ARE WE RIGHT TO PUNISH D’ANGELO RUSSELL?

Mar 31 2016 BY Daniel Nkwocha

As many of you will have read, LA Lakers’ rookie Point Guard has come under serious fire after a video leaked of him recording a conversation he was having with teammate Nick Young. The reason why said vide is contentious is because of the topic: relations Young had with a 19 year old woman who isn’t his fiancé, Iggy Azalea. The video then found its way onto the Internet causing clear problems on Young’s engagement. Russell denies leaking the video.

The fallout of this video leaking has been huge. The promising young point guard has come under fire from all directions; being labelled a rat, ostracised by his teammates and receiving a very frosty reception from Lakers fans during a home game last night. Russell has become Public Enemy Number 1 in LA and much further afield over this video and it looks like this saga isn’t likely to end any time soon. When the bright lights of Los Angeles turn on you, it’s very hard to overcome the impending derision.

But, given the fact that Nick Young was outed as a cheat, a certain section of the Internet has responded with fury to the castigation of Russell. After all, why should you have sympathy for a man who could not even be faithful to the woman he’s planning on calling his wife. I’ve even read somewhere that the anti-Russell campaign is a symbol of male privilege and evidence that men are morally corrupt as creatures. Well let me tell you why everyone who is of that opinion has completely missed the point.

Firstly, nobody worth listening to is defending Nick Young. The rhetoric in calling Russell a rat isn’t about whether what Nick Young did was wrong or not. It was. Cheating is indefensible and when you get caught you probably deserved to be caught and to deal with the fallout from that. But, in a similar measure, what his teammate did is equally wrong because both acts are different kinds of the same type: violations of trust.

Ok so the bond you have with your wife is the one society tells you is the more important one than one to your teammates and I’m not about to dispute that opinion because that would be ridiculous and people would latch onto that statement and miss the point I’m trying to make. The trust between a man and his wife and a woman and her husband are incredibly important. The trust between two teammates is also important.

The life of a professional athlete is exceptionally tough contrary to what people may believe. I knew this already but the extent was confirmed when I spoke to members of the Raptors and Magic before the NBA game in London in January. They all mentioned the same things. “Sacrifice”, “struggle”, “blood, sweat and tears” and, crucially, the absence from your family for long periods of time.

NBA teams play 82 game seasons at a minimum with 41 of the 82 regular season games on the road. Very few teams are in the same state let alone city and so all that travelling, all that sacrifice draws teammates closer. There is a reason the NBA community refers to itself as the “NBA Family” and in that extended line of players and coaches, your team is your nucleated family. Your brothers and sisters. When you feel like you have nothing left or your playing hurt and putting your physical health in danger (maybe not mortal danger but injuries can be severe and lead to long term problems) you are doing so for your teammates as much as yourself.

Trust is one of those things I preached to my players during my brief attempt at coaching in uni. Trust to make the right plays, trust to be fully committed to a single cause and the trust that the guy lacing up his shoes and running up and down the court next to you has your back. Nick Young and D’Angelo Russell were teammates, friends and family and were supposed to have each other’s backs.

Russell claims that the recording was made as part of friendly banter between teammates and was not supposed to be shown to anyone but Young. He claims he did not leak the video. Whether or not you believe him and whether or not you believe that Iggy had a right to know and Nick Young from a moral standpoint deserved to be outed and face the music for his infidelity (which he did) one thing is very clear to me. By making that recording and asking Nick Young leading questions to incriminate himself for “banter” not only did Russell put Young on blast and robbed him of the opportunity to come clean himself – however likely or unlikely that may have been – he broke one of the most important rules of being a teammate; one of the most important rules of being friends; one of the most important rules of being family: he didn’t have Nick Young’s back.

So yes, D’Angelo Russell deserves to be harshly criticised for his stupidity in making that recording.