“I lied,” Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr later said about comments involving his starting lineup for Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
Should one care?
Kerr is a bright, well-liked former NBA player and a University of Arizona graduate. His father, Malcolm Kerr, was an academic murdered by Islamic terrorists in 1984 while he was president of the American University of Beirut in Beirut.
The son had been asked about his starting lineup against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and, he said later, felt he had three alternatives.
He could be honest and thus tip off the Cavaliers coach about a strategic change. Or he could duck the question and inspire lots of speculation. Finally, he could be dishonest.
“Sorry, but I don’t think they hand you the trophy based on morality,” Kerr said. “They give it to you if you win. So sorry about that.”
“Steve is not only unusually candid. But he is a rare one who is willing to have fun with the media give and take and is comfortable not only with who he is, and not insecure like 90 percent of the coaches who let others define who they are or worry about it,” said Sam Smith, a former longtime basketball writer for the Chicago Tribune, author of the best-selling “The Jordan Rules” about Michael Jordan and now a writer for the Chicago Bulls website, Bulls.com.
Smith is a sort of NBA eminence grise who covered politics and business before sports and finds such lack of candor part of “a dance that plays out fairly unique to sports.”
“Where else does media expect someone in a contest to disclose their plans before the event? Business? Oh sure, ‘we’re going to merge Saturday. Better buy some stock.'”
“It’s the media’s job to find out; or to know. It’s sort of an insult that you might be offended, like in Kerr’s case where he said he lied about his starting lineup,” said Smith.
“It’s your job, given the circumstances of the previous games or your sources, to find out or know or guess. It’s not the coach’s job to tell you.”
Of course, Smith said, “They lie all the time. It’s not exactly under oath to a congressional committee.”
Dan McGrath, former sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, also likes Kerr (“a genuinely decent guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously”). And he does, at least on one level, find the whole matter harmless since, after all, “we’re not talking state secrets.”
“But in another way it speaks to the contempt big-time sports people have developed for “the press,” and by extension the fans if you still buy the perhaps outdated notion that teams, coaches and athletes communicate with their fans through the press,” said McGrath, a contributing columnist to the Chicago Sun-Times.
As with politicians and corporate American, teams can exploit social media and individual websites to control their messaging. Many simply don’t believe the press is of much utility.
McGrath cited New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick as “making a mockery of” of the mandated weekly NFL injury report by “pretty much listing his entire roster as ‘probable’ every week.”
As ice hockey fans have been reminded during the Stanley Cup playoffs, the NHL is very evasive about player injury information. Everything seems to involve an amorphous “upper body” or “lower body” malady, with specifics scarce.
Ben Bishop, the Tampa Bay Lightning goalie, was clearly bothered by some injury. But Coach John Cooper, a lawyer and former public defender in Michigan, wouldn’t say what was going on.
“And he gets away with it,” said McGrath.
But so do all NHL coaches.
And then there’s legendary boxing promoter Bob Arum, who long ago told writers covering a Las Vegas fight, “Yesterday I was lying, today I’m telling you the truth.”
“A lot of times we suspect or even know we’re being lied to, but we accept it as the price of doing business at a time when access to these folks seems to diminish daily,” said McGrath.
“It has been gong on forever. Kerr might have been the first to acknowledge it. He obviously felt it was no big deal, and evidently it isn’t because he’s a well-liked guy comfortable in his own skin.”
Is there a counterpoint to all this admission of deceit, as well as to its irrelevance and supposedly benign consequences?
Jeff Seglin, an ethicist and policy expert at Harvard’s Kennedy School, heard Kerr’s comments. And, yes, he says, Kerr was right that he didn’t have to tell anyone his starting lineup and thus a strategy that worked like a charm.
“Am I convinced he had to lie to accomplish not letting on about the change?” said Seglin.
“And think of how much sweeter the win might have been if he deployed such a brilliant strategy and also could have taken the moral high ground.”