Backstage at The Arena in Oakland during NBA All-Star weekend, a turnabout took place: Athletes lined up to speak with a reporter. As Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal and Rockets rookie point guard Steve Francis conversed chummily with NBA.com TV's Carlos Diaz, Suns guard Jason Kidd stood off-camera, patiently awaiting his turn. Pistons guard Jerry Stackhouse strolled by, and soon he too was in line for a Q and A with Diaz. Clippers rookie phenom Lamar Odom had to leave to search for a friend but promised that he'd be right back.
All this cooperation by the league's biggest studs was for a network that is available in only 6.6 million households. Somewhere NBC's Jim Gray is seething. TNT's Craig Sager is so distraught he's considering donning a navy-blue suit. "I've gone on the air live with more than 50 athletes today," Diaz had said earlier. "[Timberwolves forward] Kevin Garnett put me in a bear hug and said, 'I love you guys.' "
Why shouldn't he? While NBC and TNT may be in bed with the NBA, NBA.com TV is wearing the league's pajamas. Garnett, O'Neal and their peers can assume that queries from the likes of Diaz will be nonconfrontational. "I've never felt limited," says Diaz, an energetic, sharp 29-year-old who cut his network teeth at ESPN from 1997 to '99. "If the facts are there, we are going to report them."
Perhaps, but at last weekend's festivities, in-your-face journalism was absent. Diaz jovially emceed events such as Friday's Legends Shootout. Stylistically NBA.com TV had the feel of The Blair Witch Project. Handheld cameras unabashedly peered into locker rooms. Diaz and colleague Dei Lynam worked principally without a script. Athletes were filmed and miked almost without cease. Also like last summer's guerrilla-filmmaking hit, NBA.com TV was promoted almost exclusively on a Web site, in this case—you got it!—NBA.com. "We're the convergence of television, the Internet and basketball," said Diaz. "What we can do is give you more NBA than anyone else in the world."
About that Diaz is correct. Last weekend if ^^ you wanted to see the highlight of the Slam Dunk Contest—Raptors forward Vince Carter's between-the-legs number—35 more times, you just had to stay glued to NBA.com TV. If you wanted to hear what Tracy McGrady thought of the slam, you needed only to remain tuned in. Just remember that Blair Witch was a hoax and that NBA.com TV, for all of its unparalleled access, less resembles the Fourth Estate than it does Orwell's Ministry of Truth.