A columnist’s job is a tough one.
You have got to come up with multiple ideas every week and turn them into something readable.
Sometimes, on slow days, you end up reaching a bit to stir the pot.
That’s what a Miami columnist did in suggesting that Steve Nash’s narrow win over Shaquille O’Neal in league MVP voting had racial overtones.
Immediately — and predictably — the columnist was pilloried from coast to coast, often in simple (shall we say black-and-white), shallow terms.
What the critics ignored was that in sports, race still matters in oh-so-many ways, even if unconsciously, though not so much in this matter.
The Tribune surveyed more than 80 percent of the voters who cast ballots for the MVP. And yes, there was a split along racial lines, though only a slight one.
White voters favored Nash 45-37, while black voters went for Shaq, 12-8.
But this division wasn’t anything like the one in the rookie-of-the-year vote two years ago. Then, while white voters were split between Yao Ming and Amaré Stoudemire, black voters were almost unanimous in their support for Stoudemire. Was this wrong-headed?
Not at all. From where I sit, Stoudemire should have won because he had the greater impact on the court (as he has ever since).
This year’s vote on the MVP had other unsurprising demographic twists: Voters picked by Eastern teams favored Shaq slightly, while Western voters gave Nash the edge.
And — surprise! — Canadian voters all went for Nash.
Houston Rockets forward and player representative Scott Padgett says he expects a lockout to begin July 1, but not to cost the league any games.
Coach Jeff Van Gundy agrees: "My feeling is we’ll get locked out. But I don’t think it will take up season time. I don’t see how we can do that. After everything that has happened to hockey and after . . . we had a great year attendance-wise, I can’t see going down that road again."
FUMBLING ON PHIL
The Los Angeles Lakers may have blown their chance to sign Phil Jackson.
Owner Jerry Buss said he wanted a big-name coach and indicated he expected to pay $10 million a year, a salary only you-know-who would command.
In fact, Laker sources said Buss and Jackson would meet in short order. They didn’t, and Buss flew to Hawaii for a little pre-vacation vacation, ahead of his six-week trip to Europe.
With Mitch Kupchak in Europe scouting, nothing at all is happening. Jackson’s people are said to be flabbergasted.
The Lakers did manage to make one executive decision: Raising prices. Courtside seats went from $2,000 to $2,100 (per game!) and about 2,500 lowerlevel seats went up, too.
The Utah Jazz look like they’ll be stuck in the lottery for a long time.
They’re fresh off a 26-56 train wreck, their first losing season since 1982-83, are on the hook for $48.3 million for 10 veterans next season, plus $4 million or so for the No. 4 pick (depending on how the lottery goes) and No. 27 pick in the draft.
With owner Larry Miller vowing never to pay the luxury tax, the Jazz are liable to be tiptoeing around the free agent market this summer unless the threshold takes a healthy jump.
That could limit their ability to resign Raja Bell, the only one of their five free agents they are serious about keeping.
Andrei Kirilenko’s big extension kicks in next season, starting at $10.9 million, Carlos Boozer gets a raise to $11.5 million and Mehmet Okur gets $8 million.
So the draft pick had better be able to help, because after doling out $236 million in contracts last summer (this is no misprint), the Jazz might not have many other options.
• "I think what happens a lot with virtually all of the awards is it’s all relative to expectations. The expectations on Shaq are so high, so Steve Nash goes to Phoenix and it’s like, ‘Wow, look what they did.’ Shaq’s been doing that his whole career, so there’s no wow factor with him." — Heat coach Stan Van Gundy on the MVP vote
• "Scott wants what’s fair for him. That’s logical. He has done an unbelievable job. This is a tenuous business. There’s not a lot of security. Players get the most. Those of us making decisions don’t. But I’m confident it will happen." Bulls general manager John Paxson, on negotiating with coach Scott Skiles, who is said to want a contract of $5 millionplus a season.