There is almost no one, from commissioner David Stern to Vecsey's own good friends, whom Vecsey hasn't trashed. "He's honest," says Isiah Thomas. "Sometimes it stings, but he calls it as he sees it." A college dropout who served two years in the Green Berets in the mid-'60s, Vecsey torpedoed his career at the New York Daily News by accusing legendary News columnist Dick Young of hypocrisy on a 1976 radio show. In 1993, when NBC reported Michael Jordan's gambling debts to golf buddy Richard Esquinas and broadcast an interview with Esquinas, Vecsey went on the air and said the network's coverage was "irresponsible," an "embarrassment."
"I killed NBC," Vecsey says. The man who hired him, executive producer Terry O'Neil, never spoke to him again.
O'Neil wasn't the first. The fact that Vecsey is often ahead of his peers—he was the first to report in 1997 that Orlando Magic coach Brian Hill would be fired, the first to interview former Golden State Warriors guard Latrell Sprewell after his suspension for assaulting his coach last December, the first to assert, in April, that Lakers vice president Jerry West was planning to resign—is overshadowed by the mean-spiritedness with which he dispenses information. Over the years Vecsey has used clever nicknames to praise ("Larry Legend" for Larry Bird) but more often to savage players, coaches and even his competitors on other newspapers: Spencer Heywood ("Spencer Driftwood"), M.L. Carr ("Minor League"), Mike Lupica ("Pee Wee Vermin"). When writer Harvey Araton was covering the Hubie Brown-coached New York Knicks for Vecsey's own paper, Vecsey dubbed him "Hubie Brown's suppository."
"It's a disgrace that this guy represents us," says Layden, who has tried to have Vecsey removed from NBC. "He hurts good people. Look at his attacks on Lou Carnesecca and Magic Johnson. He sees people on the ropes and he hits 'em low, after the bell." Layden feels that Vecsey drags the network and the league into the gutter. "The Post? That's as low as you can go, I guess. But NBC? The NBA? Come on. You can't polish a turd."
This, of course, delights Vecsey, not least because he's sure his father would be delighted, too. For all his caution, the old man had a bomb-throwing bent he couldn't hide. "He'd tell me one thing, but I knew he meant the other," Peter says. "I gravitated toward what I knew would please him." His father has been dead 14 years. Peter tries to please him still. It is why he takes pride in having stood his ground in 1995, when Miami Heat coach Pat Riley—whom Vecsey had dubbed "gutless" and "a phony" and "The Quitter Within" for resigning as Knicks coach by fax—confronted him in an Orlando Arena hallway and unleashed a profanity-laced tirade during which the two men nearly came to blows. Who cares if they don't like him? Peter Vecsey matters.
"I don't talk to him," Riley says. "I have no respect for him, because he tries to hurt people. And his brother is just the opposite."
Imagine the surprise. You are an NBA executive, coach or player, and after a few years you've just about reconciled yourself to the fact that you'll always have that glowering mug shot of Peter Vecsey in the Post watching your every move. Then, one day you're Joe Barry Carroll, notoriously lax center for the Warriors. Vecsey has labeled you Joe Barely Cares. You're going through the motions in a layup line in Madison Square Garden, and you hear a rich, classic Noo Yawk voice. "Hey, Joe Barry!" Vecsey, standing next to a man with an Abe Lincoln beard, is waving you over to the press table. "Meet my brother George, he's a sportswriter with the Times."
You stop, you blink, you wait for someone to explain the gag. But no one's laughing. Honest Abe is still there. And all you can say is, "There's two of you motherf——-s?"
Yes and no. For to say merely that there are two New York sportswriters named Vecsey is like saying the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the Statue of Liberty both attract tourists. George, 58, succeeded the Times's legendary columnist Red Smith and has been writing eloquent essays for the paper's million-plus share of the nation's Range Rover-driving, plugged-in, self-reverential elite since 1982. His subtle criticisms come off like a series of paper cuts—annoying, painful but never lethal. He has never destroyed anyone. Peter, 54, has a weekly audience of millions between the Post and NBC, and his slash-and-burn style embodies the excesses of his newspaper. "He writes the way he plays basketball," says Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan. "You come away with bruises."
Last Dec. 5, both Vecseys reacted to the Sprewell affair in typical fashion. Peter quickly dispensed with Sprewell, saying he was not worth the money in his contract, and then delivered some body blows to Warriors owner Chris Cohan and coach P.J. Carlesimo: [Cohan] gave crazy money to a crazy player and gave absolute power to someone who only knows how to abase it and the people under him. It's like the Iran-Iraq war all over again. You were hoping they'd both lose. George, viewing the scene from his usual Olympian distance, mocked Sprewell, the league and Stern in prose so airy that the victims could be forgiven for not realizing they'd been hit: It is not good to throttle your coach, or anybody else for that matter. It's downright bad form, particularly in a league trying to sell a lot of television space and sneakers and tickets costing up to four figures. But more important, there is the health and safety and emotional well-being of the throttled person....