Saturday, March 17, 2007

Pollard cracks joke, details at 11

The distance between the end of the bench and the starting lineup in the NBA is the distance between galaxies.

It was never more apparent than in the Cavaliers' win over the Pacers last Sunday, when Scot Pollard, who is now certifiably the 15th of 15 men on the Cavs roster, let loose with one of his trademark irreverent jokes while mugging for the camera in a suit and tie.

During a timeout, while his uniformed teammates were busying themselves with the Xs and Os of the game, a cameraman caught Pollard milling around and zoomed in, undoubtedly hoping Pollard would do something funny, as he usually does.

The cameraman got his wish. Pollard took his seat at the end of the bench, made a few comical faces to the camera and said four words he'd later regret:

"Hey kids. Do drugs!"

The comment was obviously in jest. Pollard is a father himself, so it's a pretty safe bet to assume he doesn't want anybody's kids doing drugs. After he made the comment, he followed with a raised-eyebrow facial expression that smacked of "Did I just say that?"

Yes, Scot, you did. To thousands and thousands of TV viewers. It took a couple of days for the outrage train to pull out of the station, but when it did, Pollard was forced to own up and apologize publicly, lest any Scot Pollard-worshipping youngster with a Mohawk/samurai ponytail/mutton chop hairdo decide to purchase his first vial of crack.

It's amazing it took until midweek before the shockwaves reached the headlines section of all the major sports Web sites. By then, Pollard was already apologizing, the Cavs were already not-condoning-his-actions-izing, and the whole thing was being swept under the rug like so many dust bunnies.

But Rich Harsar, a member of the outraged-parent brigade who was quoted in The Plain Dealer this week, brought up a good point:

"If it's LeBron James, what happens? He would lose endorsements, and it would be a front-page story across the nation."

If LeBron James looked into a camera and said "Hey kids, do drugs," there would be hell to pay, a wrath incurred like few athletes have ever faced. You think LeBron was vilified for his alleged pre-all star break coasting? LeBron would be smeared by everyone from Les Levine to Bill Simmons to Jay Leno. He would never live it down. Suddenly, it wouldn't just be cool for non-Cavs fans to root against LeBron. It would be their self-imposed duty.

LeBron's endorsements would dry up as quickly as Kobe Bryant's did in the wake of the rape charge levied against him four years ago.

And all for a four-word joke.

We can scoff all we want at how cushy the lives of professional athletes are. They make millions of dollars, they have gaggles of adoring fans, they stay in posh hotels on the road, they travel with team massage therapists to work out the aches and pains of daily life. But there is a tradeoff. Fame is the sharpest of double-edged swords.

You have to watch your behavior every time you step into the public eye. If you crack an off-color joke, lose your temper and flip someone the bird, or make a temporary ass of yourself under any circumstance, the microphones and cameras will be there to capture it, or at least capture the fallout. It's magnified exponentially when you go from Scott Pollard, who is sitting next to the security guard and towel boy, to LeBron James, who dances with Damon Jones during opening introductions.

In the end, the Pollard incident underscores what a dud of a year this has been for him. He knew he was the fifth wheel of the Cavs' big man corps when he signed, but now he's being left on the inactive list in favor of Dwayne Jones.

Pollard is being a pro about it, but you'd have to think he regrets signing here. He is 32, healthy, playoff-tested and still has some gas left in the tank, but he hasn't used much of it in what has amounted to a wasted year for him.

An outspoken basketball player with too much time on his hands and a camera present is a combustible mixture. It might have been avoided had coach Mike Brown elected to put him in uniform. But apparently Brown has no interest in doing that.

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