Trying to make league hip, NBA rips at players' privacy

ON THE NBA

February 17, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- It didn't take long, roughly 48 hours, for Sacramento Kings forward Chris Webber to feel the blessings and curses of stardom.

Last Sunday, Webber and the rest of the NBA's top players were mingling with the stars, or at least the ones who don't dribble, as full-fledged celebrities and wannabes lined the court at Philadelphia's First Union Center for the league's All-Star Game.

By Tuesday, Webber was feeling the other edge of that sword called fame, as The Sacramento Bee published a story officially linking him to supermodel Tyra Banks.

Webber, who has kept mum on the status of his relationship with Banks, exploded in anger, accusing the media of "violating" him with the story, and threatening to cut off local writers and broadcasters from comment, saying, "I realize every one of y'all didn't do it, but everybody has to pay. It's like everybody on the team having to run suicides [for the mistake of one person]. I play for y'all, but I don't live for y'all."

The temptation for many is to say that Webber overreacted and that he shouldn't expect that he can keep his private life completely private, especially since Banks was seen at MCI Center on Feb. 7, taking in the Kings-Wizards game, not to mention making her presence known among the galaxy of famous at All-Star Weekend.

The problem with that kind of thinking is that it presumes that because someone, in this case an NBA player, works in public view that he forfeits his privacy. Webber reportedly was assured by the Bee writer, a popular culture reporter, that the story would not delve into his relationship with Banks, when in fact the entire piece was about just that.

The NBA should share in some of the blame for this, as the league has doggedly pursued a link with celebrities in order to make basketball more palatable to the younger and hipper among us. It's not the only league to do this, but no other league does it as relentlessly, and its players, who are on the verge of becoming living amusement park characters, might eventually pay the price of their privacy and dignity as a result.

Quick quiz

Through Friday, the Dallas Mavericks led the NBA both in points scored and points allowed. Can you name the last team since 1970 to win a championship leading the league in both categories?

Mourning's rising

If you're looking for a reason for why the Miami Heat, left for dead early in the season, has crawled back to the periphery of the playoff race, look no further than center Alonzo Mourning. He has averaged 17.2 points and 7.8 rebounds since Jan. 14, when the Heat won six straight and 10 of 12 games.

Mourning, who missed most of last season with a serious kidney ailment, has returned, and while he isn't quite the dominant force he was in 1999-2000, he has been good enough to be named a reserve center to the Eastern Conference All-Star team.

Mourning said he is only missing consistency, which stems from taking a bit longer to recover from minor ailments, thanks to the medication he must take to stem his condition.

"I know I'm still able to play this game at a high level," Mourning said last week. "Now whether I'm going to be able to play it at the level that I used to, that's neither here nor there. Am I really concerned about it? Yes, I am concerned about it, but at the same time, I do understand that as time progresses, change happens. And a lot of times, you can't control change. It just happens. It's just a part of life.

"Each and every one of us is going to go through a period in our lives where change is going to happen, and there's nothing you can do about it. You've just got to deal with it and keep rolling. And I just learned that based on maturity alone, I've learned to make the right decisions for myself, for my future and my family. That's extremely important."

Foreign exchange

Besides the cult of personality, the NBA also has pursued foreign markets, staging tournaments while welcoming players from every continent except South America and Antarctica, though if a penguin could learn the drop step, the league might suit him up, too.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that commissioner David Stern has targeted foreign territory, namely Mexico City and some European cities, for possible expansion by the end of the decade.

Stern apparently has a very short memory, as the league's foray into Canada hasn't exactly been a rousing success. The Grizzlies bolted for Memphis, and Toronto was on tenuous ground until Vince Carter re-upped with the Raptors.

Free agents regularly avoided signing with the Canadian teams because of the exchange rate. Factor that in with having to learn a new language and a new culture, and you easily see U.S.-born players avoiding the new franchises like the plague.

The league might be better served by expanding domestically into cities like, oh, say, St. Louis or Cincinnati, or maybe even Baltimore.

Just a thought.

Quiz answer

It was a trick question. No team has won a title by scoring the most and giving up the most points in a season.

Quote

"Chris said to tell you that he was going to San Francisco with Tyra Banks, and he was going to have caviar, flowers, Cristal, strawberries and whipped cream." -- Sacramento forward Peja Stojakovic, relaying a message from Webber after the Kings' 109-93 win over the Washington Wizards on Thursday.

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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