I can’t remember when it started. I can’t remember why it started. But in a noble effort to give viewers more inside access than ever before, the NBA began allowing sideline reporters to interview each coach before the start of the second and fourth quarters. With the exception of Phil Jackson, who uses these moments as veiled psychological warfare, coaches greet these interludes with the enthusiasm of someone being frisked by an off-duty police officer.
So why keep doing it? Are these exchanges redeemable? I see three issues:
1. Coaches getting pulled away during crucial times when, you know, they’re supposed to be dispensing advice to their players. Imagine a pilot pulled out of the cockpit while flying a fighter plane and being shot at by enemy MiGs, then being asked questions like “How do you feel the plane is executing your game plan?” for a solid minute. Would they seem a little frazzled? Yes. Would they seem as if they wanted to end this as quickly as possible so they could return to the cockpit before the plane crashed? Absolutely.
2. Sideline reporters deal with the NBA’s unspoken ground rules, such as “Don’t tick off our coaches,” “Don’t bring up our routinely horrible officiating,” and “Please, for the love of God, don’t bring up our routinely horrible officiating.” So every question inevitably revolves around the same three themes: How important was (anything positive that happened)? What do you have to do to stop (fill in the opposing player)? You told us before the game that (fill in a goal that was important), do you feel like you’ve achieved that so far? Of course …
3. As they tape these interviews, the coaches know employees from the opposing team will be watching the finished product, so they aren’t exactly dying to spill any secrets.
Sure, you can’t beat the condescension and surliness oozing from Gregg Popovich every time he’s tortured by this stuff. Subjects of hostage videos look happier than Pop during a mandatory in-game interview. For him and him alone, I kinda sorta don’t want them to go away. During the commercial before every coach’s interview this weekend — all 16 from the Game 1s on Saturday and Sunday — I transcribed every exchange along with one sarcastic question I wish had been asked and responses I wish the coaches had given in a perfect world. Here’s what transpired:
Start of second quarter, Cavs 30, Pistons 25
My best sarcastic question for Detroit’s Michael Curry: “How much do you guys miss Allen Iverson?”
Question No. 1 from Lisa Salters: “Michael, big first quarter for LeBron James, what kind of different defensive looks were you giving him?
Answer Curry gave: “Well, I thought a few times, we allowed him to drive past his initial guy and the help defense was there a little late. A couple times on the post up, we stayed home on the bigs, once he started to back down, and we should have gotten there a lot quicker, so, we gotta be alert and get there when he has the ball, put our guys in a bad position.”
Answer I wish Curry had given: “It doesn’t matter. We are going to get swept.”
Question No. 2 from Salters: “Still, just a five-point game, what’s your mindset as far as letting LeBron get his and keeping the other guys in check?”
Answer Curry gave: “No, we don’t want to let LeBron get his. Uh, we want to be able to, when, there’s a situation in which he’s in a back down, make him pass it back out to the least threat on the court and close back out to that guy, but we can’t let LeBron have five, six dribbles on the post on nobody.”
Answer I wish Curry had given: “It doesn’t matter. We are going to get swept.”
Tidbit we learned from this exchange: The Pistons don’t listen to Michael Curry.
Third Quarter: Cavs 78, Pistons 65
My best sarcastic question for Cleveland’s Mike Brown: “How fondly will you remember games like this one when LeBron is playing for the Knicks in two years and your No. 1 scoring option is J.J. Hickson?”
Question No. 1 from Salters: “Mike, you guys did not commit a single foul in that third quarter until the 2.8-second mark. What does that say to you?”
Answer Brown gave: “You know one of the things that we talked about going in is try to defend without fouling, it’s gonna be a physical contest, so we know that’s not gonna happen the entire game if we can move our feet and show our hands and make them take some tough shots. We’ll live with it.”
Answer I wish Brown had given: “That we didn’t commit a single foul in that third quarter until the 2.8-second mark.”
Question No. 2 from Salters: “On the offensive end, what impact did Mo Williams have on that quarter, especially early on?”
Answer Brown gave: “You know what? He’s a guy that has never failed this year. If he’s had a, quote/unquote, bad shooting first half, for some reason, he always comes back and his confidence, I don’t know what it is. But he comes back in the second half and he usually knocks down some shots for us.”
Answer I wish Brown had given: “Lisa, I’d describe the actual impact as somewhere between a loud fart and a foghorn.”
Tidbit we learned from this exchange: The Cavs try to defend without fouling.
Start of second quarter: Spurs 29, Mavericks 18
My best sarcastic question for Dallas’ Rick Carlisle: “Were you disappointed in the box office results for your latest movie, ‘Yes Man’?”
Question No. 1 from Heather Cox: “Coach, in your last minutes of that quarter, it got away from you a little bit. Where were the specific breakdowns?”
Answer Carlisle gave: “Well, we’re turning it over a little too much, and our shot-making hasn’t been there, and definitely we need to get better, it’s a little of everything.”
Answer I wish Carlisle had given: “I don’t know if you noticed, but they have Tony Parker and we have Jason Kidd. Jason Kidd couldn’t stay in front of Jason Street at this point.”
Question No. 2 from Cox: “I know this is your first year with Dallas, but as a franchise it’s lost its last nine road playoff games. What’s the most important thing needed to change that tonight?”
Answer Carlisle gave: “Well, right now we gotta keep our poise, we gotta keep working the game, we gotta work to get on our own run.”
Answer I wish Carlisle had given: “Winning the game. That would change it.”
Tidbit we learned from this exchange: All Rick Carlisle sideline interviews should be sponsored by Ambien.
Third Quarter: Spurs 74, Mavericks 74
My best sarcastic question for San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich: “What did you do with your winnings from the Sean Connery Lookalike Contest?”
Question No. 1 from Cox: “Coach, you told us before the game your biggest concern was Dirk Nowitzki and that you were gonna do everything you could against him, mix it up, drive him crazy. How effective has that effort been so far in your mind?”
Answer Pop gave: “I think it’s been pretty good. But there’s still a lot of game to be played.”
Answer I wish Pop had given: “I didn’t notice. I was too busy staring at Manu Ginobili in street clothes and figuring out if there was a way to drink on the bench without getting caught.”
Question No. 2 from Cox: “You had lots of one-on-one conversations with Tony Parker during that third quarter. What are you trying to impress upon him?”
Answer Pop gave: “I just wanted him to run the club and not make it a one-on-one situation with anybody else, to just continue to use his teammates.”
Answer I wish Pop had given: “That America has been carrying France since the early 1800s and he should be a lot more grateful than he is.”
Tidbit we learned from this exchange: French people can be selfish.
Start of second quarter: Sixers 27, Magic 25
One sarcastic question for Philly’s Tony DiLeo: “Who are you and what the hell have you done with Mo Cheeks?”
Question No. 1 from Laura Green: “Your team was able to survive their early run. What did you guys do to change the tempo, and are you pleased with it?”
Answer DiLeo gave: “Well, first I thought we were getting good shots early, we just weren’t making ’em. We picked up our defense a little bit. We got out on the break, and that’s our game, and we just have to do a better job of defending without fouling. We gave up too many free throws at the end of the quarter.”
Answer I wish DiLeo had given: “I’m not going to be dumb enough to tell our opponent the answer on live TV.”
Question No. 2 from Green: None.
Tidbit we learned from this exchange: “Green/DiLeo” won’t replace “Frost/Nixon” anytime soon.
Start of fourth quarter: Magic 79, Sixers 65
My best sarcastic question for Orlando’s Stan Van Gundy: “How are you and the rest of the adult film community recovering from the tragic death of Marilyn Chambers last week?”
Question No. 1 from Green: “Coach, you were worried about your team’s defensive intensity and focus at halftime. Are you pleased with what they did in the third quarter?”
Answer Van Gundy gave: “It was a little better at times, but we let down again in the last minute or two there. So, we gotta still be better.”
Answer I wish Van Gundy had given: “It’s tough for me to concentrate, I still can’t believe Marilyn’s gone. I remember our scene from ‘Porndogs: The Adventures of Sadie’ like it was yesterday.”
Tidbit we learned from this exchange: TNT knows short-as-possible coach interviews.
Start of second quarter: Bulls 28, Celtics 28
My best sarcastic question for Chicago’s Vinny Del Negro: “Vinny, it took you four full months to realize that you had young legs and a gifted young point guard and maybe you guys should push the ball. … How long does it take you to, say, grocery shop? Three weeks? Four weeks?”
Question No. 1 from Nancy Lieberman: “How important was it for your team, a young team, to get off to this type of start especially here in the playoffs?”
Answer Del Negro gave: “Well, I think it was important, you know. I thought we were aggressive at times, got a little out of synch at times. We gotta control [Rajon] Rondo a little bit better. He had a nice first quarter with his penetration. We gotta control them, but I liked our effort.”
Answer I wish Del Negro had given: “Getting off to a good start was much more important for me than the team. I’m such a basket case that my dad decided to sit on the bench with me for the playoffs. No, really — he’s right over there. If we win, he said he’s going to take me out for ice cream!”
Question No. 2 from Lieberman: “Besides Rondo’s 12 points, you did a great job, how do you slow Rondo down, especially in the half court?”
Answer Del Negro gave: “Well, we’ll change up our coverages a little bit on him, but you know he made a couple jump shots, but he got to the basket a little too easy. So, we’re gonna have to get in and help on that penetration.”
Answer I wish Del Negro had given: “We have some ideas, but even I’m not dumb enough to tell our opponent the answer on live TV. And I’m the same guy who’s going to run out of timeouts in the first two games of the series. So that’s saying something.”
Tidbit we learned from this exchange: With Rondo on pace for 48 points, the Bulls decided it might be smart to change their defensive approach with him.
Start of fourth quarter: Celtics 72, Bulls 71
My best sarcastic question for Boston’s Doc Rivers: “Who do you think is more likely to auction off his 2008 championship ring on eBay some day: Tony Allen or Gabe Pruitt?”
Question No. 1 from Lieberman: “Doc Rivers, were you surprised that your team didn’t come out with the energy that you had hoped for in the first half?”
Answer Rivers gave: “Yeah, I was — I just thought they played harder. I thought the Bulls deserved the lead in the first half, and I think in the third quarter, we’ve now played harder and we have the lead.”
Answer I wish Rivers had given: “Look, this is not about Kevin Garnett! OK! He’s gone and he’s not coming back! That’s our team, the team on the floor right now! I don’t care if you never even mentioned him. THIS IS NOT ABOUT KEVIN GARNETT!!! HE IS NOT COMING BACK!!!!”
Question No. 2 from Lieberman: “The coverage on Derrick Rose, will it change because he’s been getting to the rim and hitting jumpers?
Answer Rivers gave: “No, we just gotta improve our coverage, you know. I think the coverage is right, the execution is awful.”
Answer I wish Rivers had given: “I’m not going to be dumb enough to tell our opponent the answer on live TV. And besides, THIS IS NOT ABOUT KEVIN GARNETT!”
Tidbit we learned from this exchange: The Celtics would be doing fine if they just listened to Doc Rivers.
Start of second quarter: Rockets 34, Blazers 23
My best sarcastic question for Houston’s Rick Adelman: “Yao is destroying the Blazers right now. Did you hypnotize him to think that this was an exhibition game in mid-October?”
Question No. 1 from Ric Bucher: “Your point of emphasis for your team going into the game and how do you think they handled it?”
Answer Adelman gave: “Well, I think what we wanted to do was to get off to a good start. We knew it was gonna be loud in here. We knew they play well here, and we wanted to set our own tempo. I thought we did a good job.”
Answer I wish Adelman had given: “Thanks for setting me up for the ‘We wanted to get off to a good start and take the crowd out of it’ answer, Buch! I owe you.”
Question No. 2 from Bucher: “And how do you feel about after that first timeout, their offense started to get going? How’d you feel about the kind of shots they’re getting?”
Answer Adelman gave: “Well, Yao had one foul. They were going pick-and-roll, running right at him. I thought we did a good job.”
Answer I wish Adelman had given: “Please. If they’re not gonna front Yao, and if Aldridge is going to crap the bed like this, we will sweep by an average of 20 per win. [Looks into the camera.] That’s right, TWENTY per win.”
Tidbit we learned from this exchange: It’s good to get off to a good start in a basketball game, especially if you’re playing on the road.
Start of fourth quarter: Rockets 85, Blazers 58
My best sarcastic question for Nate McMillan: “Nate, Yao Ming has destroyed you guys tonight. You just have no answer for him. How much do you regret taking Kevin Durant over Greg Oden? [Awkward pause.] Wait, you DID take Greg Oden? I thought that was DeAndre Jordan!”
Question No. 1 from Ric Bucher: Hold on, hold on … they waived the interview! There must be a 25-point mercy rule.
Start of second quarter: Hawks 24, Heat 21
My best sarcastic question for Miami’s Erik Spoelstra: “Did you drive Jermaine O’Neal to tonight’s game in a hearse or an ambulance? And what time does Jermaine’s body have to be returned to the morgue?”
Question No. 1 from Cheryl Miller: “Coach, if Dwyane Wade was supposed to be rusty, it really didn’t show. Did you like the spacing in your offense? It looked like he had a lot of room to operate.”
Answer Spoelstra gave: “Yeah, the spacing was OK, but we were a little careless. We had five turnovers.”
Answer I wish Spoelstra had given: “We’re down by three, and I honestly think my center is decomposing. I don’t like anything right now.”
Question No. 2 from Miller: “Talk about defensively what you would like to do with Joe Johnson. Were you satisfied?”
Answer Spoelstra gave: “It didn’t look like we had any answers right there, he’s going right by us. The key is to be better on the ball and earlier on the help.”
Answer I wish Spoelstra had given: “I have a corpse for a center! OK! All right? I don’t like anything right now! MY CENTER IS A WALKING ZOMBIE, AND HE’S ON THE BOOKS FOR $22 MILLION NEXT YEAR! I am very screwed! OK? Got it?”
Tidbit we learned from this exchange: Cheryl Miller gets to ask twice as many questions as Laura Green.
Start of fourth quarter: Hawks 76, Heat 57
My best sarcastic question for Atlanta’s Mike Woodson: “How many years does Josh Smith take off your life each season? Is it like dog years? Like, each season is worth seven years?”
Question No. 1 from Miller: “Coach, for one moment I thought that Dwyane Wade was going to take no shots in that quarter. What did you tell your guys as far as defensively trying to focus on?”
Answer Woodson gave: “Well, we’re still trying to just build a wall and be patient about our defense and not let them get a lot of play at the rim. They had a better third quarter. We got lax in the last five minutes, so we gotta pick it up in the fourth quarter.”
Answer I wish Woodson had given: “I’m not going to be dumb enough to tell you the answer on live TV.”
Question No. 2 from Miller: “What would you like to see from your team heading into the fourth, because like you said, you guys got lax and you’ve had a tendency at times to give up big leads?”
Answer Woodson gave: “Well, the thing is, playoff basketball is made on runs. They made a run in the third, and we held back. We just gotta come back in the fourth quarter and start doing the things that got us the lead in the first and second quarter.”
Answer I wish Woodson had given: “We’re up 19. Settle down, Cheryl.”
Tidbit we learned from this exchange: I don’t know. I give up. I am losing the will to live.
Start of second quarter: Nuggets 27, Hornets 25
My best sarcastic question for New Orleans’ Byron Scott: “Byron, you shave your head but also have a graying mustache going. If you shaved the mustache, you’d look 10 years younger. If you dyed it, same thing. What kind of message does the gray mustache send to your players?”
Question No. 1 from Mark Fein: “Coach, Chris Paul said energy and emotion were important for you guys to start this game. Were you happy with the team’s energy?”
Answer Scott gave: “I was. We still had too many mishaps on the defensive end. We let Chauncey [Billups] step into about two or three wide-open shots because of miscommunication. We gotta do a better job than that.”
Answer I wish Scott had given: “Absolutely. John Hollinger had us graded highly on his energy efficiency ratings, and that’s good enough for me.”
Question No. 2 from Fein: “You were a little worried about the altitude. Anyone go for the O2 yet?”
Answer Scott gave: “No, not yet. So far, so good.”
Answer I wish Scott had given: “Honestly, I’m more worried about any of my players touching Chris Andersen. Has he had all his vaccination shots?”
Tidbit we learned from this exchange: Go Mark Fein! I liked the second question. It even set up a “we might go for that over here at the table” joke from Marv Albert that Reggie Miller didn’t sell, extending Reggie’s consecutive streak of not selling Marv’s jokes to 243.
Start of fourth quarter: Nuggets 87, Hornets 69
My best sarcastic question for Denver’s George Karl: “Chauncey Billups just made his eighth 3. He’s on fire. He’s one away from tying the playoff record. … Coach, what are the odds that J.R. Smith is going to jack up about 25 shots in the fourth and try to steal the spotlight?”
Question No. 1 from Fein: “Coach, unbelievable. Chauncey Billups, he says he was a ’57 Chevy, but he looks like he’s running smoother than that.”
Answer Karl gave: “He’s a great horse to have right now. He’s got a great rhythm on the 3-ball. He’s leading us really well. But I’ll be honest with you, I think our defense picked up pretty good in the second half. Hopefully, we can control the fourth quarter like we controlled the third.”
Answer I wish Karl had given: “And even better, he’s not Allen Iverson. They called Allen ‘The Answer’ — you know what ‘the answer’ was? Angina! Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week.”
Question No. 2 from Fein: “You mentioned the defense. Chris Paul seems to be getting his, but overall, you guys have been real tough.”
Actual answer from Karl: “[Kenyon Martin’s] performance on [David] West has been great. We’re rebounding the ball well, too.”
Answer I wish Karl had given: “We know how to turn it up on D when we’re up 20 at home. All you degenerate gamblers out there, don’t trust us in this series. Do you hear me? We are NOT to be trusted.”
Tidbit we learned from this exchange: Denver’s coach thinks the Nuggets are up 18 because they are rebounding well, defending well and getting a good game from Chauncey Billups.
Start of second quarter: Lakers 30, Jazz 19
My best sarcastic question for Utah’s Jerry Sloan: “When will you be totally satisfied that you’ve mentally destroyed Andrei Kirilenko? When he’s wandering naked in Salt Lake City rush-hour traffic and muttering to himself in Russian?”
Question No. 1 from Salters: “Coach, defensively, what kind of adjustments do you need to make after that first quarter?”
Answer Sloan gave: “Well, we needed to be able get into a little better position, be able to draw a couple fouls on ’em. They’re running down the floor. We should have the right to get out in front of them. We haven’t done that quite good enough. We’ve committed too many fouls.”
Answer I wish Sloan had given: “I’m not going to be dumb enough to tell our opponent the answer on live TV. It’s Game 1 of a seven-game series.”
Question No. 2 from Salters: “Now before the game, you were telling me that effort was going to be so important to you guys. How would you describe the effort we saw in that first quarter?”
Answer Sloan gave: “I think our guys are playing extremely hard. We missed some shots, took some shots we’d like to have back, especially in the first part of the ballgame. Otherwise, we’d be right there in the ballgame.”
Answer I wish Sloan had given: “I enjoyed our effort about as much as I enjoyed the colonoscopy I had last week.”
Tidbit we learned from this exchange: The Jazz wouldn’t be trailing by 11 if they had made more shots.
Start of fourth quarter: Lakers 86, Jazz 73
My best sarcastic question for L.A.’s Phil Jackson: “You sit in a customized chair on the bench now because your hips and back have deteriorated so badly. At what point do you start coaching games in one of those adjustable nursing home beds while wearing a hospital gown? Three years? Four years?”
Question No. 1 from Salters: “Phil, you guys are still up by 13, but I heard you getting on your guys about their defense in that third quarter. What was going on there?”
Answer Jackson gave (smiling): “Well, my, how you’ve grown. I’m really surprised how you’ve grown in this last week.”
Answer I wish Jackson had given: “I’m a bit old-fashioned, when my guys stop playing defense, I like to point this out to them.”
Salters (trying to joke along): “Like I said, I’m trying to be thoughtful, trying to make sure you can hear me.”
Jackson (dramatic pause): “Yeah, we’re behind this whole quarter, you know. You go in the locker room and you tell them the first five minutes are the most important part of this quarter, and yet, these guys just didn’t come out and think about what they were trying to do. They went through the motions and tried to do everything individually instead of run.”
Question No. 2 from Salters: “On the other hand, Trevor Ariza, 17 points already. It’s a career-high for him. What’s been the key to his success so far?”
Answer I wish Jackson had given: “He needed to relax, so I broke out a 6-foot Indian reservation bong that I bought in New Mexico for 20 bucks with Dean Meminger in 1973, and let’s just say that I introduced that thing to Trevor and relaxed him to the point that we needed to wake him up with a Taser this morning.”
Answer Jackson gave: “Well, he’s been hitting his shots. I mean, if they’re gonna pack it in on Kobe or the bigs, these guys have to hit shots and he’s hit ’em.”
Tidbits we learned from this exchange: Lisa Salters has really grown in this past week, and Phil Jackson tried to warn the Lakers to keep up the pressure in the second half and they didn’t listen to him.
So that’s it. Did you learn anything from these furtive, shifty coaches? Me neither. Here’s my advice for the TV networks: I would sell that time to a sponsor — say, the fourth “X-Men” movie that’s coming out — and have sideline reporters involve the sponsor’s product in some way. All proceeds would go to struggling NBA teams like Memphis, Phoenix, New Jersey, Indiana, Milwaukee and Sacramento, or as I like to call them, “The Purex Six.” Each interview would unfold like this:
Sideline reporter: “Coach, how important was it for your team to get off to a good start, what do you have to do to slow down [Opposing Player X], and are you happy with your team’s energy and how they handled the tempo out there?”
Coach: “Well, you always want to get off to a good start. We don’t need to change our coverages out there. We just need to execute them. And we need to play with a little more energy. I thought we let down near the quarter break a little bit.”
Sideline reporter: “Are you excited for the new ‘X-Men’ movie?”
Sideline reporter: “It premieres May 2, and they say Hugh Jackman has never been better.”
Coach: “Looking forward to it. My kids love Hugh Jackman.”
Sideline reporter: “Back to you, guys!”
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. For every Simmons column, as well as podcasts, videos, favorite links and more, check out the revamped Sports Guy’s World.