King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Larry Brown plays dumb, fumes, stomps his feet -- and still won't deny the Cleveland story. Plus: Heat hopes fade with Shaq. ESPN to NHL: No, thanks, we'll run test patterns.

By Salon Staff
Published June 1, 2005 7:00PM (EDT)

Pistons coach Larry Brown, angry at reports that he's already agreed to take a job running the Cleveland Cavaliers front office, fumed at the media Tuesday at Detroit's morning shoot-around. He complained about stories that relied on anonymous league sources.

Amusingly, he feigned naiveté about this standard and important journalistic practice on the day that the identity of Deep Throat, the most famous and most historically significant anonymous source of our lifetimes, was revealed.

"Who are the league sources?" Brown asked. "And why would somebody write that instead of being up front and saying who it is? Why would you do that? I heard about compensation from some guy who said we're seeking compensation. Where would you get that? Where would you get that? Why wouldn't you just say who said that?

"Don't just come out and throw things. To have somebody keep repeating themselves like that? That's not fair. I am coaching here. I have never changed in what I said."

Brown, a smart and educated man, knows full well why reporters use anonymous sources. Because they're willing to supply information only on the condition their names not be revealed, usually because that would cause them harm. It's a foundation of a free press.

It's not a perfect system. Democracy can be messy that way. Reporters and editors have to rely on their judgment to determine if their anonymous sources are reliable, and the public has to rely on its judgment to decide whether it believes the report. Sometimes the judgments are wrong.

And sometimes the practice can be abused, as Brown also knows. And he knows, his weak protests Tuesday notwithstanding, that this isn't one of those times.

Did you notice anything missing from his wounded remarks? Yeah, me too. A denial that he's going to Cleveland. Brown broke up the impromptu news conference just as a reporter was saying that all this talk won't go away because Brown refused to deny the rumors.

He walked away, leaving only his usual non-denial denial: "I am coaching here."

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Pistons tie series, Heat in trouble [PERMALINK]

To a man, the Pistons said the Brown situation hasn't been a distraction and hasn't affected their play, and it certainly looked that way as they pounded the Heat 106-96 in Game 4 Tuesday night.

This Pistons played a turnover-free first half, for crying out loud, and were just about as good as you can be on both ends of the floor all night.

The series goes back to Miami Thursday night tied 2-2, and I continue to think things are looking bad for the Heat.

The problem, I think, is that Miami is in for diminishing returns from Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq had his worst game of the series by far Tuesday, getting into foul trouble early and playing only 25 minutes. He had 12 points, five rebounds and no blocks and was never a factor.

It was not a coincidence that O'Neal had a solid Game 3 following three days off and then a not-very-good Game 4 after one day off. Shaq is 33. He's on the downside of his career -- though of course he had and still has a long way to go down -- and he's injured.

Even a year ago, even two and three years ago, without as serious an injury as his deep thigh bruise, O'Neal was at his best when he had more than one day between games.

Now, he's wearing down badly, and I don't think he's got enough in the tank to take games over the way he needs to for the Heat to beat the Pistons, especially the way this series is being called by the officials, which is to say tighter than a South Beach Speedo.

Tuesday night, for example, Tayshaun Prince of the Pistons was called for a foul after literally grazing a shooter with his pinky. This wasn't atypical. There were 62 fouls called in Game 3. The average Pistons game this year had 43 fouls. The average Heat game had 47.

Knowing the whistles were going to come hot and heavy, the Pistons drove at O'Neal whenever he was in the game. The whistles came -- 58 fouls overall -- and Shaq was gone soon enough, and when he was in there he was even more tentative than he already had been because of his bad leg.

I hesitate to say this not because I don't believe it but because I said something similar about Reggie Miller right before he went off in Game 6 against Detroit, but I'll say it anyway. As Shaq goes, so go the Heat, and Shaq's going downhill.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

ESPN to NHL: We're not playing either [PERMALINK]

ESPN is getting out of the NHL business.

The network says it won't exercise a one-year, $60 million option on its deal to carry the league's games should they be played this year. The first year of the contract was wiped out when the 2004-05 season was canceled after the owners locked out the players.

ESPN will let its option on the second year, already pushed back once as owners and players representatives continue to negotiate, expire Wednesday.

ESPN executive vice president Mark Shapiro told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that talks with the league had broken down.

"We're not playing games here," he said. "We wanted to get a deal done."

You'd think ESPN's approach would appeal to the NHL. Not playing games, after all, is what the NHL does best.

Shapiro said ESPN had been willing to sign a new deal for a significantly lower rights fee, and that it would have considered a contract similar to NBC's arrangement with the NHL, in which the network pays no fee but shares revenues with the league.

The NHL wouldn't go below that $60 million price tag.

"When the now-expired contract was negotiated," NHL spokesman Frank Brown said in a statement, "the $60 million option price took a work stoppage -- potentially a long-term work stoppage -- into consideration. We have no interest in further devaluing the product."

Which is funny because that's exactly what the NHL has been doing every day for the last nine months.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

  • Bookmark to get the new Kaufman column every day.
  • Discuss this column and the sports news of the day in Table Talk.
  • Send an e-mail to King Kaufman.
  • To receive the Sports Daily Newsletter, send an e-mail to

  • Salon Staff

    MORE FROM Salon Staff

    Related Topics ------------------------------------------