The day before the NBA Draft, the league invites most the players it believes will be selected in the first round to meet with the media at the Westin Hotel in Times Square. The following day, the players, looking resplendent in their sharp suits, shake hands with NBA Commissioner David Stern on ESPN.
Mo Harkless, the former Forest Hills High School and St. John’s Red Storm star, as well as the 2012 Big East Rookie of the Year, was not invited to last week’s NBA party. The league’s snub made no sense considering that it was universally acknowledged he would be chosen in the first round, plus the fact that it has become increasingly rare for a player from New York City to be in that elite category.
To his credit, Harkless showed up at the Prudential Center last Thursday night and met with the press after he was chosen by the Philadelphia 76ers, who had the 15th selection. Harkless claimed not to fear his stock was dropping like the Facebook IPO when he learned the NBA would not invite him to the “Green Room” festivities. He also did not express any joy about playing in a city only 100 miles from home. The fact that the Sixers will be visiting the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks three times each didn’t seem to mean much either. He wouldn’t even concede that Rosa, his mom, had to have been happy Philly picked her son.
I’d like to offer Mo some unsolicited advice. The media and the fans in Philadelphia can be brutal. That town loves athletes who give it their all and risk their physical well-being to win. Harkless should not have a problem there. But Philly fans and media expect their players to show some emotion, and yes, even smile once in awhile. Mo’s tendency to give sullen one-sentence answers, suggesting a blunted affect, will hurt him. The Sixers should hire a communications expert to work with him, something St. John’s clearly did not do.
Four years ago Yankees media relations director Jason Zillo created HOPE (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) Week to recognize unselfish individuals who do extraordinary things to help others. It’s safe to say that the Yankees under Zillo’s aegis have become the gold standard in the area of Major League Baseball’s community service endeavors.
Last Tuesday morning, Yankees personnel, including star players Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, visited the Woodhaven home of Jorge Munoz to help him with his daily preparation of meals that he makes for day laborers in Jackson Heights who might go hungry if not for his efforts. That evening Yankees general manager Brian Cashman helped Munoz distribute the meals underneath the 7 train tracks at 73rd Street and Roosevelt Avenue.
Speaking of community relations, hats off to World Wrestling Entertainment for putting its muscle behind the “Be A Star” anti-bullying campaign. Last Wednesday the WWE dispatched grapplers Marc Henry and Zack Ryder, as well as ring announcer Lilian Garcia, to Coney Island’s MCU Park, where they spoke about the dangers of bullying to Brooklyn Cyclones fans before their team’s game with the Hudson Valley Renegades.
Cyclones manager Rich Donnelly, who grew up in Pittsburgh and was a longtime Pirates coach, told me that he was a big fan of professional wrestling growing up.
“I loved watching Killer Kowalski and Bruno Sammartino, who made his home in Pittsburgh,” said Donnelly.
ESPN has lost two of its top female personalities recently. Last month Michelle Beadle left Bristol to join NBC Sports. Last Sunday, FOX Sports announced it had inked a contract with Erin Andrews, arguably the best-known ESPN personality behind Chris Berman. I guess there was a reason why ESPN selected Sage Steele to host its Upfront presentation to ad buyers and the press last month.
There was understandably a lot of hoopla about the silver anniversary of sports radio WFAN, whose studios were located for most of their existence at Astoria’s Kaufman Studios before a relocation to SoHo. Contrary to popular belief, WFAN did not invent the concept of folks calling in to talk sports on the AM dial.
In the 1960s Bill Mazer had the first sports call-in show on the very much missed WNBC-AM, whose 660 frequency on the dial WFAN now occupies. The late Jack Spector and legendary Yankees radio voice John Sterling hosted weeknight sports talk shows on WMCA in the early 1970s. Sterling played the role of the pompous know-it-all host that FAN afternoon drive-time personality Mike Francesa has perfected. With Sterling it was a tongue-in-cheek act; I am not so sure with Francesa.
Former Mets third baseman Robin Ventura was named the manager of the Chicago White Sox last winter to the surprise of many, because he had never managed professionally anywhere. The White Sox were at Yankee Stadium last weekend and I asked Ventura how he was enjoying the world of personnel management.
“You mean human resources?” he said with a hearty laugh. He does like the challenge of managing in the big leagues but added that spring training was rough. “There were too many people I didn’t know, and of course it’s never easy to break the bad news to those players I had to cut,” he said.
The NBA agreed to allow the Knicks to try to re-sign both of their free agents, Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak, to the higher dollar limits allowed under the old Larry Bird provision. That means the Knicks can now invest in both a quality free agent from another organization as well as being able to bring back Lin and Novak.