Last year, when the New Orleans Hornets came to town to play the Washington Wizards, I had two people in particular I wanted to talk to: All-Star Guard Chris Paul and then Head Coach Byron Scott. I had always admired Scott from his days as a Los Angeles Laker and Chris Paul just seemed to be a dazzling player, and an even better person.
But as the Hornets came out for shootaround prior to the second half of that game last year, I noticed that Hornets forward David West seemed to be embracing a Wizards’ fan in the crowd. Upon closer examination, I noticed that this was not just any person West was engaging, but this was esteemed author, political correspondent and Georgetown professor, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. At the time I did not know what the link between the two men was, but I told myself that before I went and talked to Paul, I would get a little face time with West.
As it turns out, West was only available for a few minutes before disappearing in the training room, but I did get a chance to ask him how he knew Dr. Dyson. He told me that he had read some of Dyson’s books, and was a big fan, so when he saw Dyson in the crowd he wanted to embrace him and arrange a future meeting.
So this year, when I realized the Hornets were coming in town to play the Wizards, West vaulted from number three on my interview wish list to the number one spot. I wanted to find out more about his relationship with Dyson, his thoughts on how NBA players are perceived, the ongoing situation with Gilbert Arenas, and the challenges the Hornets faced against the Wizards.
Rashad Mobley: The last time you were in town, you came out in the second half, and made a beeline to where Michael Dyson was sitting. When I spoke with you after that game, you mentioned that you wanted to work with him and talk with him at greater length. Has anything happened with that since we last spoke?
David West: Oh yeah, we sat down last night [January 9th] for a few hours and spoke.
RM: Can you elaborate or was it private?
DW: Oh not at all. For me, talking to him is about getting information, being informed and staying attached to the community. I consider Dr. Dyson to be one of our brilliant intellectuals and I’m not sure many people understand the need for people like him in our community. I just admire his mind, and I admire his passion about people–especially about people who are the least of us if that makes sense. I’m just a big fan and now with him I’m becoming a student and I’m looking to absorb information, learn from him and go from there.
RM: Switching gears a bit, what was your first reaction when you heard about Gilbert Arenas? And not just the gun situation, but also when he got suspended.
DW: Well honestly man, you don’t want to tear anybody down, especially in the public you know? My initial reaction wasn’t to say he did it or jump on one side or the other. He hasn’t been convicted or charged as of yet, if I’m not mistaken. So I think more than anything its [his suspension] a preemptive move from the NBA to protect their image. I don’t think anyone cares too much about Gilbert’s image, he has to control that. He has the power to control his image to a degree, and he just made decisions that did not shine the light on him in the right way. And we understand in this day and age, how the media works and its not going to be anything nice once they get the opportunity to jump on you. Then they [the media] stay on you and he has to understand that. He has to realize that when you’re in a position where the cameras are on you, the microphones are in front of you, you’ve got an opportunity to control how you’re represented and how you present yourself to folks. The NBA removed him from their environment so they basically controlled their brand and their image.
RM: That being said, how do you feel when some members of the media start to group the behavior of all NBA athletes together?
DW: You know Dr. Dyson and I were having this discussion last night. Whenever somebody does something wrong, it covers the whole culture. All the black athletes, it transcends sports, its all over. When one of us does something right, its one unique individual, you know? So for the negative things that go on we’re grouped together, we’re lumped together, therefore supporting this myth that we all have the propensity to be criminals, mess up, walk outside the law, and do things like that. When in fact, there are a lot of guys doing the right thing, lots of guys doing things that are going unnoticed. For those guys who do get noticed, its just like the unicorn, he’s one unique individual doing the right thing, as opposed to the whole collective. That’s just the overwhelming message I get from these situations. But Gilbert needs to be a little smarter in his decision making, because anytime they have an opportunity to jump on someone, especially in this 24-hour news media world we live in, you know they’re going to do it.
RM: Ok now we’ll switch to actual on-the-court questions. Why do you think you all have been playing so much better (5-1 in January, three straight road victories, and the Hornets held teams to just 96 points per game during that stretch)?
DW: Man, we are finally starting to get an rhythm about who we are. We’re playing with a lot of confidence in terms of our attack and who we’re trying to be on the floor, and its been working. We really have been trying to go out and attack teams defensively and not at any point get on our heels.
RM: What kinds of challenges do the Wizards present?
DW: Obviously they are a talented basketball team and I know we say this every year, but we can’t look at their record and tell what type of team they are. They are a good basketball team in terms of their talent, and their individual base guys. They have guys who’ve been All-Stars, and guys who’ve been lighting it up, so they’re dangerous. You have to make sure you’re collectively defending them and putting them in a position where they have to make plays constantly to win the game.
RM: If you could talk to Byron Scott (who was fired November 12th, after leading the Hornets to a 3-6 record). what would you say to him right now?
DW(laughing): You’re putting me on the spot, huh? Man, I’m not touching that one. Actually, I’d ask him how he was, if he wanted to coach again, and if he did, I’d highly recommend him to any team. He’s a great coach, he just didn’t fit this team anymore.
RM: Would you care to elaborate on that last point a little more?
DW (laughing harder this time): Nope, I’ve said too much already. You see how sneaky the media is?