By Bomani Jones
Special to Page 2

Last week, Doc Rivers told reporters that Sebastian Telfair didn't play after halftime of the Celtics' preseason game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden because of a stomach problem. 'Twas a boldfaced lie; Telfair left the game because detectives wanted to question him about a shooting that took place the night before at Justin's Restaurant in Manhattan.

Sebastian Telfair
Jemal Countess/WireImage.com
Telfair's gotta feel good that his new coach tried to protect him.

Maybe Bassy called Rivers later and said he had a tummy ache. Talking to Johnny Law has that effect on some people.

Or maybe that's just me.

Anyway, Rivers has drawn criticism for fibbing that night. ESPN Insider Chris Sheridan says one beat writer said, "Those guys need us to take what they say at face value, and we can't do that anymore."

I wonder if this gentleman covers the Patriots, whose coaches once lied habitually to the press about player injuries. Saying Richard Seymour is getting over a bad case of scurvy seems far more injurious to a beat writer than Rivers' attempt to protect Telfair from what he believed would be undeserved scorn.

Perhaps the relationship between a coach and the media is as sacred as the bond between parishioners and priests, but this lie isn't that serious. Oh, it's serious when the Five-0 yanks a player from a game to chauffeur him downtown. But lying about it? No big deal.

In fact, not lying about it would have been a big deal. And big news. And, for Telfair, bad news.

Doc lied about a matter involving one of his players and the police. He didn't lie to the police. He lied about the police.

And none of this had anything to do with basketball.

So what's the problem?


Chances are you've heard the story by now. Telfair had his chain snatched from his neck outside Justin's, a fairly upscale joint owned by Sean "Diddy" Combs. Reportedly, video shows that the gentlemen who allegedly robbed Telfair were associates of Fabolous, a rapper who's managed to stay famous way longer than anyone expected. The robbers, according to reports, then ducked into Justin's. About 20 minutes after the robbery, a gunman fired several shots in a nearby parking lot, including one that hit Fabolous in the thigh.

Two things may connect Telfair to the shooting. First, the men who allegedly robbed Telfair wound up the targets of the gunshots. Second, Telfair seems to have made a phone call after being robbed.

The first is, at the very least, a helluva coincidence, but not enough to definitively implicate Telfair. Something tells me that guys who rob people draw the ire of lots of people, not just the guy they robbed that night.

But the second? For all anyone knows, Bassy was checking his voicemail, calling his mother to wish her a happy birthday or planning an afterparty. It's possible he was doing none of those things, but those scenarios are just as plausible as the idea that he was planning a shooting.

In other words, no one knows what happened that night. And considering law enforcement's dreadful track record when it comes to solving crimes against rappers -- in spite of the existence of units that do nothing but perform surveillance on figures in hip-hop -- chances are that we never will. There's a good reason Fabolous has hired private investigators to look into the incident.

What is known is that this story has all the elements needed for a story to become overhyped and sensationalized. A basketball player who's been connected with the hip-hop scene since he was in high school is robbed of his $50,000 necklace, allegedly by a rapper's lackey, outside of an establishment owned by another rapper. Soon after, the rapper who hangs with the alleged robbers gets shot.

That's a lot of stereotypes of hip-hop -- conspicuous consumption, "crews" and guns -- rolled into one circumstantial mess.

But not enough to make a hill of beans.


This brings us back to Doc Rivers, and his decision to concoct a cockamamy crock for the public. Rivers said he was trying to stop the story from becoming a circus. With all those lions and tigers and bears involved in this, he wasn't going to be the one to start playing "Barnum and Bailey's Favorite" to give the bears something to dance to.

Publicly, Rivers and the Celtics have said they believe Telfair did nothing wrong that night. They're taking Bassy at his word.

So, you ask, why lie about his trip to the station house? Because "no comment" wouldn't cut it in this situation. As a society, we tend to be presumptuous when the law is involved. The Duke lacrosse saga has made us reconsider how the combination of circumstantial evidence, police inquiry and negative stereotypes can be unfairly damaging.

And the situation at Duke involved white children of privilege. Just think of the potential for a feeding frenzy in a case that involves attempted murder, hip-hop and young black men. Telfair was already ripped on Boston sports talk radio just for wearing an expensive chain.

Yes, people still care about stuff like that in 2006.

Doc Rivers
Kirby Lee/WireImage.com
Rivers went to bat for his new point guard.

So if I were Doc Rivers in that situation, I'd lie through my teeth. I would have been skeptical of the police's intentions when they demanded to talk to Telfair in the middle of the game, as though they didn't know where he would be after the fourth quarter. I would have taken everything in and let out something about Bassy having to leave the game early to throw up, water his plants, or something else -- anything else -- to move the conversation to another subject. Whatever it took to avoid the headline, "Police Remove Telfair From Game."

If I were Telfair, I'd hope my coach would do the same. I'd hope my coach would do what he could to minimize the hype surrounding something like this, especially if this is really just a strange set of coincidences.

As a member of the media, I respect Doc's decision. He has to deal with the media, but there's nothing that says he should be loyal to us. He should be loyal to his player, however. I would take someone to task for throwing a player under the bus, so how could I be upset that he refused to throw Telfair under the paddy wagon?

He disregarded the ninth commandment and lied. St. Pete's gonna give him a stern talking to for that.

In the meantime, the mortals should wait and let him wag his finger at Doc Rivers.

It's not like Rivers lied about injuries. He lied about something that people in this profession would have -- and should have -- run with. And, at least publicly, Doc believes that would have created sound and fury signifying nothing. So long as Telfair isn't charged with anything, he looks more and more correct.

Bomani Jones is a frequent contributor to Page 2. Tell him how you feel at readers@bomanijones.com.




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