Stan Van Gundy Opens Up About Press Conference With Dwight Howard; Jeff Van Gundy Offers His SupportSeptember 17, 2012 – 8:00 am by Steven Cuce
Stan Van Gundy has been relatively quiet since being let go by the Orlando Magic in May. He’s been in media hiding for quite some time outside of one interview that appeared here on SRI back in mid-August.
Appearing on a Grantland podcast earlier this week, Stan decided to open up about the press conference that blew up the Magic’s 2011-12 season and put himself in quite an awkward position with Dwight Howard. This fascinating interview also included Jeff Van Gundy alongside his brother giving his take every step of the way. If you have the time, this interview is a must-listen.
Stan and Jeff Van Gundy joined Dan LeBatard of the Miami Herald and Jon Sciambi of ESPN on a Grantland.com podcast to discuss the inside story behind the Dwight Howard press conference where Stan claimed Dwight wanted him fired, Stan’s approach to telling the media the truth about Dwight wanting him fired, Jeff not knowing about Stan’s approach to the press conference, the Dwight Howard press conference being a big deal, being honest with the sports media as a head coach and the hypocrisy of NBA Censorship.
Jeff Van Gundy:
Did you know about the Dwight Howard press conference where Stan came out and said ‘Dwight Howard wants me to be fired.’? Did you call Stan immediately?
“No. I didn’t even know about it because I don’t watch every day and someone sent me a text and said ‘You gotta go online and see this.’ So I did. It was great, but my point is I thought, frankly, in a lot of cities they would have instantaneously taken the player’s side because let’s face it the writers themselves need the players more than they need the coach and so usually, and especially the national media, will always suck up to the players and the agents so that they can be their sources sometimes of truths and sometimes 0f half truths and sometimes of complete fabrications more than they’ll go to a coach because they don’t need the coaches and they know the coaches are going to be changing a lot more than the players and the agents will.”
Stan Van Gundy:
Dwight Howard comes over and puts his arm around you. You’re feeling what in this press conference at that moment giving you have an idea of what just happened?
“The story behind it is Dwight was…I’m doing the press conference inside. I got most of the media and Dwight had walked around the outside, so he hadn’t come through the gym, so one of our beat writers catches him on his way out after the walk through and he’s talking to him and he [Howard] has no idea what I’m saying. He walks in with his supposed show of support, having no idea what I just said. Quite honestly in that regard, he got caught in a very difficult situation because he had no idea what had been said.”
Did you think it [Dwight Howard not knowing what he said in the press conference] was funny as it was happening?
“I didn’t think it was funny. I just wanted the hell out of there.”
When did it wash over you that the press conference was going to be a big deal?
“Look, it was already a big deal before he came in and he put his arm around me. I knew that when I answered the question about do you think Dwight is trying to get you fired, when I answered that question I knew it was going to be a big deal. You knew the question was coming, so I had time to prepare for it. It’s not like it came out of the blue and I just [answered] off the top of my head. I gave some thought to whether I was going to answer this honestly, or no comment or I am just going to lie. I thought it through, but I knew it would be a big deal. …I didn’t really know what happened with Dwight and I would become a bigger deal at that point.”
Jeff Van Gundy:
If put in the same situation as Stan would you have answered that question in the press conference the same way?
“I am going to say this: I never had a guy not sort of fabricate a whole [situation] like what he did. I was fortunate. I had some pretty straight shooters that they would have said, ‘Hey get that little guy out of here.’ They would have told the media the truth. Patrick Ewing being the best. … In New York I had Ewing and Allan Houston, even though he gets a lot of criticism. Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming were straight up guys. I didn’t have to deal with brands.”
In that spot would you have answered the question honestly?
“I don’t know. Until you get to that point it’s east to say what you would do, but I will say this, until you coach you don’t know what all the behind the scenes, and frankly the thing I was more amazed at is people were dissecting whether he should have told the truth or not. That’s the thing that irritated me the most of everything. You have people in the media saying he shouldn’t have told the truth. What? I thought the media wanted the truth? And now when you get criticized for telling the truth? I was shocked. I could see why a fan would say maybe he shouldn’t have, but I could not understand for the life of me anyone in the media doing anything but applauding. Someone in the media saying, ‘Finally someone just … told the truth.”
Stan Van Gundy:
Is it worth it to tell the truth to the media as a sports figure?
“I don’t know. See I don’t even think in those terms necessarily. Is it worth it? I don’t know. It’s certainly a lot easier. When people ask me about being honest? It’s a lot easier if you just get a question and answer it honestly. That’s a lot easier for me. I’m not smart enough I don’t think to say, ‘Okay how I am going to massage this?’ You have to give it a lot of thought to answer a question honestly. I’ll say this in the situation with Dwight: What’s hard is, because of his injury that came up almost immediately afterwards, we were actually dealing with it at the time. We didn’t get to see how everything played out. My intent at the time was, there was so much speculation, I knew it would be a big deal for a day or two, get all of the BS done. Let’s put it out in the open and it will sort of die as a story. Speculation can be ongoing. Now once it’s out there, you can talk about it for a while and then it dies. I think that’s what would have happened and we could have gotten back to… yeah, there’s disagreements between Stan and Dwight but we can get back to playing basketball. I think that started to play out already within a week or so, 10 days, but then he’s down with an injury. All of that went out a window.”
Jeff Van Gundy:
Did you ever call up your brother and say why did you answer the question that way in the press conference?
“I would never say what Stan did with Howard’s situation was a mistake at all. I thought it was great.”
Stan Van Gundy:
In Jeff Van Gundy’s response to he would rather be known for having good results when coaching his teams than have good relationships with players:
“What people have to understand [with the Dwight Howard situation]…That in particular was calculated.What you’re calculating is not what the media response is going to be or anything else. You’re making your decision on what my team needs. I didn’t break a story there. That story had been out all year. All I did, basically, was confirm it, get it done hopefully, and try in our locker room to get rid of the BS. Saying, look, ‘I know what’s going on. I’m not afraid of what’s going on. We’re going to go play basketball now and get it done.’ That’s really what the calculation came down to. I think that is what Jeff is saying. I don’t think we’re different than any other coaches. You are not out there saying, ‘How is this going to play out in the media? What’s my image going to be?’ Your thoughts are, how is this going to affect our team?”
Why was it necessary there to give an honest answer about Dwight Howard wanting you fired?
“I didn’t necessarily see anything in my locker room. I just had been around long enough that when you get these rumors that the media loves, however it comes up. Whether it is results or relationships or whatever is going on where the whole ‘coach on the hot seat thing,’ that overtakes everything in your locker room. A lot of times coaches are perceived as their jobs are on the line and everything is going to change. I wanted it to be perceived as, ‘Yeah this happened and I don’t give a damn. It doesn’t bother me. Let’s move on and play basketball.’ You’d have to ask the other guys who were there, but I’ve talked to a few of them. You could poll everybody. I think it actually played out the way I would have wanted it, with everyone. Dwight was obviously pissed off about it. The rest of them, I thought it played out the way everybody wanted it to. [Host: How?] I think they got a respect. I think they had respect for me, anyway, but I think they got a respect of, basically, he doesn’t give a damn. Dwight wants him out of here. He knows it, number one. He’s not in the dark wondering what’s going on. He’s not naive, he knows what’s going on. He wants to just stay focused, which was the part the media left out, but our players didn’t. He just wants to stay focused on us playing well. I think it’s exactly what played out.”
Would the Dwight Howard press conference story have died if the Magic played better?
“The hard part of the whole situation is that it never got to play out because of Dwight’s injury. I will say this: he only played in two games after that. One of them was one of the most, I hesitate to use this word with any athlete in any sport, but it was one of the most courageous games I’ve seen a guy play. When we played in Philadelphia, he could literally barely walk. And he stayed out there and played 40+ minutes and did everything he possibly could. And our whole team did. We gutted out a great win. Dwight was still pissed at me for what I had said afterwards but that locker room was the best it had been all year. But that was the last time he ever played. I can’t say it would have continued that way, but nobody knows. That’s the hard part of the situation.”
On his approach to handling the Dwight Howard situation once Ric Bucher of ESPN reported that Magic management was going to let Dwight decide the fate of himself and GM Otis Smith?
“I knew the best approach was our management needed to resolve the situation one way or another. Fire me, extend me, or make some sort of statement. Our management would not or chose not to do that. My choice then became, are we going to just let this go on? It wouldn’t have been the last Ric Bucher story or Chris Broussard story on the thing. Or are we at least going to bring some closure to it? Then that’s the choice I made.”
After your firing you went into hiding for quite some time. You disappeared from the media for a few months. You never see that and you were so silent. Why?
“This goes back to Jeff’s point. I find that a lot easier. I wish we had that option in the NBA. Jeff brought this up and its true. The NBA…David Stern demands that we are accessible beyond belief, but then will fine us or bring criticism when we step out of line. That has pissed me off to no end. Not with the media, but with the league. That you’re going to make me see the media every single day at least once. On a game day, after my walkthrough, then I got to do a radio show for the team, then I got to meet with the media before the game, then I got to meet with the media after the game. You’re going to go through this all year, but if you at any time step out of line then we’re going to slap $35,000 on you. Meanwhile David Stern, who’s a very smart, very calculating guy, has said some things that he’s been criticized for that have been totally out of line and he speaks to the media like three or four times a season. It’s absurd what the expectations are that we are going to see the media every day and answer questions and never step out of the line. Then at the (league implemented pre-season) coaches meeting that will be held in September, talk about accessibility, accessibility and accessibility. Any coach and one guy will be brave enough to question that maybe we should shouldn’t be quite as accessible to give the media totally unfettered accessibility and David Stern will beat them down in front of everybody. It doesn’t add up. It’s totally unfair, but that’s the way it is in our league.”