Lithuania legend Arvydas Sabonis announced he and coach Joas Kazlauskas would be leaving the national team set up. Emmet Ryan says there’s no right or wrong way to react.
Beneath the 7ft frame of a giant lies a man. Forget the Olympic success, the triumphs in Europe and the NBA. Ignore, if you can, his status as a living legend and hall of famer. Focus just on the fact that for all of the great things we know about Arvydas Sabonis, we still don’t know all that much about him as a person. We don’t know what makes him tick. Remember that when you look at the comments he made on Tuesday.
As reported by Simonas Barauskas, Sabas is leaving the Lithuanian national team set up. So too is Jonas Kazlauskas. This announcement, while expected, came after Lithuania made it all the way to the final of EuroBasket for the first time in a decade. Sabonis said the duo were stepping down because of intense pressure from the media and asked the press to be more gentle going forward.
As a journalist, this kind of argument is hard to stomach. The most fundamental talent we have is reporting on the talents of others. Sabas knows this and has been in the crosshairs for the guts of three decades. The split will be easy. Many will side with the legend and criticise the media for bringing too much heat. Just as many will contend he should be able to handle it, indeed I posited as much in this paragraph. Yet perhaps we should look at it from a third perspective.
Maybe both sides are as right as they are wrong.
Few journalists get up in the morning looking to bring stress or pain to people. It’s part of the job sometimes but those that actually relish inflicting suffering are a small and sick breed. I’ve certainly met some but the vast majority are regular people with regular problems and are fairly reasonable. Likewise few ballers actually buy into the mythos built by the media. Most of them are, admittedly often wealthy, regular folk too. The idea of someone writing and reporting on their every act may be an occupational hazard but that doesn’t mean they have to like it.
So what of Sabas? Clearly the heat of working in one of the most pressured environments in basketball wasn’t what he wanted. Kazlauskas had led Lithuania back to the top table, Sabonis was by his side, yet still the scrutiny remained because that, quite frankly, is our job.
He may very well be right in saying it’s because of the media that he left but that’s no fault of the fourth estate. Sabas and Kazlauskas had their fill, got far , and decided they were both better off elsewhere. We only talk about it because of the profile of the jobs but fundamentally this was a case of two men thinking about their work-life balance. Time to up sticks, find something different.
As for the being gentle comment, hey the dudes did a good job. I’ve thick enough skin to let it slide and the rest of the media should too.