Warriors media day made for quite a bit of news in the last few days. Team captains Stephen Jackson and Monta Ellis took advantage of the occasion to re-air their grievances with the tight-fisted ownership of the Warriors, and the actions of Cohan henchman and team president Robert Rowell in particular. The details of this episode are already known to most readers, and I don’t intend to rehash them. What moved me to write this post was Tim Kawakami’s take on the Jackson and Ellis situation: here, here and here. It was typically rotten.
Kawakami has no interest in the Golden State Warriors. I mean the team that is about to take the floor. He has no interest in evaluating its makeup, or predicting its chances in the Western Conference. Kawakami is interested in dysfunction. He lives for it, hunts for it, and revels in print whenever he finds it. So it was no surprise that for him the Jackson and Ellis interviews were a treasure trove.
For those who don’t know him, Kawakami (TK) is a sportswriter for the San Jose Mercury News. I use the term sportswriter loosely, because TK doesn’t write about sports. You won’t find any game reporting, nor any tales of transcendent performances, or grace under pressure, or heroic effort, or the triumph of team spirit over individual ego in TK’s column. No, none of the things that inspire people to pursue athletics, or inspire fans to follow their teams, hold any interest for TK. He is exclusively interested in rumors of intra-franchise acrimony, bickering and back-stabbing , and he thrives on retailing those rumors to his readers. You will find nothing else in his columns. And so, of course, he was happy as a pig in… mud to bring us the details of Warriors media day. It validated his rumor-mongering existence.
For me, Kawakami is a study in moral turpitude. What else could you call the perverse enjoyment of human misery that is so evident in his work? Or the propagation of human misery for profit that is his apparent aim? To me, he represents the absolute nadir of sportswriting. Which is not to say there is anything original about him. No, his archetype has been frequently portrayed in fiction, most notably perhaps in Bernard Malamud’s The Natural, which most of us know from the excellent movie adaptation. The character of the malevolent, rumor-mongering sportswriter Max Mercy, played by Robert Duval, is TK right down to the bone.
Nor is TK unique in the real world of sports journalism. I know of a few other prominent sports journalists of TK’s vicious predilection, most notably Peter Vecsey of the NY Post, who proved too nasty for television, and Ric Bucher, TK’s former mentor at the SJMN, who made his bones on the Chris Webber — Don Nelson blowup. Bucher now graces us with his oily presence on national TV, where he has whitewashed his act. But it is only TK who interests me here, because he is the Bay Area’s own.
TK’s modus operandi should by now be familiar to all Bay Area readers. Following the business model of Ric Bucher, TK actively seeks out any fault line he can find between the management of the Bay Area’s professional sports franchises and the athletes they employ. When he finds one, he seeks to insert himself into it like a wedge, using his column and blog as a sledge hammer. His goal is to further inflame the egos of the parties through his public airing of their gripes and grievances, and drive them further apart. He gets the fans involved in taking sides, creating excitement in the story, and thus turns something that might otherwise have been a minor and passing and even private distraction into a major news extravaganza. This business model worked like a charm for TK’s mentor Bucher, who leveraged his “reporting” of the Webber-Nelson relationship into national prominence as a TV talking head. This is a lesson TK quite obviously has never forgotten. Its a pity he doesn’t understand that he can never duplicate Bucher’s TV success. (He doesn’t have the hair.)
I have often mused, while ingesting a TK cup of venom along with my morning coffee, what in his life caused him to turn into the scum-sucking rumor-mongering worm that he has become. I mean, apart from the obvious greed and hunger for power. He appears to really enjoy creating misery and spreading it throughout his readership. What sort of person likes doing that? Having seen him on TV, it seems likely that he was never much of an athlete himself. Was he a jock-sniffer? An embittered outsider? Or does he resent the rich and powerful that his job frequently brings him in contact with? Sports writers don’t make much coin, and even the best of them don’t get much respect in those circles. Or has it gotten more personal than that? None of the management of the Niners, Raiders, Warriors, Giants or A’s will have anything to do with him. They never speak to him unless forced. And even then they won’t share a thing with him. They know better. They understand his type, better than he understands himself. They positively despise him. Perhaps his columns are his revenge for that?
Or perhaps the reason is less sinister. Perhaps behind-the-scenes franchise politics and dirty little rumors are simply easier for TK to write about than actual sports. Because when writing about sports, you have to write something interesting about an event that everybody else has already witnessed. Something real. You can’t fake it. You can’t just write about rumors. You have to actually know what you’re writing about. But anyone who’s actually read TK, and managed to find an iota of sports content in his columns, knows that he doesn’t know a thing about sports. Not. One. Thing. Maybe that’s it.
Well, that’s enough of that. I’m not really qualified to speculate on the sordid recesses of TK’s mind. I got my undergrad in literature, not psychology. Hey… wait a minute….
OK, seriously, that’s enough of that. I want to end on a serious note, dealing with the mysterious unnamed “sources” that TK is so fond of quoting. TK holds himself out as a truth-seeker and a truth-teller. An enemy of the evil PR offices of the franchises he covers, that corruptly seek to hide or white-wash the nasty truths inside the franchise back-offices and locker-rooms, in order to sell more box seats and merchandise to unwitting fans. His self-professed mission is to out these hidden nasty truths, by enlisting inside sources who are willing to spill the beans. Have you ever wondered who those sources are?
Those who follow Bay Area sports know that franchise executives will not speak to TK. We also know that coaches will not speak to him. So who on the inside does speak to him? Who are all those “unnamed sources” he so frequently quotes?
The answer should be obvious, both by process of elimination, and by reading between the lines of the quotes themselves. TK’s sources, like his mentor Bucher’s before him, are disgruntled players. And their entourages and retinues. By which I mean, their agents and managers. And why do the agents and managers of disgruntled players speak so frequently to TK? That answer should be equally obvious: to leverage their demands in the press. To get themselves a contract. To get themselves an extension. To get an annoying head coach — who more likely than not is insisting on unselfish team play at the expense of the kind of stat accumulation that lands big contracts — fired. To get themselves separated from a franchise that doesn’t sufficiently appreciate their talents. You get the idea. They are USING TK to get what they want.
Do you think TK doesn’t know this? Of course he does. TK is knowingly ALLOWING himself to be used, in order to write the kind of trash that he enjoys writing. The kind that sells newspapers, and gets eyeballs, and click-throughs. The kind that gets him quoted in the national sports press, and fuels his dreams of … what?
Which brings me to my conclusion: Tim Kawakami is more corrupt than anyone he has ever covered.