The Redeem Team, besides that whole "restoring American basketball dominance" thing, proved to be excellent ambassadors during their stay in Beijing
. I bet David Stern couldn't have been happier unless there were two of him. (Not an implausible notion, and it would explain a lot, but I digress.) Still, the overwhelmingly positive Olympic experience reminded me that there have been other not-so-great moments in NBA international relations. To wit:
On February 28, 2001, the Sacramento Kings visited the Golden State Warriors and ran way with a 122-101 victory
. But what they won on the court was soon lost in the ensuing public relations nightmare: Sacramento point guard Jason Williams had gotten into a shouting match with some fans during the game. A particularly nasty shouting match
The fracas started when a man named Michael Ching, who was sitting behind the Kings' bench, told Williams to "Get used to sitting on the bench." White Chocolate, known far and wide for his clever eloquence
, responded with: "Are you gay? Are you a fag?"
Since it was entirely possible that Ching did not, in fact, prefer penis over vagina, Williams moved on to the next best thing -- racial epithets! -- calling Ching a "slant-eyed [bleep-bleeper]" and and saying that "I will shoot all you Asian [bleep-bleepers]. Do you remember the Vietnam War? I'll kill y'all just like that. Just like Pearl Harbor, do you remember that?" Then, to underscore his rather statement (which was rather dubious, historically speaking), Williams pantomimed shooting a machine gun at Ching and even made machine gun sounds with his silly mouth.
Unbelievably, the immediate followup to this confrontation was a visit from an arena security guard, who threatened to remove Ching and his friends
from the game, claiming complaints had been made against Ching for the incident. Understandably outraged, Ching demanded to speak with someone from the Warriors' front office. He had to wait until the end of the game, but he finally got to speak with Robert Rowell, the Warriors' vice-president of Business Operations. Rowell promised that "something would be done."
Unsatisfied with that rather vague resolution, Ching wrote a letter about the incident and mailed it to Warriors owner Chris Cohan, general manager Garry St. Jean and Rowell; Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof; and NBA commission David Stern and deputy commissioner Russ Granik.
More than a week passed before Rowell got back to Ching. I bet Ching was expecting some sort of heartfelt apology. What he got instead was a stern reprimand for sending out the letter. According to Ching: "[Rowell] said, 'You know I don't appreciate you doing this, going to all this stuff."
Meanwhile, the story had hit the press...and Williams was completely unrepentant. "People say all types of things to me, curse words, talk about weed, everything. They can get personal with me, but I can't get personal with them, I guess. Hopefully, I'll learn my lesson one of these times."
Sounds like he learned a lot, huh?
And still no action was taken by the NBA front office. I know it seems hard to believe, since we live in an era in which players are punished for standing up off of the bench and Kobe Bryant has been suspended twice for accidentally smacking people in the face during jump shots, but it's true. Another week passed before the league finally took action
, fining Williams $15,000. In response to the fine, Williams issued a written statement
with a canned apology that was dripping with sincerity: "I did not intend any disrespect to the Asian community or any other community. I was wrong and I apologize."
Somewhat ironically, this incident caused Nike to cancel a Williams-centric advertising campaign
which would have digitally altered the color of Williams' skin from white to black. (Said Nike spokesman Scott Reames
: "The premise is that there's no black basketball and no white basketball. Jason's point is, 'I play basketball; it doesn't matter what color my skin is.'") Nike, of course, claimed that the decision was made before the Ching controversy. That's Nike for you
It's unknown whether the league forced Williams to attend a diversity training workshop, but rumor has it that Shaq left a message with his agent that said: "Tell Jason, 'ching-chong-yang-wah-ah-soh.'"
Labels: Classic quotology, David Stern, international relations, Jason Williams, Nike