This man needs no introduction: an APSE winner several times over, Oregonian columnist John Canzano has been accosted by Oregon coach Mike Belloti’s wife in the press box, had to deal with the Portland Jailblazers for several years (that’s where the quote in the headline comes from), and he even covered Bob Knight for a year in Indiana. Some great stuff here, folks.
Q: Let’s start with arguably the greatest press box story of 2007: Oregon coach Mike Belloti’s wife verbally attacking you for something you’d written about her son, who was the recent recipient of two DUIIs. Just how nutty was that scene? Did anyone warn you that she was ticked off? Paint the picture for us, and since this isn’t a family newspaper, feel free to include the Nanny’s foul-mouthed tirade. Did you hear from her or anyone in her family after your blog post?
The scene was mostly just sad. It shouldn’t have gone down the way it did. I wasn’t completely caught off guard because she’d followed me out of the post-game news conference a couple of games before, and was pretty ticked, and took issue over something I’d written about how important it was for Mike to beat Cal, and his former assistant Jeff Tedford. That time, she just hurled some insults about my hair and stormed off.
I didn’t blog that one. But I did reach out to her husband, letting him know I was available if he wanted to talk about things because you know very well that they’re having that same discussion at home.
I’m always accessible, especially after writing a critical column. I walk back in the next day, and if someone wants to talk about what I’ve written, I’m here. Let’s talk. I had a pretty heated but healthy discussion with Raiders’ receiver Tim Brown over something I wrote while covering the NFL at the San Jose Mercury News. I’ve had healthy post-column discussions with Bob Knight, Dennis Erickson, Jerry Tarkanian, Zach Randolph, and whoever else. What’s important is preserving the working relationship, and I think being willing to engage with the subject post-column helps you do that. But where this crossed the line for me is when Colleen decided to take this second outburst into a working press box, and also, she’s grabbing my jacket and threatening to slap me, and making a scene.
At that point, she’s making this public, and I need to address it in some fashion. I pretty quickly decided this didn’t belong in a column. It wouldn’t have been fair to the readers who wanted to read about football, not some bald-headed sports columnist who is trying to write with a coach’s wife attached to his suit jacket. The NY Times blogged it from the game, too, and at least one radio station talked about it on the post-game, so I was glad I addressed it.
The scene has already been chronicled. The most troubling part for me was that she had her youngest son, about 10, and some of his friends there as part of the group she’d assembled to help her confront me during the game. The kid was embarrassed and was trying to pull his mom away. He was acting with remarkable maturity. As for the nanny, she was holding an infant in her hands and spewing expletives. I’ll just say, make sure you know who you have hanging around your children, because holy hell that woman could cuss.
Q: There was a stretch there when the Blazers were the biggest joke in the league. We’ll get to the Oden era in a moment but first, we’d like your three best (told or untold) JailBlazer stories. And somewhat related – living in a relatively small city, were you ever mildly worried about your safety, especially since the cops said Zach Randolph rolled with gangbangers?
Jason Quick, The Oregonian beat reporter who covers the team, has seen far more than me. He deserves some kind of honorary beat-reporter medal for enduring what was the worst locker room in all of professional sports. There’s wide speculation among some Blazers employees that Sebastian Telfair was not accidentally carrying that gun on the plane in Boston that day he was busted for a concealed weapon, but that he was carrying the gun all the time because Telfair might have feared the entourage of a couple of teammates who didn’t like him. Maybe he had reason. Just before he was traded to the Knicks, someone on the gang enforcement team at Portland Police Department told me to pick up the MTV Cribs episode that featured Zach Randolph because the police had a copy, and noticed some disturbing details about the unsavory people who hung around Randolph.
Here’s three random ones, off the top of my head…
Whenever the Blazers sign a player to a 10-day contract the equipment manager provides the player with a free set of team-issue luggage. Sort of a welcome gift. Nothing incredibly fancy, but it’s way better than the stuff I have. So Omar Cook is signed a couple of years ago, and the luggage is placed in front of his locker. Cook was flying in from out of town, so he’s not there yet. Ruben Patterson, the team’s registered sex offender, sees the luggage, knows Cook isn’t around yet, and Patterson basically just decides he’s going to abscond the luggage. He just rips the name tags off and takes it. Nobody says a word, either. It’s not anything violent, but it demonstrates the lack of decency and respect that permeated.
Another time, in the visiting locker room in Dallas, I had Rasheed Wallace threaten to punch me after a playoff-game loss. Deadline was approaching, I’m the only writer in the locker room and I’m asking Rasheed questions, and he whips around, and tells me to get out of his space or he’s going to punch me out. At that point, his teammates are all looking to see how I react, and in no way am I going to back down. I’m looking at Rasheed, and thinking if he takes a swing I’m going to try and stuff him into the locker behind him if only because journalists everywhere need me to man up in that situation. Either that, or I’m going to get knocked out and blow my deadline. So I tell him I’m not moving. I just stand there, holding my notepad and recorder, and we’re staring at each other. He eventually storms past me to the shower, and while he’s gone Zach Randolph, a rookie then, leans in to me and says, “When ‘Sheed comes back, make sure you don’t have your back to him. He’ll sucker punch you.” The great irony is that a month later Randolph sucker-punched Ruben Patterson during a practice breaking his eye socket. Someone was holding Patterson’s arms when Randolph threw the haymaker. There was a period of a few days after that incident where Randolph hid out at Dale Davis’ house because he feared that Patterson was going to try and shoot him.
Here’s my favorite story, though. Blazers back-up centers Ha Seung Jin and Nedzad Sinanovic were locked in the Blazers practice facility together for the summer, playing against each other because they needed the work. Ha, who is 7-foot-3, had come back from South Korea out of shape, then was hampered by tendinitis in his knee, and so he’s getting schooled by the 7-foot-4 Sinanovic, from Bosnia.
The two were tussling and tangling on the court. It’s getting pretty heated, and they’re yapping and cussing at each other, most of which neither can understand because of the language differences. And as the players usually do at the end of a workout, the two players were shooting free throws together in silence. Sinanovic went first, then it was Ha’s turn.
That is, until Sinanovic made his final free throw, then retrieved the basketball and held it. I mean, it was like watching kids bicker and fight. Ha walked over and snatched the ball back. Then, Sinanovic said something unkind and two men ended up on the ground in a pile of swinging elbows and fists.
The fight was broken up by Blazers trainers and team managers, who are all about two feet shorter than the two players. Ha, who took a good punch in the face from Ned, was screaming, “I’ll sue! I’ll sue!”
The two were escorted to different areas of the practice facility to cool off. Normally the story would end here. Except Ha’s neutral corner happened to be the team weight room. He picks up one of those long wooden poles that players use to stretch. Ha just comes running out of the weight room swinging the pole and screaming expletives in Korean. He really went after Sinanovic, who blocked one swing with his forearm but took another shot in the ribs before someone ripped the pole (think: closet dowel) from Ha’s hands and threw it across the courts.
If you didn’t have the fight in you before you came to Portland, you soon found it.
Q: During the low point of the JailBlazers era, as the story goes, someone working with the organization bought www.johncanzano.com in an attempt to harass you. Is this story true, and if so, how’d you find out? What was your reaction? Was the troublemaker fired?
This is a true story, yes. And I thought it was creepy. I still do. This all went down at a time when management in Portland was busy trying to make life as difficult as possible for anyone who dared criticize the organization. Management totally had its eye off the ball. I learned that a department head registered the domain name from a source inside the team’s front office. I still don’t know what they planned to do with the site. The only explanation I ever got was she registered the domain name on the advice of team president Steve Patterson, who brought the issue up in a staff meeting. So no, she wasn’t fired. She probably got a raise. I now own that domain name. By the way, someone else owns firejohncanzano.com. That one feels like it has a chance to be something someday.
Q: How big of a waste of talent was Darius Miles, and where will he be in five years?
This is a guy who could have been one of the all-time great players if he’d have worked harder, been accountable to himself and wanted it more. He has wicked athleticism, and could have played positions 1-4, and could have been an amazing defender, too. I saw him dunk on Kevin Garnett three seasons ago at Minnesota. Darius scored 48 in that game. It’s one of the only times I’ve ever seen Garnett look ordinary on basketball court. Darius could do that to anyone on a given possession. Trouble is, he’ll make a sucker of you the second you believe in him. Paul Allen had a real blindspot for Darius, and gave him $48 million when no other NBA team was bidding against him. Allen has made some dumb business moves, but that one might top them all. Darius is a bright guy, and he can be really funny, and engaging, but in the end his lack of love for professional basketball was his downfall. He doesn’t love basketball. He loves the NBA lifestyle — and who wouldn’t? The lifestyle is the only reason he tried to come back from his microfracture surgery. The Blazers have done a good job keeping Miles away from the young talent. In five years, just a stab, but I’ll guess Darius probably be hanging out in a strip club with a dancer named Hennessey, bitching to her that the Blazers never gave him a bobble-head doll night.
Q: Now for positive Portland questions: Assuming Oden and Roy are healthy next year, and assuming the Blazers get about the 13th pick in the draft – is it too much of a reach to think this team could be a Top 4 seed in the West, and perhaps a title the following year? And when you look at the immediate future, this team won’t be able to pay Oden, Aldridge and Roy top dollar … does LaMarcus become the odd man out? Or do you see this trio as the new Parker/Ginobili/Duncan?
This is a franchise that will open the checkbook and pay the luxury tax as long as it gets them deep in the playoffs. If GM Kevin Pritchard can justify spending, they’ll let him spend. I think a Top 4 seed next year is too ambitious for a team that hasn’t been in the playoffs since the 2002-03 season, but the window is about to open for this franchise, big time. I think they could win a championship in three years, and if they do, they won’t stop winning for a decade. Roy is the real deal, maybe the best star player I’ve ever been around. He’s got a little Jerry Rice in him when it comes to his professionalism, pride, and work ethic. But some in the organization still think Aldridge still has a chance to be the best player in that draft. Oden, nobody really knows how good he’ll be yet, but he’s in a position now where this whole thing isn’t resting on him. I think the plan is that those three are going to play a long time together.
Q: Were you surprised at all the anger and outrage about the perceived conflict of interest between your radio show (on a station owned by Blazers’ owner Paul Allen) and your columnist gig? Was this a few jealous co-workers upset that you were making some dough on the side, or is it something you might get worked up about if a columnist in Seattle or LA or New York had the same situation?
I wasn’t shocked at the criticism. I understand why people would ask questions. This game is changing, but we still need to be transparent. It’s the same stuff you ask when you see a journalist doing a book project with a subject, or entering into any kind of business relationship, or making appearances on the flagship of any team they might cover. I respect the co-workers who came to me and asked questions. I was very open about what I was doing, and why. My body of work stands on its own. I’m comfortable being judged on my work. What surprised me was how much misinformation was out there about the original deal. Very few people bothered to ask me how I was getting compensated. I’m not an employee of Paul Allen, or his radio station. I insisted on that. I also have 100 percent editorial control of the show.
Q: At the same time, many sportswriters have struggled or scaled-back their writing when it comes to balancing a radio show and a column (Stephen A. Smith and Tony Kornheiser come to mind; Dan LeBatard appears to be writing less now in Miami). How do you feel you’ve avoided the pitfalls?
I’m a sports columnist first. I recognize that the newspaper benefits tremendously from the exposure, and marketing, and reach of radio. I do radio, and I like doing radio, but I’m a writer first. I love being in the newspaper. I still get that rush when I walk outside in the morning to pick up the newspaper, and see what we have that day in the newspaper. I love being a part of that. I think that gives what I do on the radio balance for me. Also, I have a tremendous amount of pride in what I’m doing in print, and I want very badly to avoid embarrassing myself by ever half-assing a column. I seriously and literally couldn’t sleep at night if I wasn’t giving my best.
Q: What is a bigger honor – ranking 12th on the list of Things About Portland that Suck, winning multiple APSE awards or being memorialized by a minor league team on John Canzano bobblehead night??
The bobblehead is creepy. I keep getting reports that you can find them at Goodwill, too, which is bad for my ego. I love being on the list of things that suck, but I’m not sure whether being 12th is a compliment or a criticism. The APSE awards win for me, then. Better yet, I had the honor of working for an executive editor at the Fresno Bee once, Charlie Waters, who had the best theory on awards I ever heard. You don’t set out trying to win awards in this business. It shouldn’t be the focus of what we do, but if someone’s handing them out, I’m happy to receive one. I look at that APSE list and I’m blown away that someone would consider me in the same breath as those people. Totally humbling.
Charlie Waters remains the single greatest influence on my work. If you have a kid and you want him to grow up to be a writer, I swear send him to Charlie, who lives in Vegas, for a month next summer. I haven’t worked for him in seven years, and he’s retired, but he still reads, and critiques, and I hear his voice sometimes when I’m writing or reporting, and trying to attack a column, or sort through the wreckage of a story. Without Charlie, I’m probably not even in this business. He’s there, every time I write a column. That man has magic in him when it comes to working with writers. I know newspapers pretend they don’t care anymore, but someone should hire this guy as a consultant because as long as you’re trying to do more with less, you might as well have a man drop in who knows how to bring out the best in people. Charlie Waters is the man most responsible for that line of Fresno reporters/columnists that produced Andy Katz, Adrian Wojnarowski, Eric Prisbell, John Branch, Jeff Passan, Anthony Witrado, and David White, among others. There’s a dozen others, too, who are still working at The Bee who are also ridiculously talented, Andy Boogaard and Marek Warszawski included. Randy Sumimoto, a copy editor who came out of the Fresno Bee, is working as the weekend sports editor at the San Jose Mercury News now. He might be the best journalist in America. The people who work with him know what I’m talking about, but nobody else knows who he is because he’s working behind the scenes.
There are so many incredible writers, editors and reporters in this industry who give so much of themselves in their work. That’s my point. I read Bill Plaschke, and Ray Ratto, and Mike Vaccaro, and Sally Jenkins, and Jason Whitlock, and Geoff Calkins, and Michael Rosenberg, and TJ Simers and so many other writers and there’s just an incredible amount of talent out there. Wright Thompson, too, holy hell. Pete Thamel, Mark Emmons, Dan Wetzel, Jerry Brewer, John Ryan, Brian T. Smith and Jason Quick, I could go on and on. Sometimes it’s totally humbling to just pick up a newspaper in an airport, or jump online, and read what people in other places are doing. The next time someone tells me that newspapers are dying, I’m going to make them eat a really long Plaschke column.
Q: Some of your early journalism involved Indiana and Bob Knight. What was your recollection of those times? What’s your take on Knight’s work on ESPN so far?
I went from covering coach Knight one year to writing columns about Jerry Tarkanian the next, so I pretty much saw the entire spectrum. Knight is fascinating to me. He’s intensely competitive, and fiercely loyal. He’s the best teacher I’ve ever covered. There was always purpose in everything he did. He could be a big pain in the a–, and was intentionally difficult to deal with at times, but he could also be entertaining, and thoughtful. I covered him for one season. The beat reporters who covered him for a decade probably have a different experience. They were beat down. He’s kind of guy you love to have on your side, but loathe on the other team. As a journalist, he liked to put you on the other team. But I also think Knight gets a bad rap from people who haven’t spent much time around him. Knight had no business doing some of the things he did in his career. He was out of line, at times. We all know that. But on a daily basis, he did lots of redeeming things, and he could be compassionate, and kind, and he was an absolute dream as a beat reporter. You never turned off your tape recorder. Never. And you tried your best to avoid asking a dumb question, because he’d call you on it. He once threatened to slap my tape recorder out of my hand after I asked a stupid question. By the time I covered Knight (1998-99) his time at Indiana was winding down. You could tell he needed a change of scenery. The act was tired. He was tolerating IU and it was tolerating him. I think he’s done a fairly good job on television. Whoever hired him is a genius. There was a moment one evening during the tournament when one of the panelists on the show said he believed Wisconsin plays a boring brand of basketball. Knight went on a rant about how people shouldn’t mistake good, sound execution for boredom. He got really testy about it. It was an authentic moment, and studio television doesn’t give us many of those. Knight is always going to be polarizing figure. When he gets more comfortable with the camera, we’re all going to get some really good television. I could see him looking at Digger during the broadcasts recently, and peeking at the other announcers, and I’m telling you, the whole time I’m waiting for Digger to say something stupid because Knight’s going to call him on it, and Digger isn’t going to know what to do when he does.
We’re going to Portland. The one place we must grab a bite? Eat at Jake’s… not the grill… go to Jake’s Crawfish. Locals call it “the original Jakes.” The two places are two blocks apart so it’s confusing. Get it right. This is important. Also, for Italian food, and I happen to appreciate good Italian, try Caro Amico.
You can have any car, past or present. That car is ______. the beater that Nick Nolte drove in 48 Hours. I’m not making that up. I’m not a big car guy, but when I saw Nolte in that crummy baby blue 1964 Cadillac DeVille convertible, it spoke to me. Everyone needs a beater like that.
In college, you thought you’d grow up to be … A writer. My father was in Triple-A as a shortstop with the Mets when they won the ’69 World Series. He had amazing hands. He still holds a Carolina League playoff record for assists in a game. In college, I was playing baseball, but I had no illusions that I was going to make a living doing it. I wasn’t one of those kids who had his life all mapped out. I knew I liked to write, and read. I knew people fascinated me. They still do. I figured I’d like to try and put those things together. I have college kids ask me all the time how they can get my job and I just look at them and tell them to keep breathing. I don’t have the magic blueprint. I didn’t do an internship. I wasn’t a journalism major. My friends and I started up our own alternative newspaper when I was in college. I kept writing. Beyond that, I worked part-time at the tiny local newspaper in high school, taking calls from coaches, and knew being in a newsroom was a rush. At some point, I realized I had to be around that. That same tiny newspaper hired me about six months after I graduated college.
True or False: Kevin Love will be a better pro than Mike Dunleavy. True. Love knows how to play. He’s got exceptional hands, and he’s a winner. Those who say he’s not athletic enough to play in the NBA aren’t paying close enough attention.
How closely will you pay attention to the Olympics? I’ll be in Beijing, so I’d better pay close attention. Although, most of what interests me about these Games are things that will be happening on the perimeter of the Olympics. The access? The transparency by China’s government? The whole thing is a giant sociological experiment and we’re all going to be plopped down in the middle of it.
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