When a scuffle broke out in Monday’s Knicks-Cavaliers game that involved LeBron James, it wasn’t a surprise that Peter Vecsey weighed in. After all, the veteran sportswriter has been a fixture for decades in both New York and NBA media.
However, many were taken aback by the manner in which Vecsey chose to comment. After noting that New York’s Enes Kanter was unlikely to be “intimidated” by James, considering his criticism of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Vecsey paraphrased a Notorious B.I.G. lyric: “Imagine him being scared of a n*****who breathes the same air as him.”
Vecsey’s tweet drew immediate and widespread condemnation, not to mention disbelief, even among those who recognized that he was quoting a fairly well-known rap lyric. “What an uncomfortable way to find out Peter Vecsey can quote Biggie,” ESPN’s Bomani Jones said on Twitter.
In the face of the mostly negative reaction, Vecsey — who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009 — took on all comers. To one Twitter user who told him, “Never thought I would cringe at someone quoting B.I.G.,” he replied, “Your problem, not mine.”
The Big Lead’s Ryan Glasspiegel, who wrote a profile of Vecsey last year, tweeted out a column containing some thoughts on the n-word usage. “Vecsey has tweeted about his Biggie fandom for years,” Glasspiegel wrote.
“While my opinion from having studied him extensively for several months for this profile is that he in no way intended to be racist — this is someone who played in Rucker Park with Dr. J and has been a champion of many black players to receive the respect they deserve and not be forgotten by history — this was a problematic decision on his part to use the N-word from lyrics here,” Glasspiegel continued. “White people should not use the word in any context.”
Vecsey replied, “So white people cant quote rap lyrics?!?! Cant sing them?!?! Bull[crap]!!”
To another Twitter user who told him, “Don’t quote Biggie and put six letters in there instead of five,” Vecsey’s response was, “Oh, woe is me…”
Vecsey was one of the original sports reporters to embrace a role as an “insider,” in his case of the NBA. He employed a distinctively sardonic style in stints with the New York Post, where his “Hoop Du Jour” columns were must-reads for basketball fans, the New York Daily News and the “NBA on NBC” telecasts. He retired from full-time sports writing in 2012 but returned this year to cover the NBA at Patreon.
As for Monday’s scuffle, it didn’t amount to much but was noteworthy for coming on the heels of comments James made that reportedly irked members of the Knicks, including Kanter and rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina. After his Cavs defeated the Mavericks on Saturday, James said that Dallas rookie Dennis Smith, who was drafted one spot after the Knicks took Ntilikina with the eighth overall pick, was a “diamond in the rough.”
“The Knicks passed on a really good one. … He should be a Knick,” James said of Smith. On Monday, before playing New York, James clarified that he only meant to be taking “a shot” at former Knicks president Phil Jackson, adding, “It’s no shade at Frank. I don’t even know the kid.”
James’s remarks created some tension that surfaced in the first quarter, when he completed an alley-oop, then bumped into Ntilikina. The French rookie gave James a couple of light shoves as he tried to make his way to the baseline, at which point Kanter began jawing at the Cavaliers star.
The scuffle eventually died down, at which point James and Kanter were given technical fouls, but the Turkish forward wasn’t about to let go of his irritation. After James led a comeback, 104-101 win over the Knicks, Kanter told reporters, “I don’t care who you are, or what you call yourself — King, Queen, Princess, whatever you are. You know what? We’re going to fight, and nobody out there is going to punk us.”
“That’s corny,” James said, when apprised of Kanter’s comments. “Well, I’m the king, my wife is the queen and my daughter is the princess, so we’ve got all three covered.”
All in all, plenty of drama emerged from Monday’s contest at Madison Square Garden. But while Kanter is unlikely to backtrack from his words, and James sought to clarify his, Vecsey should probably have rethought his entirely before hitting the “tweet” button.
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