We have gotten to a time in professional sports where everything people say and everything people do are analyzed and speculated to the highest degree. Any misusage of words or any point that isn’t made 100 percent clear can, and will, be used as bulletin board material or front page news the following morning. While this may be the nature of sports journalism now days, it by no means should force players and coaches to go out of their way to defend their opinions and comments as long as they remain appropriate.
The latest example of such a problem was seen during Indiana Pacers’ head coach Frank Vogel’s comments about the Miami Heat heading into the Eastern Conference Finals. A lot has been made about the presence of “bad blood” or “harsh feelings” between both teams after last year’s playoff matchup between the two squads that saw the Heat emerge victorious. While the presence of bad blood may be present, it isn’t and shouldn’t be the focal point behind every comment made by every player or coach.
Vogel was interviewed on Saturday night—after the Pacers advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals—and when asked about the Heat, Vogel referred to the Heat as “the next team in our way. And that’s how we’re approaching it.”
If you look at the comment that Vogel just made, there is nothing wrong with it. Vogel simply is saying that if the Pacers are going to win or advance to a championship, the Heat are the next team in their way. Talk about stating the obvious, but it also shows confidence that Vogel has in his team and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
But guess what, Vogel’s comments fired up Heat star LeBron James, who decided he needed to respond on Sunday.
“We’re not just another team,” LeBron said. “I don’t understand what he’s saying. But we’re not just another team. That’s not true. He said we’re just another team in their way. We’re a great team. If we’re just another team, you really don’t prepare for just another team. You have to prepare for us.”
Are you kidding me LeBron? What is wrong with what Vogel said? There was no sign of disrespect in his tone, nor was he taking a shot at your team in any fashion. Are the Heat a great ballclub? Yes they are, but they don’t need to be referred to as a “great team” nor do they need any special accommodations from teams telling them how great they are. In the history of sports, with all of the great teams, I have never heard Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Derek Jeter or Wayne Gretzky ever openly criticize another team for not openly praising and worshiping their opponents heading into a critical series. Why should this situation be any different?
Sure, some teams play the “disrespect” card as a motivational tactic heading into the series when teams don’t give the opponent much credit and it sometimes works; but no teams are required to give credit to their opponent, it is merely seen as a sportsmanlike gesture that teams make. The Heat should not feel entitled to be praised, nor should they criticize others for not recognizing or addressing them as “great”. They have won one—let me repeat that, one—championship and last time I checked, that means nothing in the annals of basketball history.
Vogel, according to NBA.com, decided to respond and apologize on Monday for his comments by saying, “Sorry, sports world, the words ‘just another team’ never came out of my mouth. Great respect for LBJ and the champs. Looking forward to [a] great series.”
The fact that Vogel felt compelled to apologize is ridiculous. The Heat and LeBron deserve no apology because no harm was done. Vogel was merely stating the obvious and was responding to questions leading up to the series. If Vogel were to have said, “Boy, the Heat sure are going to be tough. I don’t know how we can possibly beat them,” then he would have been openly criticized for showing no confidence. Those types of comments would have been unacceptable and embarrassing to Vogel and the Pacers’ team and organization; yet, those comments are what the Heat expected and believed they “deserved”.
I leave LeBron and the Heat with some words of advice from the great John Wooden, “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”