Mickael Pietrus, a young, talented member of the Golden State Warriors basketball squad, actually had something to say on Media Day, and it couldn't have come at a worse time.
"I want to play more," he said in his French accent. "It's time."
Pietrus was supposed to say nice things on the team's annual day devoted to optimism and team spirit. More bluntly, he was supposed to reroute all his answers to a discussion on the greatness of his teammate Baron Davis, the Warriors' point guard acquired in a trade last season. After the Baron came to town, the team finished with a 14-4 streak -- the best end-run in its history -- which only triggered fans' dreams of making the playoffs. In the off-season, the franchise sold three thousand new season tickets, which made it "one the biggest ticket sales jumps in the NBA," the Warriors' press kit boasts.
So until Davis arrived at the roundtable later in the day, reporters were happy to engage Pietrus, who kept the scribes placated with his Frenchie banter and its potential for turmoil. "It's MP time," he continued, referring to himself. "It's time to show what I can do."
Later, a photographer wanted to snap a few shots of Coach Mike Montgomery with the team's most prominent players. A Warriors employee looked around for Pietrus, who should have been included. But the 23-year-old had already changed into street clothes and was headed out the door. "I had to take a physical, man," he explained to the employee.
So the rest of the team moved on without him.
Mike Dunleavy, the team's lanky forward, lounged at a table by himself for a few moments. To fans, most of Dunleavy's three years with the team have been a disappointment. But when Davis joined the squad, Dunleavy's game finally came alive. Now, in a contract year, he'll either come out scoring big points and sign for the big dollars, or flop and earn himself a "bust" label.
Reporters eased in around Dunleavy, who in Media Days past came off as shy and handicapped by clichés. This time, however, he smiled and made eye contact -- signs of life! And inviting ones at that!
Bruce McGowan, the KNBR radio guy, asked about a game last season in which Dunleavy, in the most animated moment of his career, chewed out a referee, got tossed from the game, and then chucked his jersey into the seats en route to the locker room. It was a Dennis Rodman incident from a guy who usually looks as if he's cat-napping.
"I can do that," Dunleavy said with a sly grin, "But personally ..." -- he paused to square up his first punch line of the day -- "it's a waste of money and energy. ... But if that's what people want ..."
The reporters laughed with Dunleavy. McGowan then asked him about the college degree he earned during the off-season. "It took me seven years," the forward said, ramping up for his second joke. "Other people take seven years, but they're usually doctors and lawyers."
Again, they cackled. Even when the reporters asked Dunleavy about Baron Davis, and noted how Baron makes everyone around him better, the player remained gracious. "Yeah, even when he didn't play well, guys still played well," Dunleavy concurred. "That's a sign of his leadership."
Glenn Dickey, the ex-Chronicle columnist, arrived at the roundtable with no pen, notebook, or recorder. Just his ears and mouth. He tried to ask Dunleavy another question about Davis, but a radio guy cut him off and asked the forward about his off-season workout. Dickey sniffed at the youngster for the rude interruption as Dunleavy rambled on about lifting weights so he could "go inside more" and do battle underneath the basket. The elder waited patiently until Dunleavy finished, then asked, "What does Baron -- "
"Mike, what exactly did you work on?" the radio guy asked.
Dunleavy ignored Dickey and continued with a new answer for the radio guy.
This time Dickey looked around the media pack as if he'd been mugged. He said to no one in particular, "I guess I can't get the guy's attention." Finally, he got to ask his question: "What does Baron Davis do for your game, Mike?"
Dunleavy shrugged. "For me, playing with Baron just makes it a lot easier. It's really hard to explain more than that."
When Davis finally took his seat, the notebooks all but fanned him to a chill. One guy asked the star how he'd like to "stack up" against the other NBA point guards, as if there was a chance the player would respond: "Dead last."
"I want to finish as the best point guard in the NBA," Davis replied. "That translates to me as us winning."
Another reporter wanted to know, "Baron, the Warriors haven't gone to the playoffs in eleven seasons. Does any of that pressure rest on your shoulders?"
"You know, bring it on," Davis said softly. "We're looking to have a positive season with a positive outcome. We have the talent and personnel to do it, you know. It's just a matter of us comin' in to the gym every day, working every day, coaches coaching every day making us better. With the talent we have and the personnel we have, I definitely see that burden being lifted."
Since he descended upon the East Bay last year, Baron's scribes had anointed him as the Messiah, as He who shall lead the Warriors to the playoffs. Now that His Holiness was here before them, it was their duty to ask how he came to exist.
KNBR's McGowan took the Freudian route. And just in case Baron had any trouble navigating toward an answer, the reporter supplied a road map. "Baron," he asked, "does your calmness and confidence come from your family? Your upbringing? Anybody in particular? Mom, dad? You know, cousin, uncle? Somebody?"
It had already been widely reported that Davis was raised by his grandparents in South Central Los Angeles, and, as the Warrior faithful already knew, took his grandmother as his date to the ESPY Awards during the off-season. "Ah, my grandmother is probably the calmest person I've ever met," Davis said. "She never raises her voice or gets upset. I think that's where it all comes from. And my grandfather. You know, when they were raising me, they didn't yell or scream. We just did what we were told."
When a television guy stepped in for his sound bite -- "Baron, some of your teammates said you have it. What is it?" -- a journalist grimaced as though someone had spit in his pastrami sandwich.
Davis, however, considered the question politely. "I don't know, man, I think it's just the presence," he said. "I think I was just blessed to play this game and blessed to make it look easy. And I guess that's what 'it' is."
A few questions later a Channel 2 reporter, perhaps uneasy with his role as the party pooper, fluttered out a query: "How would, eh, worst-case scenario," he began, "that this team doesn't make it. Why wouldn't happen? Why not make it happen?"
Davis smiled, recognizing the nature of the query despite the tangled syntax. "I don't even know why you'd ask me that question, man."
The other reporters laughed. No one likes getting assailed by an athlete as the guy who just asked the Stupid Question.
"Well my point is," the reporter added, "there's always a realist."
"I can't answer that question," Davis said. "I don't even look at it that way." And then he looked directly at the reporter and drilled him with a laser beam of stink-eye. It was nothing personal, but it was clear the athlete thought little of the "there's-always-a-realist" defense.
After a few more happy questions, another reporter tried to pry at the athlete's resolve. Maybe she just wanted to get her own confident Baron quote, or her own taste of stink-eye, or perhaps, like the others, she delighted more in the glow of a truly self-assured athlete -- and one in a Warriors uniform, no less!
"Baron," she asked, "are we putting unrealistic expectations on this team? I mean, everyone is talking playoffs."
Davis sighed. He looked at his questioner. "Y'all just gonna have to find out," he said.
The original version of this story contained an error. This version has been corrected. Here is the correction as it appeared in the newspaper: We erroneously reported that San Francisco Chronicle reporter Brad Weinstein attended Warriors Media Day. He no longer works for the Chronicle, and did not attend the event.
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