Jeff Van Gundy once said on air “I would carry a razor blade and cut myself to get a free timeout.”
The former NBA coach and ESPN analyst, known for his unruly comments, reminded viewers how erratic he can be when defending Golden State star Klay Thompson during a broadcast over the weekend. The outburst, this time, was directed at the NBA media, belittling their insights and knowledge of the game.
ESPN sideline reporter and longtime basketball writer Israel Gutierrez questioned the validity of Thompson’s all-star selection. Gutierrez began his “hot take” by warning it might make Van Gundy’s head explode. Well, it did.
Gutierrez highlighted Thompson’s strengths before breaking down his underwhelming efficiency numbers. He highlighted Thompson’s “advanced stats” and lit a fire under Van Gundy with this remark: “If you talk to some of the writers around, they tell you his defense has not been as good as advertised.”
Van Gundy worked up another violent metaphor to rebut his ESPN colleague.
“When I go to the writers to tell me who can guard in this league, I’ll put a gun to my own head,” he said. “The writers know as little about NBA defense as the real plus-minus [advanced] stat. Klay Thompson is an elite defender on an elite team. … Don’t tell me the writers know one thing, not one, about defense.”
Wow, Jeff. Take it easy.
The strong imagery Van Gundy used to reflect his opinion of NBA writers (and play-by-play announcers, he later adds) is a jarring reminder of the lack of respect some coaches and players have for sports media.
Even Mark Jackson, the former Warriors coach and Van Gundy’s co-analyst for the Saturday night game between Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers, said after Gutierrez’s comments, “Include me when you say the head is going to explode. … I’m speechless.”
Jackson added, “You just did a disservice and disrespected greatness. … Sometimes you just got to not say anything, because it makes no sense. We just wasted about a minute.”
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich is an example of this discord among sports figures and the media.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is one the NFL’s leaders of media disdain. He appeared to be well-mannered at the Super Bowl opening press conferences Monday, but history shows he has little patience with NFL writers and TV personalities.
Forbes expanded on the Belichick’s behavior under the headline “Inside Bill Belichick’s Masterful Game of Media Manipulation.” Alex Reimer wrote “Belichick is portrayed as a one-dimensional scrooge who derives pleasure from humiliating reporters. Though Belichick won't divulge any information he feels will comprise his team on the field, it's not rare for him to give expansive answers on a variety of topics –– especially those dealing with football strategy and history.”
That’s fair. But maybe a little less “Bah! Humbug!” scrooge and more of the level-headed man he becomes on Christmas Day. Many would agree it is a bad look for a coach, player or member of the media to publicly belittle somebody.
During Van Gundy’s rant, the cameras turned back to Gutierrez where he appeared to be laughing it off, but eventually mouthed “ouch.”
Mike Breen, the lead broadcaster on the call, ended the awkward and fiery five-minute debate saying, “Well, it is with great excitement it is under a minute to play. … Phew.”
Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau spent three seasons as Van Gundy's assistant in Houston, but has kept his poise around the Twin Cities media.
Watch the exchange between Van Gundy and Gutierrez.