After thirteen years of Portland Trail Blazers coverage, Jason Quick will move to covering Oregon football, which gives him a moment to reflect on his experiences as an NBA beat writer. Quick details the importance of developing trusting relationships within the locker room,
“Over the next 13 years, the balancing act between gaining trust and telling the truth was the most difficult aspect about covering the Blazers.”
From The Oregonian:
People often ask me if I’m going to write a book about my time covering the Trail Blazers, a span that reached 13 seasons until this month, when I agreed to leave the beat and cover the Oregon football team for this season.
If I did write a book, I know what the opening scene would be …
I’m at a baseball game at what was then called Pac-Bell Park in San Francisco. It’s April 5, 2001, and a volatile and unpredictable Blazers season — my first on the beat — has what I thought would be a moment of respite.
But midway through the game, my cellphone rang. I looked at the blocked number, looked at the beer in front of me, and contemplated whether I should risk ruining what had been a pleasant night in the middle of a four-game trip.
The previous night, we were in Minneapolis, where the Blazers scored only 12 fourth-quarter points, blew a late lead, and lost to Kevin Garnett, Terrell Brandon and the Timberwolves. Like it had been for the past month, it was an emotional and temperamental locker room in Minneapolis, as a veteran group of players like Rasheed Wallace, Scottie Pippen, Steve Smith, Damon Stoudamire andArvydas Sabonis could sense a season was slipping away.
The Blazers were in the midst of losing 14 of their final 22 games, a monumental collapse that would see them fall from the best record in the Western Conference on March 6 to seventh place by season’s end, and eventually a first-round playoff sweep by the Lakers. It was the year after the infamous Game 7 collapse to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals and in theory, this was supposed to be an improved roster, with Dale Davis providing the experience that Jermaine O’Neal lacked, and Shawn Kemp the scoring that Brian Grant never did.
It worked for awhile. The Blazers started 30-11, and spent much of the winter see-sawing with Allen Iverson’s Philadelphia 76ers as having the league’s best record.
But by April, it was all unravelling. The team was divided about an effective, but controversial, move to put Bonzi Wells in the starting lineup and move Smith to the bench. And there was unease among the veterans about the mid-season additions of Detlef Schrempf and Rod Strickland. And the unpredictable moods of Wallace, in the process of setting an NBA record with 41 technicals, had become a distraction.
Even as I was enjoying my night, it was clear something was amiss with the Blazers.
I never knew how amiss until I answered that call.
“Shawn Kemp will no longer be with us,” the voice at the other end said. “He’s blown his career up his nose.”
It was my welcome to the NBA moment.
I abruptly left the game, caught a cab back to my hotel and called back the voice on the other end.
I never have revealed who my source was for that story. And likely never will. But it came from what happened the night before, while I was in that tense and testy locker room in Minneapolis. Words were said. Heated things. Words not intended for my ears. As I left the locker room, I felt uneasy about it. So like the rube I was, I went back in and asked the person whether I could print it.“You haven’t been around long enough to be poking around like you are!” Pippen screamed.
He said he would rather not have it out there.
I ended up eating the scene and not using the quotes.
I lost a sexy headline. But I earned some trust.
Over the next 13 years, the balancing act between gaining trust and telling the truth was the most difficult aspect about covering the Blazers. There was a time, as a favor to the coach, I sat on a story about a particularly troublesome player leading a group of Blazers to a strip club the night before a 32-point blowout loss. The coach said the team was close to trading the cancer and he was afraid the story would damage the trade efforts. He promised to tip me off when the trade was about to happen. That never paid off, however, as the Blazers were never able to unload the player.
Read Jason Quick’s piece here: http://www.oregonlive.com/blazers/index.ssf/2013/08/behind_the_blazers_locker_room_door_jason_quick_on.html