Ron Artest appears hypocritical in criticizing Phil Jackson via Twitter
It took only three Twitter posts from Lakers forward Ron Artest about Coach Phil Jackson to set everyone ablaze, ranging from Artest confirming but downplaying the comments, his brother suggesting his Twitter account was hacked, Jackson expressing amusement over it all and the media facilitating the conversation to the nth degree.
Before I showcase the reactions from Artest and Jackson, let's catch everyone up to speed on the background first. As Lakers fans are painfully well aware, Artest and the basket haven't gotten along, with the forward shooting only 10% from three-point range in the Western Conference semifinals against Utah after making only 18% of his three-point attempts in the first-round series against Oklahoma City. But with Artest rarely seeing a shot he never liked, Jackson on several occasions has shed light on Thriller's shooting struggles. Jackson wondered if Artest would ever get out of a shooting funk after he went 28% in the first two games against the Thunder. With Artest's clip worsening to three of 23 through the first four games against OKC, The Times' T.J. Simers asked Jackson last week whether Artest should limit his shooting, and Jackson replied that Artest should stop taking so many corner three-pointers.
Fast forward to Thursday evening, and you have Artest sharing on his Twitter page his frustrations about Jackson's criticisms. Below is a chronological rundown:
Thursday 9:25 p.m.: "“Finally Phil Jackson didn’t mention me in media before talking me Now I can build on game 2. Hopefully he talks to me before the media.”
Thursday 9:41 p.m.: “Ever since phil mention things about me in media before coming to me first I was weird. So every pray he can somehow close his yapper and now say AMEN.”
Thursday 10:47 p.m.: “Its just something that I have to get use to. He is a different stlye [sic] coach. Just bad timing during playoffs and midseason for me!! ... "I think right now the team is improving so we just need to keep building or moving ahead or forward. Locking down etc....”
Artest's brother Daniel then wrote on his own Twitter account that, “Whoever hacked [Artest’s] twit page is foul," an accusation The Times' Mike Bresnahan reported today also came in a statement from Artest's representatives. Though Artest confirmed that he made those comments to Bresnahan, he shed very little light about it after Friday's practice to reporters.
"So many media tried to blow up the comments. Lol Me and Phil are it's just healthier being direct to me rather than media first."
"I see him everyday so it's nothing he can't talk to me about."
"I would have gave media these quotes but they like to spin situations."
"One guy named Kurt Helin said I'm not a fan of my coach. I just said it's weird to here things from media first."
"I think I have the best coach. But that doesn't mean I want to find out in media that I need to be more aggressive or should not take ... Corner threes. rather he tell me personally and direct. I found out about his comments from my friends. But that's yesterday. Game 3!""I think it's weird that I didn't make the all defense team. But congrats to the award winners. They deserve it. I came to LA to win not to win awards. The team awards are better than individual. But if I did win I would have been thankful."
And for the sake of fair play, here is Jackson's response.
So what to make of it? Well there's a few things. Let's start with the substance of the matter first. Overlook for a second Artest's awkward attempt to defuse the situation and Jackson's amused response over the whole issue.
Artest's main complaint involves not that Jackson criticized him, but that he did to the media before talking to him directly about his three-point shooting. To be partly fair to Artest, that's to some degree legitimate. In any working environment, it's always best to hear criticism directly from the source rather than through a third party. It clears up any misunderstandings and surprised reactions. But here's where the issue becomes a bit murky.
"I've been very upfront with him about his three-point shooting," Jackson said.
Without getting into the he-said, she-said, here's where the issue stands. If Jackson never ever talked to Artest about his three-point shooting, then Artest has a point. But I highly doubt that conversation has never ever taken place, meaning this whole spat really just involves Artest's frustration that Jackson called him out about his performance to the media. Regardless of either scenario, Artest reeks hypocrisy for tweeting his grievances about Jackson because it doesn't exactly follow the whole "talk to me first before criticizing me to the media" argument.
And here's the thing. Jackson isn't the only one criticizing Artest's shooting. Players don't say it specifically, but it's obvious who they're referring to when they speak about the team needing to have better shot selection. The numbers speak for themselves, yet Artest still acts like his shooting isn't a problem whenever reporters ask him about it.
And it's not like Jackson goes out of his way to criticize Artest's shooting, either. He just directly answers the questions, which actually often involve Artest's strong defense, a quality Jackson and the team have universally praised him for having. When Artest didn't appear this week on the NBA's All-Defensive team, the Lakers, including Jackson, argued he should've received the honor.
Jackson's never shy to needle a player, a quality that Michael Jordan has argued on several occasions why he enjoyed playing for him so much. Oftentimes, a coach's attitude toward a player can range from two extremes. One involves being overly critical of less talented players and too lenient on superstars. Another involves being too positive with less talented players and passive-aggressive with superstars. Jackson takes neither and instead has an equal opportunity approach. Whether it's regarding Kobe Bryant or Sasha Vujacic, I've never seen Jackson in my limited experience covering the team for the past four months express any hesitation in criticizing a performance.
There may be times he's had hidden agendas, such as his contention before the Lakers' first-round series with the Thunder that Kevin Durant receives favorable treatment from officials. But I've never observed Jackson appearing afraid to say something critical about one of his players as well as appearing reluctant to praise one of his players. That may not fit what Artest wants in a coach. But there's a reason why the Zen Master has 10 rings, which speaks to his courage to speak out on players of any caliber while also giving them the proper space to figure things out on their own.
So that's my take on the substance part of the issue. The other part of the issue involves Artest's perspective on social media.
"I'm only talking to you about basketball. Twitter is for my fans," Artest offered as an argument for why he's detailing his grievances regarding Jackson on his account, but not with reporters.
To some degree, I understand Artest's point. Many athletes view Twitter as a great tool for reaching out to fans and promoting different interests. For Artest, he's had direct interaction with fans through Twitter and has updated them on his whereabouts. He also mentioned in a tweet highlighted above that he chose to express his frustrations with Jackson's comments through Twitter instead of the media because he didn't want to make it possible for reporters to twist his words.
Those are both fair points. But to say the media and Twitter are somehow two separate entities is entirely absurd. The great thing that many reporters, including myself, enjoy about Twitter is that it gives us another avenue to provide additional reporting, links, general musings and direct interactions with readers. But that doesn't mean we're not held to the same standards to what we write. The same concept applies to athletes, including Artest. You can't write something that's considered newsworthy -- in this case his frustration with Jackson's public criticisms -- and not expect a reaction.
In the end, this episode will likely be forgotten about rather quickly. But even if the issue isn't that significant, there's obviously some clear disagreements between Artest and Jackson that they still need to settle. And that should be done through face-to-face conversation, not through us or in 140-character tweets.
-- Mark Medina
Photo: Lakers forward Ron Artest dunks over Utah forward Carlos Boozer in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals on Tuesday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times