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To Get A Great Answer, You May Have To Ask A Risky Question

There was a time in my life when sportswriting was my job, and I viewed it as a craft I had to work at every day. The media gets a lot of well-deserved negative comments these days, but there is a video going viral right now involving Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was asked after losing a playoff series-deciding game “do you view this season as a failure?”

Giannis’ answer was a perfect blend of emotion and perspective, saying “there’s no failure in sports. There’s good days, bad days, some days you are able to be successful, some days you are not, some days it is your turn, some days it’s not. That’s what sports is about. You don’t always win.”

He’s absolutely right. Even the greatest basketball player I ever saw – Michael Jordan – did not win all the time. Giannis even used that as an example, saying “Michael Jordan played 15 years, won 6 championships. The other 9 years were a failure?"

The question was asked by Eric Nehm, who is the Milwaukee Bucks beat reporter for The Athletic. Giannis was a bit miffed at the question, rubbing his face with his hands in disgust before pointing out Nehm asked that same question last year. As you would expect, the barons of social media have ridiculed him, saying what a terrible question that was and how he should have never attempted to ask such a thing.

But here’s the deal. Having been in that situation over a decade, I can tell you the best quotes tend to come from prodding, almost ridiculous questions. Athletes – or anybody for that matter – don’t give the kind of reply Giannis gave with today’s vanilla bland questions from sideline reporters asking “how do you feel?” or “tell me about what went on…”

You end up having to ask something on the borderline of annoying. Emotion in a reaction reveals something deeper in the soul than verses 23 and 24 from the book of cliches. Writers – versus transcribers – don’t just show up and print what they’re told. They look for an angle and have to take chances in the questions they attempt.

If you’ll look a little closer at the interaction, you may also notice something else. Giannis did not snap back in a way others might have. I have asked questions like that long ago, and the coaches who barely know you easily dismiss the question in a manner that compares favorably with “and the horse you rode in on.”

But Giannis did not. It was contentious, but nevertheless respectful, suggesting a rapport had been built between the two during the day in and day out interactions of Nehm covering the team as the Bucks beat writer. It seemed to me the two had established a professional respect where Giannis knew Nehm would ask questions like that, but also knew Nehm would be fair with any answer.

That’s the nature of sports journalism I grew up with. You could be friends with the players and coaches you covered, but there had to be a professional distance that allowed for each to hold the other accountable.

I’m not a fan of either team, so I can’t tell you who was at fault in the winning or losing of the series. But I do know I saw a sportswriter doing his job with a risky question that he knew he would be roasted for on social media.

But because he did, we got a great answer from Giannis many will remember for a long time.

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Comments 2

Dave Fulton on Thursday, 27 April 2023 15:01
Agree & Disagree

Agree 100% about asking the tough questions. Sometimes you get a great response, sometimes not. Who knows what a Cam Newton, Dale Earnhardt, Billy Martin or Dave Schultz might say. But nothing ventured, nothing gained.

And I realize that you have viewed hundreds more contests than I could hope to match and thousands more athletes. and you got to view from those padded courtside seats and luxury press boxes eating lobster & caviar while we peons watched basketball and football from the nosebleed seats and ate hotdogs.

However, greatest basketball player I saw was David Thompson IMHO, not MJ. I might be prejudiced since he once lived around the corner & my son-in-law's company recarpeted his house at which time he was kind enough to send an autographed photo to my grandson.

I still get chills when I watch David Thompson's NC State Hall of Fame highlite reel, even if it does show Skywalker soaring above the flailing arms of UVA's Wonderful Wally Walker enroute to the basket. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3cjrTdbJn8

Now, I hope tonight that our Carolina Panthers use that #1 NFL Draft Choice to select a QB who will perform at a much higher level in the pros than college, ala MJ.

Agree 100% about asking the tough questions. Sometimes you get a great response, sometimes not. Who knows what a Cam Newton, Dale Earnhardt, Billy Martin or Dave Schultz might say. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. And I realize that you have viewed hundreds more contests than I could hope to match and thousands more athletes. and you got to view from those padded courtside seats and luxury press boxes eating lobster & caviar while we peons watched basketball and football from the nosebleed seats and ate hotdogs. However, greatest basketball player I saw was David Thompson IMHO, not MJ. I might be prejudiced since he once lived around the corner & my son-in-law's company recarpeted his house at which time he was kind enough to send an autographed photo to my grandson. I still get chills when I watch David Thompson's NC State Hall of Fame highlite reel, even if it does show Skywalker soaring above the flailing arms of UVA's Wonderful Wally Walker enroute to the basket. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3cjrTdbJn8 Now, I hope tonight that our Carolina Panthers use that #1 NFL Draft Choice to select a QB who will perform at a much higher level in the pros than college, ala MJ.
Dave Scarangella on Thursday, 27 April 2023 15:04
You're right

David Thompson in college at N.C. State may have been the very best. His longevity in the game dropped substantially with injury and substance issues, however...

David Thompson in college at N.C. State may have been the very best. His longevity in the game dropped substantially with injury and substance issues, however...
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