There is an underlying conflict in our society between earnestness and the commoditization of our attention. Our collective thirst for authenticity held against the sea of eyeball-seeking media we swim through on our devices every day is a battle we mostly lose. We are so tired of the innately disingenuous and yet those that economize our attention do so by tapping into our outrage or disgust far more than they do with thoughtful commentary embedded in nuance.
The advent of sport-centric debate shows has only hastened the decline of our discourse while garnering massive ratings. Conflict and controversy appeal to a lower common denominator more than an elevated discussion of the very same topics ever could. Producers scour for ideas to fill segments, hosts take up opposing sides arbitrarily for the sake of putting on a show, and audiences are robbed of the insights mostly relegated to podcasts and blogs.
Recently, when Daily Show guest host Hasan Minhaj criticized Skip Bayless for taking Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo out of context, I sat up straight in my chair and took note. The two-time MVP went on The Daily Show to promote his charitable organization in the sort of media appearance that is painfully rare in this era of professional sports. The affable and humble-to-a-fault Giannis had earlier refused to call himself the best player in the world leading Minhaj to load up playfully boastful statements in a teleprompter - which Giannis read sight unseen in good fun. It was a delightful moment - but one that was seized upon out of context by Kevin Durant superfan Bayless and/or his producers.
Rather than playing clips of the Giannis interview and highlighting his charity work, Bayless took the awkward written-for-him, fresh-out-of-a-prompter one-liner as something representative of how the Greek Freak really feels about Durant. It was at best ignorant and at worst a shameful display of the sort of media behavior that causes professional athletes to be even less likely to step out of the world of cliche-filled pressers and carefully edited public statements. Minhaj beautifully deconstructed exactly how Bayless had wronged Antetokounmpo and yet ask yourself - which video clip will be seen by more people?
It is this same dynamic that keeps Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic fastened down in almost every interview he gives. Fans of his team yearn for insights into what he is really thinking or feeling and have to mostly settle for the very safest of answers. NBA players - especially star players - are coached by media specialists from their rookie year (in Luka’s case likely well before) about the pitfalls of actually answering questions with unvarnished emotion and unfiltered opinions. Not only are there a host of topics that will get a player fined by the NBA, they know their words are moments away from being plastered on major websites and social media feeds that can proliferate their answer faster than they can quality or correct it. Sadly, this means the safest course is to say nothing - or at mandated media interactions, the closest thing to nothing while still speaking. We seek authentic answers to give us a small window into the mind of our heroes and yet because players are perched on such a dangled ledge - that is rarely what we get and as fans and media, we are worse off for it.
Head coaches are known for the thrust and parry of postgame pressers. They do their best to steer clear of meaningful answers by sidestepping the gist of any question that might cause trouble in the locker room or start a firestorm on social media. This leaves us with coachspeak which is inauthentic by design, albeit understandably so. This season Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd has gone beyond standard issue cliches and into the realm of the bizarre. What started with “Twitter is not the coach” descended to “Watching just like you” and finally landed with “If not, that’s just the season. No one is dying.”
Mavericks coach Jason Kidd when asked about the concern level he has now being one game below .500:— Grant Afseth (@GrantAfseth) March 14, 2023
"We're getting better. It's just a matter — can we be healthy in time to make a stretch run? If we're not, that's just the season. Nobody's dying." pic.twitter.com/5h2Y3J8ZUl
When we were told Twitter is not the coach, we knew there was some measure of annoyance at the more vocal elements of Mavs faithful - otherwise, why acknowledge those critiques? When we were told the coach of our favorite team is just watching like the rest of us, Kidd apologists wasted no time telling us that taking his words at face value was nothing more than a silly narrative - nevermind that the purpose of passive-aggressive statements is to be so cryptic that your true meaning can be argued in both directions. With the team underwater in the standings in the middle of March, to hear Kidd say he is not concerned about the plight of his team and that only the actual end of the season would be a reason for such concern left me dumbfounded. His pursuit of placidity in the face of dire circumstances is self-parody at this point.
Listen to any one coach for too long and it may be easy to start believing that what you are being spoon-fed after every game is normal. In stark contrast, Mike Brown of the Sacramento Kings spent 77 seconds putting on a masterclass in accountability. Absent was vague doublespeak, passive-aggression, and any hint of disdain for those asking the questions. Instead, Brown called out his star players by name and put the onus on them to lead their team to play better - and he did this after a win.
77 seconds of accountability from Sacramento Kings head coach Mike Brown. pic.twitter.com/SvGsB44heh— Matt George (@MattGeorgeSAC) March 10, 2023
In Dallas, Kidd aims his criticism of Luka Doncic by calling one of the league’s oldest rosters a “young team” only to have Doncic later acknowledge where that barb was intended to land. Which approach leads to a healthier locker room?
While the Kidd whisperers are going to disagree and continue telling us what he really meant each time he drops a new entry into his greatest hits, it is indeed possible to communicate in a way that does not require a secret decoder ring. It is possible to be an active and forthright leader while still navigating the minefield of coaching in the modern NBA.
Jason Kidd is not the Mavericks' biggest problem. Constructing a more well-rounded roster in the offseason, overcoming a seemingly endless slew of injuries to make something palatable out of this season, and keeping Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving together and in Maverick blue for years to come all supersede the head coaching issues. He is still squarely on the list of issues. His game management issues and questionable rotations aside, it is the communication style that roils those of us that listen for authenticity.
As a lifelong fan of the Dallas Mavericks, it brought me zero pleasure to be the first writer to call for Kidd’s ouster. I certainly take no joy in penning this follow-up missive. Rooting for the Mavericks should be fun and quite often has been just that - yet we are facing the prospect of Kidd’s tenure extending into next season and perhaps beyond with no reason to believe his approach to the job will change.
When Maxi Kleber hit the game-winner against the Lakers Friday night, we saw Jason Kidd join the dogpile and finally - if just for a moment - some relatable human emotion flickered out of a figure that has done everything in his power to be so bland, so robotic, so milquetoast, and so devoid of outward facing passion for his job.
The fans buy tickets, wear team colors, and turn on the broadcasts. The fans persevere through watching Mike Iuzzolino run the point in hopes that a Jason Kidd might come along. The fans sang with Dirk. The fans endured the swings and misses of plan powder. The fans fret about keeping our current star in the age of player empowerment. Dallas Mavericks fans simply want to know Jason Kidd cares at least as much as they do.
When Giannis goes on the Daily Show and shows vulnerability by stepping out of his comfort zone and playing along in good fun only to be roasted by a spin merchant, it might be pointed to as proof that the only way to be in this environment is cryptic, distant, and absent of any sign of concern about the iceberg dead ahead. Instead, what Giannis and coach Brown teach us is that there is still room for authenticity for players and coaches.
Sure, Giannis could have refused to read from the prompter for fear of being taken out of context. Brown could have dished out word salad instead of a forceful admonition. Maybe those are the safer plays, but they are not the winning plays. The Dallas Mavericks deserve a head coach who understands and embraces that simple truth.