What I Learned at ESPN: We're All Idiots When It Comes to NBA Rookies
We often got rookies wrong ... very wrong
First of a series: What I learned at ESPN
Sam Smith emailed me 19 years ago:
“Tell Calhoun that Ben Gordon can’t play.”
I was Sam’s new editor at ESPN, and his quip was a cheeky reference to Jim Calhoun, who had just coached UConn to its second NCAA title.
But Sam — an NBA legend for covering Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and writing The Jordan Rules — was also watching the Bulls crap the court nightly, with No. 3 pick and former UConn All-American Ben Gordon especially awful.
The Bulls started the season 0-9, and Gordon — an instant-offense guard — commenced his career shooting 34% in those games, averaging 10 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist.
And then … Gordon proceeded to grab three straight Rookie of the Month awards, lead the Bulls to the playoffs with frequent fourth-quarter heroics, and win Sixth Man of the Year in a runaway vote. He remains the only rookie to win the award. I never did speak to Jim Calhoun.
Sam had fallen victim to a classic temptation, one that’s lured me and most others who’ve attempted to cover the NBA: Believing we know something about NBA rookies based on what they do early in the season.