If you’re an NBA fan following the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City finals, you may have read of another NBA story line that has overshadowed the Lebron James and Kevin Durant matchup. In a radio interview, NBA commissioner David Stern, waged a war of words with sports analyst and radio host, Jim Rome, regarding the recent NBA lottery in which the New Orleans Hornets received the No. 1 overall selection.
One could listen to the interview, which was broadcast live to 2 million listeners, and be appalled that an exchange like that ever took place. As many PR people know however, interviews don’t always go the way you expect. But the discussion between Rome and Stern is one that highlights “what not to do” in media interviews – dig yourself a hole and hurt your reputation by not sticking to your messages.
The complete interview can be heard here, but raising speculations made by NBA analysts and fans, Rome questioned "You know, New Orleans won the draft lottery, which, of course, produced the usual round of speculation that maybe the lottery was fixed. I know that you appreciate a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy, was the fix in for the lottery?" (For non-NBA fans, the Hornets until recently were owned by the NBA and were long shots to receiving the first pick.)
In response, Stern took offense to the question and stated "Uh, you know, I have two answers for that. I'll give you the easy one, no, and a statement: Shame on you for asking."
At this point, the line of questioning could have and should have moved on, but Rome felt obliged to say he meant no disrespect for the question, and that he was asking on behalf of NBA fans. But Stern moved forward and asked Rome, "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?"
Now that type of response may not have been the best route for Stern to take, hurting his reputation as one of the most respected NBA commissioners. I can’t imagine that Stern came on Rome’s show to get into a contentious conversation over the NBA draft. The first response by Stern was all that needed to be said – “No.” But it wasn’t. Stern took a personal (although unfounded) jab at Rome, and eventually attacked Rome’s respectability as a reporter by stating Rome made his name in sports through cheap thrills.
It wasn’t until halfway through the interview, did Stern elaborate on why the NBA lottery was not fixed, and why, regardless of the team selected to received the first pick, there still would be speculation the lottery was fixed. Stern stated, "Number one, we sold it. We're gonna close this week. We already have established our price. I think that if it had gone to Michael Jordan, which was the next team up with, in terms of a high percentage, they would've said, 'Oh, David's taking care of his friend Michael.' And if it had gone to Brooklyn, which is going into Barclay Center, it would have been fair to speculate, I suppose, that we want to take Brooklyn off of the mat. So there was no winning. And people write about it, and it's OK to write about it, and we sort of expect it, but that's not a question that I've been asked before by a respectable journalist."
Now, if you ignore that last line, that could be a sufficient response, and again, the line of questioning could change course. However, it didn’t. Both Rome and Stern went on to discuss how Rome was now offended by Stern’s comment.
This interview highlights that one should not get into a controversial debate, one should not make interviews personal, and one should stick their messages. If David Stern had stuck to his answer of no, this exchange wouldn’t be hotter than the Miami Heat right now.
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