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Using the Media as a Weapon: The David Griffin Strategy

Jon Nathan Raby

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Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when David Griffin became the Vice President of Basketball Operations of the New Orleans Pelicans? Remember when he hired Aaron Nelson to head up the training staff? Remember when he promised significant upgrades to the training facility? Remember when he made everyone know that this team belonged to Jrue Holiday? Remember when he said it at least half a dozen times?

Yes, of course you’re sitting there saying “Yeah, I ‘member,” because you’re a Pelicans fan reading a Pelicans blog. But I bet you also would remember even if you weren’t as Locked On™. And the reason for this is because David Griffin has been everpresent in the media since the day of his hiring. He has done podcasts, TV interviews, press conferences, everything short of QVC infomercials to get his team-building agenda into the stratosphere. It’s clear that part of his agenda is to be this ubiquitous force in the NBA world. And he’s doing a very good job of it.

The latest evidence of this fact is a Sports Illustrated feature on Griffin, masterfully penned by Jake Fischer, that zooms in on Griffin’s complete rebuild of the once-hapless franchise. There are a lot of juicy nuggets in this piece, and I’m sure Rachel Nichols and company are gearing up to discuss the tiniest bit of shade that Griffin threw on LeBron and the Cavaliers about his time in Cleveland. But the more important thing to note is how this article reads like a fluff piece about a Presidential candidate written by his campaign manager. Griffin’s body of work is lauded and praised at every angle, each decision he has made with the Pelicans relentlessly rubbed. No mention is made about any mistakes Griffin has made in his career. And there is also heaps of praise for Gayle Benson in the piece, which echoes what Griffin has been saying about his team governor ever since he was brought on. The article is just one more in a trend of profiles about Griffin. Positives are accentuated, flaws are hidden — this has been standard with any coverage about Griffin and the Pelicans since the lottery balls fell in their favor. It’s heartening to hear and read as Pelicans fans, but it’s also a little scary. Is David Griffin really as good as these pieces say? Can anyone be that good?

The last article I wrote was about the Anthony Davis trade, and how the reaction to it gave the team the sort of praise that Pelicans fans had been clamoring for, the acknowledgment from the national media that the Pelicans were being run the right way after years of ineptitude. And in the month that has followed, it is clear that trend is continuing, and I think most of that can be attributed to Griffin buying real estate in the sports media talking space.

The SI piece talked about Griffin becoming re-energized by working for NBATV, and I think something else happened during that sabbatical — Griffin learned to appreciate the relationship of media and front office. Media can report, but it can also serve as a messenger, a way to broadcast one’s ideas in the world. Griffin is using his experience in the media to use it to his advantage, and he’s likely using his connections to do so too. It may not be explicitly part of his plan, but I’m sure many members of the media at least subconsciously hold Griffin in high regard because they know he was part of their ranks not half a year ago, and so they naturally treat him with respect and admiration.

I’m not saying that Griffin is only getting this much pub because he’s chummy with reporters — if you tuned into the Locked On Pelicans livestream two weeks ago you’ll know that I’m more positive about this team than I ever have been, and that I think Griffin has been doing an amazing job. But I do think that running a team isn’t just about making the right moves for the franchise. It’s about being a salesperson, pitching your agenda to everyone who will listen. It’s clear that Griffin is trying to make the Pelicans an attractive destination for free agents, and he figuratively shouts it through a bullhorn at the end of the SI article:

Should the experiment one day yield positive results, when the next dissatisfied superstar like Anthony Davis surveys for greener pastures, New Orleans will have both founded an inviting destination while stockpiling the future draft assets to pull the trigger. “We’re going to put a different energy in the universe. It’s going to attract who it’s meant to,” Griffin says. “You won’t get everybody, but that’s OK. Get the right ones.”

Griffin is putting “a different energy in the universe” by building his team, but he’s also putting that energy in by appearing in these interviews, by constantly being on the newsfeed. A friend of mine said recently, “I can’t even remember what Dell Demps sounds like, but I can hear David Griffin’s voice in my dreams.” It’s inevitable to compare Griffin to the previous decision-maker, and this is an area where they were clearly different. If you look for articles about Dell Demps, you basically can only find things about his firing, or about David Stern calling him a lousy general manager. He didn’t go on publicity tours — his secrecy and failure to disclose injuries bugged the media to no end. And in the end, that made him an easy target — and his poor decisions didn’t help matters.

That’s only perception, and Dell Demps wasn’t as bad a GM as the media says, just like there’s no way David Griffin is as good as the media says. But that’s part of the landscape in today’s sports world. It isn’t only about the product on the court, it’s about everything off the court too. Griffin understands that well, and it’s clear he’s using it as a weapon to turn the Pelicans into a contender not just in the league, but for the nation’s attention as well. Time will tell if these moves are the right ones, but based on the current trajectory, these positive pieces will only continue, and Griffin may end up more than earning the praise.

Jon Nathan Raby, from New Orleans, is the creator of The Footbawl Blog, a satirical and irreverent take on the NFL. His work has also been seen in The Postgame and the Yahoo Sports Contributor Network.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jeff

    August 1, 2019 at 1:26 pm

    I’m convinced Dell Demps sounded like Truman Capote.

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