fair now? Will Blatt keep his job? Will he manage to turn the team around? Will they become successful and exceed expectations just like last year? Or will the media win this time and push the Cavs, King James or Blatt too far?
How will the sequel – David Blatt and the Power Struggles part 2– play out?
So far Blatt has been fairly patient with the media, learning the culture and feeling out the agendas, but how long will it take till we see him answering questions as he once did in Israel?