December 21 - December 27, 1995

Buried Lede

B y  T o m  D a n e h y


THIS IS GETTING ridiculous. Last week, in what had to be the biggest high school basketball game in Tucson in the past 15 years, Tucson's Salpointe Catholic High, led by senior center Brian Smith's 41 points and 25 rebounds, beat Phoenix Shadow Mountain, 105-95. Shadow Mountain had come into the game undefeated, top-ranked in Arizona and ranked nationally. Salpointe played inspired basketball and dominated the game in front of a rabid sold-out throng.

But what do we read in the morning paper the next day? An article about the best player on the Phoenix team, how he felt that he played a bad game, how he has skinny legs, and how the media hounds him.

You had to go halfway through the article to find out who won and by what score. I'm sorry, I never took any journalism classes in school (don't say it!; that would be too easy a cheap shot to take), but even I--along with just about everyone else from the sixth grade on up to Social Security--know the lead for that article should have been along the lines of: "Everyone came to see Shadow Mountain's Mike Bibby, but it was Salpointe's Brian Smith who stole the show in a 105-95 Lancer win."

That's just basic stuff. Hey, even Shakespeare said, "The game's the thing." Or he would have if they'd had basketball in Elizabethan England.

You want to do a piece on Bibby, run it as a sidebar to the game story. I mean, what a game it was! I've never seen anything like that in Tucson.

People were lined up at 2 p.m. to buy tickets for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff. The crowd was unbelievably loud and raucous. Police were throwing people out of the gym. Heck, in usually laid-back Tucson, you need police to get people into the gym. The game itself was incredibly well played, and the whole night had a wonderful state championship-like intensity.

You never would have known it from reading The Arizona Daily Star's coverage. It was all like, "This great player came to town, got seen by the locals, played lousy, so his team lost."

His team didn't lose; Salpointe's won.

(In all fairness, it must be mentioned here that I have a certain affiliation with Salpointe Catholic High. However, that does not color my judgment. I'd be screaming for better prep coverage if Sunnyside or Sahuaro or Tucson High had beaten Shadow Mountain. 'Course, if Tucson High had done it, it should be covered by Newsweek. Or maybe Ripley's Believe It Or Not!)

The Star had a wonderful opportunity to showcase an outstanding local team and high school sports in general. Instead it made the focus of the coverage the fact that this kid is a Wildcat-in-waiting. Pathetic.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I'm still generally satisfied with the Star sports page (although they appear to be working extra hard lately to change my opinion). They do an okay job with the space they have. But they're really making a big mistake by cutting back high school coverage while adding nature nonsense.

Just last week they ran a front-page article in Sports about the leaves changing colors in the Pantano Wash area. Who cares about that and why is it in Sports? What's next, gardening tips alongside the box scores?

Hey guys, The Weekly is the paper that's supposed to be aligned with the Birkenstock-wearin', granola-eatin', non-competitive, let's-take-a-hike people. You guys are supposed to cover things that appeal to us meat-eating, blood-thirsty football types. Do your job.

Getting back to the article (which was written by Javier Morales, who--big surprise--covers the UA basketball beat), you have to be stunned by its focus. Look at the breakdown:

• The first paragraph mentions Bibby and Michael Jordan.

• The second graph simply reads, "Or is it?"

• The third mentions UA center Joseph Blair and Shadow Mountain High.

• The fourth mentions Jordan again and talks about the Arizona Fall Baseball League(?!).

• The fifth mentions four UA players, and tells how Miles Simon was instructing Bibby on how to play.

• The sixth talks about a former UA player and mentions Pima College.

• The seventh quotes Bibby on the subject of the crowd.

• The eighth talks about the media, Bibby, and his future at the UA and in the NBA.

• The ninth talks about his height and his skinny legs. I'm not making this up.

• Finally, in the tenth paragraph, we learn the score of the game. And even then, Morales strays. He starts the graph by saying, "It could be argued that (Bibby) was not even the most impressive player on the court."

Argued by whom? Ray Charles? Everybody who was there saw Bibby get worked by Smith and his teammates. Bibby didn't play well? He was only 11-for-31 from the field, but the tenacious Lancer defense, led by John Ash, had a lot to do with that.

• The eleventh paragraph has a quote from Smith, but then...

• The twelfth paragraph is back to Bibby, and how he's in a league of his own.

When the story continues on the inside of the paper, there are 18 more paragraphs. Four deal with the crowd and the size of the Salpointe gym, two offer excuses for why Shadow Mountain didn't win, and all the rest are about Bibby, quotes from Bibby, quotes from Bibby's coach and quotes from Bibby's mother!

Fortunately for us, they ran out of room before they could include quotes from Bibby's girlfriend, his Sunday-school teacher, and his proctologist.

I have little doubt that I'll be cheering for this guy next year. But last week, he wasn't the focus, he wasn't the star.

He shouldn't have been the story.

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December 21 - December 27, 1995

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