I’ve been watching the NBA on TNT for many years now and the crew of Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Ernie Johnson are usually entertaining, and sometimes even correct about what they say. Last night, Barkley, Smith, and Chris Webber made fools of themselves. They took what Dirk Nowitzki said totally out of context and criticized him mercilessly for no reason.
In Game 1 of the Denver Nuggets-Dallas Mavericks series, Kenyon Martin shoved Dirk Nowitzki to the ground hard and got a flagrant foul. Then Barkley, Smith, and Webber – the Three Blind Mice – criticized Nowitzki for not doing anything. However, if Dirk had punched Martin he would have been thrown out of the game and they would have criticized him for that.
Less skilled players have always tried to provoke stars in hockey to get them to retaliate but thankfully the NHL has cracked down on that. It doesn’t happen as much in the NBA but there is still a big danger that retaliating will get you thrown out. During Game 4 of a playoff series in 2007, Robert Horry of the Spurs made a flagrant foul on Steve Nash of the Suns, which got Horry ejected from games 5 and 6, but the Suns’ Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw got ejected for Game 5 for leaving the bench, and the Spurs won the final two games of the series. So it would have been stupid for Dirk to react to the incident. Just last week the Magic’s Dwight Howard got ejected for a game for throwing an elbow.
Then they showed a clip of Nowitzki talking about three of the Nuggets defenders. “I think Birdman does a good job because he’s so long. He contests my shot. Martin and Nene are stronger and they try to body me more and Birdman’s just long and when I shoot he can still jump up there and contest the shot. So, yeah, they’ve got three very good defenders.”
The Three Blind Mice went off about how terrible it was for Nowitzki to say that, misquoting him and implying that the quote meant that they could stop him, and criticizing him for not trash talking.
First of all, what Dirk said was no different than what any player on any team in any sport says all the time. He is complementing the other team because to do the opposite would result in bulletin board material that could potentially fire up the opponents. If he had done what the Three Blind Mice wanted him to do, he would have been criticized for saying something stupid.
Second, Nene, Kenyon Martin, and Chris Andersen are a very good trio of big men. The Three Blind Mice are right that they can’t guard Dirk but Nowitzki was just factually describing that they are good players. Take a look at Dirk’s quote again and now look at how the three former players interpreted it.
Chris Webber: “Dirk is scared of a defender. I’ll tell you why I could stop him. I can stop him because he got that push.” Really? Because someone pushed Nowitzki and got a flagrant foul that means that you could stop him, Chris? CWebb, there is no way you could stop Dirk. If he reacted then he would have risked being kicked out of the game. “I’ve never heard a scorer, I’ve never heard a true warrior, a dog, say ‘this guy can check me.’ First of all, Nowitzki didn’t say, ‘this guy can check me.’ He said they were good defenders. This quote is no different than any other quote ever. “I’m saying that he doesn’t want to get pushed anymore so he’s conceding and being very nice and saying they are the best ever. I’m just shocked.” The best ever? Look at Nowitzki’s quote again. What you say is a crock. Get rid of your alligator shoes and practice your commentary.
Chris, you say some intelligent things, but this time you sounded idiotic. Dirk’s quote was probably a reply to a question like this: “Can you talk about the big men that are defending you – Birdman, Nene, and Martin? What makes them hard to play against?”
Kenny Smith: “It feeds the stereotype that this guy is playing a little soft.” On what Dirk said: “I’ve never heard that before. So then Charles chimed in and he’s never heard that from a great MVP. I’ve never heard a great scorer say that guys can guard me. This is the most I’ve ever heard. I’ve heard a guy go, ‘they do a great job of trying to guard me but I can hit the shot that I want every time.’ Look at the quote again, Kenny.
Charles Barkley: “That pisses me off every time I hear that. If a guy even thought he could guard me I’d tell him, ‘I’m going to kick your ass tonight.’ Grandma Barkley would say, ‘You can’t let people tell you they can stop you.’ Then he started to bring up “Grandma Nowitzki” before E.J. stopped him. First of all, the Nuggets defenders never said they could stop Dirk and Dirk never said they could stop him. Barkley went on: “One of the keys to being a great player is having so much confidence in yourself…for Dirk to say that guys can stop him, that’s just not cool…There might be one guy who can stop you or slow you down, but three can’t.” Nowitzki never said guys could stop him. Look at the quote again.
Webber went on, “You can’t guard me!” Smith replied, “And that’s what you’re supposed to say.” Webber said he’s played with a lot of great players and “never heard one of them say you can check me.” Wrong, Webber. This quote is no different than millions that have been said throughout the years. Dirk did NOT say, “you can check me.” He said Birdman’s length poses a problem while the other two are more power players. They are good defenders. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.
Shame on Ernie Johnson for not offering up a different opinion until much later in the show.
Part of the problem with sports as entertainment is that productivity, or winning doesn’t matter. It just matters how you do something – what kind of style you have. It’s why Shaquille O’Neil is considered a better player than Hakeem Olajuwon, when Hakeem was much better. Shaq never won a title without all-time greats alongside him. Does Shaq have ANY offensive moves? He loves to talk, though. It’s why Dwight Howard is considered a better player than Yao Ming when Ming is a much better center. Howard is more gregarious and Yao is more humble. Respect other cultures and understand that players from Europe and Asia can still be great players without shouting it from the mountaintop.
David Robinson was called “soft” because he didn’t trash talk and didn’t have tons of tattoos. How could one of the best rebounders and shot blockers in NBA history be soft? All Robinson did was win the Rookie of the Year, win a gold medal as part of the Dream Team, win two NBA titles, win the NBA MVP, was named Defensive Player of the Year and in 1994 scored 71 points in the final game to win the scoring title. Robinson was named one of the top 50 players in NBA history.
It’s why Art Monk, one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history, took 8 years to make it to the NFL Hall of Fame (see http://www.coachmike.net/artmonk.php and www.myredskinsblog.com). He was modest and didn’t trash talk, and for that reason, many didn’t like him.
Webber: You helped dismantle the Washington Bullets franchise and your antics were part of the reason they changed their name to the Wizards. Abe traded you away, young for old, big for small, just to get rid of you to have solid citizens. Who are you to criticize Dirk? At least he made it to the finals. You were known as a talented player who was afraid to take big shots during crunch time and when you did take those shots they were jumpers. You pretend that you are tough but you grew up privileged, going to a cushy private school in a nice area.
Smith: You were an NBA bust until you got on the Rockets, and then it was Hakeem’s team. You were a 3-point shooter, not a point guard. Rookie Sam Cassell was brought in during crunch time during the NBA finals in ’94 and then again in ’95 while you were on the bench. You’re a good commentator now but for many years you were painful to listen to on TNT and the way you talk doesn’t seem 100% real or authentic.
Barkley: You recently said that your DWI last year was the best thing that could have happened to you because you did it countless times and would have kept doing it until you got caught. Really? You’re almost 50 and you didn’t realize you should be drinking and driving? You admit that you would have continued to do it if you hadn’t gotten caught? Maybe if you had played more defense you would have won an NBA title. Late in your career you relied on the 3-point shot too much. Yes, you’re entertaining but half the stuff you say is wrong. But you say it with authority and that’s enough for most people.
For the record, Dirk had 28 points and 10 rebounds against Denver in Game 1 and 35 points in Game 2. The Mavs will probably lose the series to the Nuggets after being down 2-0 but not because of Dirk. The Nuggets have the better team.
Now that I’ve had a day to think about it, I stand by everything I wrote. What Barkley, Smith, and Webber said was much worse than ridiculous and inaccurate.
However, overall these guys are usually good commentators and entertaining. Also, I feel sorry for anyone under 25 because they didn’t get to see Barkley in his prime and he was unbelievable the way he ran the floor, coast to coast, dribbling the ball for dunks. Smith was a good player and a great three-point shooter. Webber was a great player though he could have been better. He should have had an NBA title but didn’t get one through no fault of his own. The refs robbed the Kings of that series vs. the Lakers in 2002 and the Kings would have beaten the Nets in the finals.
As for Dirk, he has won 9 playoff series. Compare the number of playoff series Nowitzki has won compared with other superstars:
Nowitzki - 9
Yao Ming – 1
Carmelo Anthony – 1
Tracy McGrady – 0