Sometimes, in the profession of journalism, you are required to be a bulldog in search of a bone.
Sometimes, you are so doggedly focused on that bone that you are unaware that you were just handed an entire steak dinner.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are down 3-1 in their first-round series with the Houston Rockets. None of that is the fault of MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, who has been a one-man gang in posting triple-doubles in three of the four games.
It is absolutely fair of the media, and the audience, to wonder about the difference between OKC when Russ is playing and when he is resting. In the last three games, the Thunder are a plus-28 with him on the court and a minus-34 in his 25 minutes of rest.
So the Sunday night questions posed by columnist Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman — a bulldog, and a good one — are fair. Tramel asked center Steven Adams a question regarding those plus/minus differences but Westbrook steered the conversation in a different direction.
"We're all one team,’’ Westbrook interrupted. “Don't split us up."
It was a savvy bit of leadership from Westbrook, as the Dallas Cowboys young QB Dak Prescott pointed out immediately on Twitter.
It was also an example of an athlete using that podium as his “performance stage’’ rather than as our (the media’s) workplace. Coaches do this all the time, of course, sending messages back into the locker room to their team via well-crafted declarations to the media. See Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale’s “Take That For Data” rant? At whom do you think this was really aimed, and why?
Using the podium this way is the athlete’s right. … Just as it is our (media’s) right, to a point, to object to that usage, because we, too, have a job to do.
And Tramel certainly did object.
Once, twice, thrice, Tramel attempted to get his question addressed by Adams, and sounded agitated by Westbrook’s non-answer answers, repeatedly barking that his is “a legitimate question.’’
Now, it’s worth noting that Westbrook and Tramel have a “history.’’ In January 2015, the OKC star explained his lack of cooperation with Tramel by noting in a group press conference, “I just don’t like you.”
But Tramel’s got a job to do, just as Westbrook does.
The player, under no obligation to run his press conference in my way or your way, did his job.
Did the reporter?
Tramel’s question on Sunday was indeed a legitimate one. OKC is a force with Russ and is lost without him. This is painfully obvious … and Russ, protecting them, doesn’t want his teammates to have to feel that pain.
And this is where the media, as we often do, dropped the ball. I last ranted about this when the media complained about Steph Curry's daughter on the postgame podium "getting in the way of our news-gathering efforts'' and thereby missed the fact that Steph Curry's daughter on the podium was the news. The media isn't (or shouldn't be) in charge of crafting the news; we're only in charge of relaying it to the audience.
In this case, Westbrook being a singular force on his team is the bone the bulldog reporter hungered for. But instead, Westbrook and the Thunder handed the media a bigger bone, a full steak dinner, a story infinitely more important and more original than Mr. Tramel’s preconceived theme.
"We're all one team,’’ a defiant Russell Westbrook said. “Don't split us up."
There’s your story.