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March 26, 2015 Updates

When Tramel got home, after midnight, he got a text message from his niece’s husband. It was then he realized that his encounter with Westbrook was a “thing,” in the new-media sense. “Hey, Berry, just texted you to see if you’re OK,” the message read. “Just know that I still love you.” It was as if Tramel had been in a terrible accident or charged with a crime. Grantland

That was the funny thing about Tramel’s conflict with Westbrook. He and Westbrook weren’t mad at each other. Never had been, really. They didn’t even know each other, despite sharing a locker room for seven years. “I could have been from Syracuse for the way he acted,” Tramel said. “[But] that’s not really Russ’s fault, I don’t think. I think the culture created that.” By “culture,” he meant the invisible handcheck that pushes reporters away from athletes. The disconnect that permeates monthly YouTube clips starring Westbrook or Marshawn Lynch or Phil Kessel. What created such a culture? Follow me, if you will, into the Thunder locker room … Grantland

It gave the encounter the feel of a highly personal, Deion vs. McCarver grudge. But Andrew Gilman, who writes for FoxSportsSouthwest.com, said Tramel wasn’t the target. After all, the first reporter Westbrook stiffed that night was Nick Gallo, who writes for the team’s website and whose business card says “Web Content Manager.” “When people ask, ‘Why doesn’t Westbrook like you?’ I have two standard answers,” Tramel said. “My joke is: He really does, he just doesn’t know it yet. My true answer is: He really doesn’t dislike me anymore than he dislikes somebody else. He couldn’t pick me out of a crowd.” Grantland

Royce Young, who writes for ESPN and DailyThunder.com, also noticed something strange that night. Durant was watching Westbrook from two lockers over. And Durant was laughing. Grantland

But Westbrook can also be unnecessarily harsh on reporters. One night, a game ran late. Darnell Mayberry, the Oklahoman’s senior Thunder reporter, was up against deadline. He brought his laptop into the locker room to move quotes directly from the players’ lips to his copy. Mayberry sat in a chair in front of an empty locker. Westbrook saw him and told him the chairs were for players only. Mayberry got up. But then a funny thing happened. Backup point guard Reggie Jackson took his chair, wheeled it across the locker room, and offered it to Mayberry. Remember that when you wonder why Jackson now plays for the Pistons. Grantland

More than once, Durant has accused Mayberry, the toughest of the Thunder reporters, of angling for a job in a bigger market. Durant is sophisticated about the media, but he’s not above the old trick of using a perceived slight for motivation. On December 8, 2013, Paul George visited Oklahoma City. Grantland

“Durant at the All-Star Game said, ‘The media’s not our friends,’” Tramel explained. “Well, he’s right. Nobody on a serious journalism level pretends to be. But with the Thunder, there’s not even an acquaintance. There’s no relationship.” It was a gripe I heard again and again from the Thunder press corps. Nobody held a grudge against Durant or Westbrook. They knew the locker-room scrums would produce a poor harvest. What frustrated the press corps was that the players — especially Durant and Westbrook — remained largely out of reach. Grantland

But in the Thunder locker room, there’s a watchfulness that prevents all but the most formal interactions. Reporters said that nearly every time they approach a player, even with tape recorders holstered, a Thunder PR rep sidles up to listen. “If you have a conversation with a player about parenting, someone is going to be standing right there hovering and trying to steer it whichever way they think it should go,” Mayberry said. “That’s the kind of culture they’ve created here. No one has a personal relationship with any of these guys.” Grantland

This poisons the locker-room atmosphere in much the same way as limited access. “Any question I ask that’s perceived as threatening is going to look worse when these guys are asking softball questions,” Mayberry said. It turns the basic work of journalism into enemy activity. The in-house media has another effect. If Durant and Westbrook talk for tightly controlled amounts of time, questions from team employees can run out the clock. Grantland

The next time they met, Tramel asked Westbrook a question. Westbrook answered it with something other than a Lynchian catchphrase. No one remembers what was said. They simply moved on. “I’m actually more encouraged about our relationship now than I was before,” Tramel said. “Because it’s literally the first time he ever acknowledged that he knew who I was.” Grantland

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Jeff McDonald: Since several have asked: As a general media policy, Spurs tend to treat their players as grown ups who can decide who to talk to and when. That's not to say there aren't occasional frustrations with access, but generally we're allowed to cultivate relationships with these guys. And I think that's good for both parties. You tend to get better info from people who you sort of know, rather than a stranger and on the flip side, it's harder to completely rip an athlete who knows who you are and will see you the next day in the locker room. Twitter @JMcDonald_SAEN

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