Better media access vowed by NBA p.12

By: Mark Fitzgerald and Ken Liebeskind With the National Basketball Association (NBA) labor dispute ended, commissioner David Stern is making one more demand of players: Be nice to the press.
Stern says he intends to make players more available by implementing a mandatory access period between team shootarounds on game days and by imposing heavy fines on teams whose players duck reporters before and after games.
Certain NBA stars have been notorious for keeping sportswriters at a distance, but Stern says it is the player's association itself that suggested the media guarantees.
"The players are selling it to me. The players, themselves. Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo, to name three," Stern told Orlando Sentinel columnist Larry Guest. The three players were union leaders during the lockout negotiations.
Terri Washington, director of media services at the NBA, says, "We're still in the process of finalizing the details. We're just kind of standardizing media access and making sure the media get the same access team-to-team."
That's not the case now, as some teams provide far better access than others. The best is probably the Chicago Bulls, who always had Michael Jordan available for interviews. "Jordan would always talk after a game," says Jay Mariotti, who covers the Bulls for the Chicago Sun-Times.
"At practices, he talked half the time. It wasn't unusual for him to come over after practice and talk.
"On the road, more often than not, Jordan sat in the locker room and gave the writers from that town all the time they want. In L.A., he did it with 30 or 40 people in the room."
Jonathan Fagan, a sportswriter for the Houston Chronicle, says Charles Barkley, a former and possibly future Houston Rocket, is another friendly subject. "Charles Barkley is every writer's dream," Fagan says. "He's incredibly cooperative. He's demanding to cover, but he's very good at it. He's glib and quick and brutally honest."
He also says Brent Price and some of the other Rockets are easy to talk to.
But in Orlando, the situation is completely different, with superstars Anfernee (Penny) Hardaway and Horace Grant avoiding reporters at all costs. "They don't even dress in the locker room with the rest of the team because it is beneath their dignity to beat their gums with some reporter who makes $200 a week," says Guest.
"Hardaway and Grant are the worst," Guest asserts, while also claiming New York Knicks star Patrick Ewing is "awful" and Alonzo Mourning of the Miami Heat is "abusive, cussing reporters as soon as they approach him."
Guest says Stern's new policy is an extension of the one he introduced in the early '80s when he established a 45- minute access period before games. The problem is "stars abuse the 45-minute period so access is bad."
He says Stern has come to realize the policy isn't working so he'll "turn the screws to make sure the 45-minute accessibility is supported with the threat of fines. He'll also institute the shootaround media session."
Guest says the media session will be a half hour between team shootarounds, which usually start at 11 a.m. So if one team finishes at 12:00, the next team will start at 12:30 so reporters can spend a half hour with players.
Sam Smith, NBA columnist for the Chicago Tribune, sees Stern's move as a ploy to enhance the negative image of the players that prevailed during the lockout. But he also sees it as a kind of payback for sports journalists who've put up with a lot in their effort to cover the game. "Newspapers have been ignored by the NBA over the years with TV, MTV, and other media," he says. "This is a rare window of opportunity to get our grievances listened to."
According to Smith, the NBA has always wanted reporters to have better access but lost control of the players in recent years when their salaries skyrocketed and they began to shun the press. "But now the players are a little on the defensive; they know their image suffered and the league can enforce things on players and coaches," Smith says.
He remembers the days when he traveled with the teams on planes and buses. The windows of the buses may be boarded up, "but the NBA is trying to pull the nails out," Smith says.
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http:www.mediainfo. com) [caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher, January 16, 1999) [Caption]


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