HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Not that this series needed any more fire, but those passionate fans the Hawks will see in Boston tonight got a little extra incentive from Atlanta.
When Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon called Celtics forward Kevin Garnett the “dirtiest player in the league” during a speech Wednesday, he tossed even more kindling onto an already raging fan fire.
It doesn’t matter that most of those fans in Boston wouldn’t be able to pick Gearon out of a lineup, or that his comments were supposedly made “off the record” during a luncheon sponsored by an Atlanta-based non-profit organization.
All anyone will know by tipoff of Game 6 tonight in Boston is that the other team’s owner called out the guy universally regarded as the emotional heart and soul of the Celtics the night before they have a chance to close out the Hawks and move on to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
And now that it’s all out there, courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s D. Orlando Ledbetter, a NFL writer who happened to be in attendance at the luncheon, it gives the Hawks yet another mess to deal with on the day of what is no doubt the biggest game of their season. Check out exactly what the AJC reports that Gearon said and decide for yourself how big a mess this is:
On media coverage of Hawks’ playoff series against the Celtics
“Did you see what Al Horford did last night? The timeline for recovery for his injury is another three months. He’s not even supposed to be playing and Josh [Smith] should not be playing.Zaza [Pachulia] can’t stand up, but if we can get past this round there is a chance that we can get him back. So this is a team that is overcoming adversity. I wish . . . some of the national media or even some of the local media, more the paper than the TV guys, recognize how hard these guys are playing based on how injured they are.
“On top of all that, we don’t get any calls, which I know everybody always hears. But I’ll give you a stat. Last night, we are playing this old physical team. They are old. I know what happens when you play basketball, old guys foul. [Kevin] Garnett is the dirtiest guy in the league. We are playing Boston last night and they had two fouls the whole first half. We had five times that and we’re athletic.”
On the Hawks’ injuries
“Derrick Rose goes down and the No. 1 seed is playing the No. 8 seed and everybody is like, ‘Chicago is down 3-1, that’s what you should expect with Derrick Rose down.’ Well, we’ve been playing these playoffs without Zaza, without Al Horford and Josh Smith should not be playing. Our center is Erick Dampier, God bless his heart, but he looks like a granddad. (laughter) He’s a great guy. It’s difficult enough to win a playoff series, but when you lose your whole frontline and nobody ever says, ‘Gee, you are out playing with guys that are hurt.’”
On Josh Smith and his Atlanta roots
“We wouldn’t be where we are without him. The tough thing for our team, I’m a lifelong Atlantian. I was born here. I lived the first 25 years of my life within two miles of where I was born. Right there near Piedmont Hospital. I moved to Cobb County back in 1994 when my Dad convinced me to buy a little house . . . . But the thing about our team, and it’s tough in every city. . . but when you look at the Atlanta Hawks and you know it’s tough.”
He slung a few more arrows as well, chastising some of us in the media, the referees and cracking wise on players on his own roster (Dampier’s goatee is getting grey).
It’s hardly a crime against basketball. And this wouldn’t be the firs time someone called Garnett a dirty player (Joakim Noah would laugh about this if he didn’t have so much serious business of his own to tend to).
More than anything, this is a serious case of awful timing and horrible judgment on the part of Gearon, who is good friends with Celtics coach Doc Rivers dating back to the time Rivers spent in a Hawks uniform and Gearon’s father was running the team.
Gearon is obviously free to form his own opinions, just like the rest of us. But you better believe he’ll be hearing from NBA Commissioner David Stern and his crew for some of these statements … off the record or not.
Oh, and that crowd tonight in Boston, well they couldn’t have done it without you, Mr. Gearon!