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Memphis travelblog: Headline dominates the day

by Berry Tramel Modified: May 2, 2014 at 2:45 pm •  Published: May 2, 2014

Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant (35) celebrates beside Memphis' Marc Gasol (33) after a dunk during Game 6 in the first round of the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum in Memphis, Tenn., Thursday, May 1, 2014. Oklahoma City won 104-84. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant (35) celebrates beside Memphis' Marc Gasol (33) after a dunk during Game 6 in the first round of the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum in Memphis, Tenn., Thursday, May 1, 2014. Oklahoma City won 104-84. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

My Thursday began with a 7:30 a.m. phone call. Woke me up.

I’m always awake before 7:30. But we had a late night getting to Memphis, a late dinner, then I went back to the hotel and stumbled upon a Richard Gere movie I never had seen, “Primal Fear.” Decent movie, should have turned it off, but it kept me riveted until about 3 a.m. Then I fell asleep. I had no idea what headline was over my Kevin Durant column in the Thursday Oklahoman, which you can read here.

That 7:30 phone call alerted me. An irate reader. And so began a day of dealing with the “Mr. Unreliable” furor, which extended to ESPN shows and national radio shows and TNT’s pregame show Thursday night.

By now you know all the particulars. I don’t write my own headlines. Most of the time, I don’t even know what the headline is going to be. Most of the time, it doesn’t matter. It mattered Thursday.

It was not an appropriate headline. Durant is absolutely reliable. Heck, he’s been mostly reliable in this limited context of the Memphis series. You knew exactly what you were going to get. It’s just that what you were going to get was not up to Durant’s usual standard, which is why the Thunder was down three games to two in the series. My mention of reliability was that Durant had become unreliable at the foul line in this series, making 28 of 39 (72 percent), after shooting 88 percent for his career. I don’t think some people even read what I wrote. I don’t think they got past the headline. Not that they should have.

The headline was not properly vetted. The system failed. People were outraged and you can’t blame them.

It meant a busy day for me. Hundreds of emails to be answered. A bunch of media requests, everything from FoxSports1′s pregame show to Fox Sports radio national to OKC television newscasts to radio shows around the country. Nothing but a hassle, but requests I needed to fulfill, because we didn’t want to give the impression we were trying to shirk our responsibility and our corporate culture is one of admitting mistakes. And that was my message. No, I didn’t write the headline, but it was a bad headline that shouldn’t have made print.

I went to Thunder shootaround Thursday morning in part because I believe when you write something stinging, you have to show your face. I don’t know if what I wrote was all that stinging — the gist of my column was that Durant was struggling and needed to play better — but if it was, I needed to make myself available for Thunder rebuttal.

I had no idea of the national furor until about noon. Maybe no one else did, either. Thanks to two mighty forces — Twitter and ESPN — the headline spread like wildfire. Then TNT’s pregame show poured gasoline on the fire.

There for awhile, I couldn’t even keep all my commitments straight. And I was so distracted, I guess I wasn’t listening properly. I went on the air with ESPN radio in Miami, and I could hear their chatter before I joined them, and I heard one of them say that Oklahoma City wouldn’t even have an NBA team without (hurricane) Katrina, except I thought he said, “casinos,” and when I came on, I straightened them out. Told them it was ignorant to say we had a franchise only because of casinos. Oil, yes. Casinos, no. Then they told me the guy said Katrina, and I was dutifully straightened out.

I went on the air with old pals Tim Cowlishaw and Matt Mosely in Dallas. Did my own Sports Animal radio segment with Traber and Eschbach. Went to the arena and did a couple of shows.

I only had two respites. I broke for lunch with my friend Bill Weppner and a friend of his. We went back to Central Barbeque; I had sausage and chicken. It’s the best place I’ve eaten in Memphis.

The other respite was the game. Great performance by the Thunder. Fun atmosphere, as the Grizzlies fans smelled blood and instead were steamrolled.

Just what the Thunder needed. Just what Thunder fans needed. Just what The Oklahoman needed. A good ballgame, and the Thunder season extended.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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