Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

The Thunder Hold A Tight Grip On Their Players' Media Availability

Illustration for article titled The Thunder Hold A Tight Grip On Their Players Media Availability

Russell Westbrook doesn't necessarily care for the media, and he doesn't try to hide that. He and Oklahoman reporter Berry Tramel had a tense exchange in January, with the Thunder point guard outright saying he didn't like Tramel. Grantland's Bryan Curtis looked into the media-team relationship in Oklahoma City and found a few other interesting encounters between the two sides.


Curtis's column highlights one occasion where Westbrook made Oklahoman reporter Darnell Mayberry, who was transcribing quotes, move from an empty chair in front of a locker because Westbrook said the chairs were just for players. (Then-Thunder point guard Reggie Jackson brought his chair over for Mayberry.)

In general, the Thunder's media relations department keeps everything locked down. From Curtis's piece:

As the NBA writer at Durant's hometown paper, the Washington Post's Michael Lee got closer to a relationship than most. Starting in 2009, he began parachuting into Oklahoma City, waiting out the postgame scrums, and then speaking to Durant afterward. Durant was usually happy to give him a few minutes' worth of material. Lee even slipped behind the curtain and talked to Durant after a press conference at the 2012 Finals. It was a coup for the Post.

But then the access began to ebb — not because of Durant, but because of the Thunder. A few years ago, Lee and Durant walked out of the locker room after a scrum and headed toward the court. Lee asked Durant if he could pull out his tape recorder. Durant said OK. Then they heard a strange noise, the sound of a man running down the hall toward them. It was [Matt] Tumbleson, the head of communications. Tumbleson asked Lee, "Did you not get all you needed?"

According to Lee, the situation was awkward enough that he told Durant he had everything he needed, after all. After another postgame scrum, Lee asked Durant about his new tattoo. It was precisely the kind of chitchat [Ramona] Shelburne prescribed. Durant made a move to show Lee the ink, but was pulled away by Thunder personnel. It was as if Durant could no longer make decisions about whom he wanted to talk to.


At this point, it's worth noting that the Oklahoman referred to Durant as "Mr. Unreliable" over a Tramel column in the 2014 playoffs, a phrase for which they later apologized, so they've had their share of hot takes. Beat writers and players will likely never be chummy, and they shouldn't be, but the Thunder appear to be uncommonly committed to keeping the relationship between athletes and media as icy and stilted as possible.


Photo: AP

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