by Larry Bisagni
About 25 years ago, former Houston Oilers and Atlanta Falcons head coach Jerry Glanville famously quipped to a referee that NFL stood for “Not for long.”
Another professional sports league acronym that has gained steam since the book released by Paul Palladino about the NBA, is that it stands for “No boys allowed.”
D’Angelo Russell clearly didn’t receive the message.
By now, I trust that you have either seen, heard the audio, or are familiar with a video that Russell filmed of Nick “Swaggy P” Young, asking questions in a hotel room about his involvement with other women. Young is engaged to Aussie pop star Iggy Azalea.
What Russell did was not a prank, not a joke, and not in any way, shape, or form, funny. This isn’t a dorm room with two NAIA ballers, so we aren’t talking about a small social media infraction. Regardless of whether Young’s alleged infidelities did or didn’t transpire, his recording and releasing Swaggy P’s exploits is so outrageous and extreme in degree that it goes beyond all possible bounds of respect for a teammate, and can only be deemed atrocious and utterly intolerable on a professional roster.
I don’t care what your chosen vocation may be: You never get between a couple, you never air someone else’s private life, and you never do either of those things in such a public arena. Russell grew up with the web, so he knows damned well that once you put something out there, you never get it back. The Internet doesn’t come equipped with a reset button.
I’m not going to get into the situation between Azalea and Young. To me, that isn’t the problem at hand here. Does Iggy have a right to be upset and perhaps leave Swaggy? Absolutely. If anyone found out in such a publicly humiliating manner that the one they are to marry was carrying on extra curricular activities, he or she would have every right at the very least to reconsider whether or not marriage should remain in the cards. Should the pair choose to remain a couple or part ways remains to be seen, but it isn’t up to Russell to get between the two of them via social media and air Young’s business.
Further, this isn’t Salt Lake City, Milwaukee, or Memphis. This is the entertainment capital of the world, and the Lakers are the undisputed most beloved franchise in Los Angeles. Yes, more than the Dodgers. It doesn’t matter that the Clippers are headed to the playoffs and the Lakers are once again headed to the lottery: we are talking about the Lakers. There is an additional responsibility in playing for one of the crown jewels of the Association, and the spotlight will always shine prominently on the purple and gold.
I have no idea how many locker rooms I’ve been in with a microphone and sometimes a camera, but one thing has always been abundantly clear: from college sports to the pros, athletes do not have to be best friends to be successful. Whether it has stemmed from jealousy over media coverage, or being benched for another player, I’ve quietly observed guys who were cordial at best to teammates, but mature enough to transform into pure professionals once they had a microphone under their nose, or ran out onto the diamond, the pitch, the field, the hardwood, or skated onto the ice.
Oftentimes, a respected veteran will stick around for a year or two longer than he is truly productive as it relates to the competitive action, because he is classified as a “good locker room guy,” or something along those lines. They pick up the pro pay check for reasons that cannot be quantified in the box score. They are the psychologist in cleats or high tops; the one that can pick up a teammate when someone is in a slump, or can be a sounding board through a divorce, the death of a parent, or any multitude of trying scenarios that we as human beings deal with in life. It’s not that easy for someone who lives in the spotlight. He or she cannot vent publicly due to the profession they have chosen.
The one non-negotiable that teammates have to have is trust. It’s simply non-negotiable. Players have to know that they have each other’s best interest at hand, and can count on one another to have their back under any circumstances. They travel the continent together, and watch out for one another, regardless of whether they are the best of friends or go their separate ways once practice is over. In other words, they are literally and figuratively on the same team. They police themselves.
The only thing I can think of that is worse than being labeled a selfish teammate is being one who cannot be trusted. Cozying up to someone else’s woman or airing their business fractures the locker room in an irreparable manner, and I can’t help but wonder whether Russell wasn’t trying to do both. Under no circumstances can you be seen as going after a teammate’s squeeze, but you never want to be labeled a rat, or even suspected of being one. Ask Adam Archuleta.
After the 2005 season, Archuleta one of the most sought after free agents in the NFL. Archuleta joined the Washington Redskins via a 6-year contract that made him the highest paid safety in the league. Fast forward to the regular season. In an article written by ESPN’s Tom Friend, all signs pointed to Archuleta being the culprit of airing locker room laundry. Teammates repelled him like he had his own magnetic field. He was unceremoniously shipped to Chicago for a late draft pick, but the damage was done, and Archuleta quietly retired a year later after failing to make the roster of the lowly Oakland Raiders. If you consider his later comments, that his lone year in Washington was “utterly miserable,” you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to read the tea leaves on that one.
The ultimate fallout in Los Angeles remains to be seen, but clearly this has had an impact on the floor. Regardless of the lack of talent in Lakerland, they are coming off a tie for their worst loss in franchise history, and there is no way to measure how many losses have come about due to this juvenile vitriol. Byron Scott was already on thin ice; unfortunately, there is a strong probability that he will pay the price for this nonsense, whether it is just or not. Bad things happen to good people every day.
People will quickly point to Russell’s age and talent. He just turned 20, he was the second overall pick less than a year ago, blah, blah, blah. As my mother would say to me when she called me out, horse pucky. This is the cardinal sin of sins, and it doesn’t go away. If you can’t be trusted to act like an adult with your teammates, how can you be trusted to run a team as the starting point guard? I hope I’m wrong, but his childish “prank” may ultimately be a one-way ticket to career suicide.
No boys allowed, D’Angelo. No boys allowed.