CHICAGO — Jerry Sloan somehow managed to log 23 seasons, win 1,127 games and reach two NBA Finals with the Utah Jazz without snagging an NBA Coach of the Year Award. But he wasn’t able to exit entirely without lugging home some personal hardware. Sloan was named the inaugural winner Tuesday of the 2011 Rudy Tomjanovich Award, a new honor created by the Professional Basketball Writers Association to acknowledge an NBA coach each season for his cooperation with the media.
Other awards announced Tuesday: Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant was selected as the 2011 winner of the PBWA’s Magic Johnson Award, given annually to the NBA player who also is a willing and helpful media guy. And Indiana media relations director David Benner and his Pacers staff are the winners of the 2011 Brian McIntyre Award, which goes to a PR crew that goes above and beyond for PBWA members.
Sloan, for those who covered him and his teams, was always a mug of black coffee in a frappuccino and latte world. He didn’t write reporters’ stories for them with clever metaphors or provocative, full-paragraph quotes. But he answered questions directly, said what was on his mind and often asked questions back to those interviewing him, more dialogue than monologue. He had a blunt, straight-forward way of dealing with the media that truly did belong under the tractor caps he often wore on practice days.
Mostly, Sloan always “got it” that reporters are generally working stiffs with a job to do. All NBA head coaches are required to meet, sometimes three times daily, with the folks wielding microphones and cameras and most are affable about it. Sloan managed to keep it casual and no-nonsense even in this media-glutted millennium. Tomjanovich, the former Houston Rockets coach, was the same way.
Durant is appreciated by PBWA members for his accessibility in an era when many NBA stars ignore league media rules about pre-game chats, something in which legends such as Johnson and even Michael Jordan engaged. If NBA fans only knew how difficult or restrictive some of the league’s biggest names in dealing with the media — which really is the primary link to those fans/customers — they might view those players differently. San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili, Philadelphia’s Elton Brand and Chicago’s Derrick Rose, who finished second, third and fourth in the balloting, similarly “get it.”
Benner, a former sportswriter, has been one of the league’s most cooperative media directors. Forceful, too — I’ve seen him tell a player or two who might otherwise have ducked out a back door after practice that, no, he would meet with this or that reporter first. Should the media be catered to? Of course not. But in many cases, they are the public’s best way to know the participants, learn about the game and get their questions answered. McIntyre, the longtime NBA media boss who stepped down from daily duties this season, understood that while ushering the league into a global spotlight over three decades.
The PBWA, headed by President Doug Smith of the Toronto Star, represents approximately 150 members working in print or for Internet sites. The group also handles balloting for the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, while many of its members are among the panelists chosen by the league to vote for postseason awards such as MVP, Sixth Man and so on.