Earlier this month, Tacko Fall became one of the first NBA players to be live interviewed in a public forum where any fan or hater can listen in. Podcaster and sports reporter Wayne Cole landed the interview on “The Cole Show”; a live chat room held on the rapidly expanding Locker Room app. The full show was later uploaded to Cole’s podcast, “The Sports Counselor.”
In the over hour-long interview, Fall touched on everything from mental health, to his prominent image, to the challenges of never really knowing whether or not he will see the floor any given night. During the Q-and-A, we asked him about recent comments from teammates regarding the Boston media. Jaylen Brown said they make it hard to talk about things, and one bad game can be carried into the next. Marcus Smart said “fans, media, and just everybody forget that we’re human.” Fall sided with the players and spoke about the damage the reproving media can do.
“Sometimes I feel like it’s very uncalled for. I’ve seen some of it, and…there’s a lot of things that people don’t see that we are able to see being on the inside,” he said. “One being the amount of sacrifice that all the player’s make…I can tell you, there’s nobody that wants to win more than them, because they’re the ones that are in the gym night in and night out. They’re the ones that may stay weeks without seeing their families.”
The point Fall makes was exemplified during the 2020 NBA Bubble. Players quite literally spent weeks without any outside contact. His comments came shortly after Brown expressed concerns with the external pressure put on the young stars well as Jayson Tatum‘s mother Brandy taking to Twitter following a monster 53-point performance by her son.
This built-up anger is a byproduct of Boston’s problem everyone wishes they had. Two young stars blossoming together, competing for the spotlight. That spotlight, created by the media and its sensationalist attitude towards highlight reels and playing the blame game, has become even brighter with the team now struggling for a top five spot in the Eastern Conference. Instead of remembering this team has missed the most games due to COVID protocols, their allergy to team-wide health, and the youth and inexperience, articles and radio shows alike often focus on the most negative angle they can.
A couple examples of the type of stories published after a tough loss:
There are constant debates between which of the young Jay’s is better, or which one you would trade if it came down to it. It’s no wonder why Brown felt the need to communicate the issue with the media using their power to add fuel to the fire.
“Sometimes the way things are going, how much pressure we get from you guys in the media kind of makes us less open to talk or more upset about things that aren’t that big of a deal in hindsight,” he said.
Here’s a pair of tweets sent directly to Brown from 2018. The top example was following a one-point loss to the Lakers, and the second was after a road loss in Houston — the middle of a stretch where the C’s won six of seven.
Or more recently, this bold take about the 24-year-old after leading the team with 27 points, nine rebounds, and five assists. The team lost to Memphis in overtime without Tatum, Walker, or Robert Williams III.
That’s just one type of unwarranted critiques slung in the players’ direction. The pressure Jaylen was discussing is more along the lines of the articles and podcasts. Media tends to be hypnotized by the idea of generating discussion and controversy for clicks. Fall acknowledged the argument some people bring, claiming that the high salaries somehow make professional athletes unworthy of fair treatment. The players live under a microscope, with people flocking to voice their displeasure at the first sight of struggle.
“At the end of the day, we all are human beings, and all we have is the respect that we have for one another,” he said. “Once you lose that, it’s like, what else do we have?”
Fall, 25, is now in his sophomore season with the Celtics. With his limited role and anomalous height, as well as a spectacular first name, Fall has managed to slip past the majority of the media’s heat so far. But he can’t expect to avoid it forever. Even if he improves and the long-term project winds up paying off, more minutes and time in the limelight opens the floodgates of angry writers. And, should he flame out and continue his career elsewhere, then he’s a bust who never did anything for the organization.
It’s a lose-lose situation, and it’s the reason that the city’s best athletes and outlets clash. Fall wants reporters to remember how he moved away from home at 16 to pursue basketball. He came to a new country while barely knowing anyone, living with strangers as his mother cheered him on from 6,000 miles away. He’s frustrated by the cycle of loving players when they’re hot, and crucifying them when they’re not.
“There’s a lot of sacrifice that we’ve made to get to this point. It’s hard when you see some people being very insensitive to that and criticize everyone else for how they play. Life is bigger than basketball, for sure. At some point, we all get numb to [the criticism],” he said. “It took me years to get to that point where that really doesn’t matter as much. I’m really focused on my craft and I know what I’m capable of. It’s not the same thing for a lot of other players. That’s why you see a lot of them coming out talking about mental health, which is real. Especially in the social media days where everybody has a voice, good or bad. It’s just a matter of tuning it out…you have to be your biggest cheerleader. You can either listen to them or you can listen to yourself. Which holds more weight?”
Photo: (Winslow Townson – USA Today)