Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook’s attitude toward the media has ranged over the years from openly cantankerous to merely cool, but Steve Kerr said he believes Westbrook’s frequent “next question” approach is “dangerous" for the NBA.

Westbrook’s disdain for questions — particularly from columnist Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman — isn’t just harmless or humorous, the Golden State Warriors coach suggested. Westbrook’s “next question” responses, often delivered to Tramel, have generated laughs. But Kerr warned Sunday that the deflection creates a distance between athlete and fan, and that the NBA’s strong suit is a connection to players that, for instance, the NFL does not have. Westbrook’s “next question” response has spread, but treating it as a joke is missing the point, as far as Kerr is concerned.

“I think it’s dangerous for the league,” he said, according to Ethan Strauss of the Athletic. “I just feel that we have to be very careful as a league. We’re in a good place right now. Very popular. Fans love the game, the social dynamic, the fashion. But more than anything they love the connection they feel to the players. I think it’s important for the players to understand that it’s a key dynamic to this league. I don’t think this is a healthy dynamic, for this league, for any player, any team, any local media, any national media.”

Westbrook’s teammate Paul George borrowed the “next question” gimmick after the Thunder’s win over Portland in Game 3 of their playoff series Friday night.

Los Angeles Clippers Coach Doc Rivers has noticed, too, cracking, “I could say ‘next question,’ but I’m not going to do that,” after a recent query.

Kerr pointed out that frostiness between media and athletes is nothing new — and neither is the lack of imagination in some reporters’ questions — but Kerr described a landscape that has changed because social media provides unlimited access to players.

“There’s always been this stuff. There’s always been players and media members having issues and maybe non-responses, whatever,” Kerr said. “I don’t think this is brand new, but we’re in an era where there’s 24/7 access, and that access is what’s driven revenue so much and players need to remember that.”

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So far, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has not addressed the issue.

NBA rules require that practices be open to reporters, that locker rooms are open before games and that players be available for questions after a game. NBA players are often far more accessible to the media than those in the NFL; Kerr noted that dealing with the media is “part of the business.”

“You’ve got to feed information to the fans. You don’t have to give a great answer, but it’s dangerous when you go down that path of no communication because one of the reasons people like the league right now is we have a lot of great players, really good guys who handle themselves well,” Kerr said. “So don’t kill that. You’ve got to keep that going. That’s a big part of the business.”

Two of TNT’s NBA broadcasters sided with Kerr on Sunday.

“First of all, that’s unprofessional,” Charles Barkley said. “Part of our job is to talk to the press. We don’t make $30-40 million just to play basketball. People are going to interrupt you when you have dinner. You have to sign autographs. You have to take pictures. Some of the other stuff is talking to the press. Russ has got to do better. Russ is a great dude. And just because a reporter says something bad about you, you don’t get the right to just say ‘next question.’ ”

Kenny Smith recalled a time when he didn’t care for something a reporter had written and chose to freeze him out. “I decided I wouldn’t talk to him. I said, ‘I didn’t appreciate the article.’ Maybe six months into it, I would not talk to this guy, and then I realized I was wrong,” he said. “I did realize I was wrong, in this sense: It’s his job to write his opinion. Because I don’t agree with his opinion doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to talk to him. I can then express my opinion, and then I can have it out.”

Shaquille O’Neal chose to distinguish between media members as a group and as individuals. “I’m going to disagree with both of y’all, because I was Russell Westbrook — sensitive — and if I don’t want to talk to you, I don’t have to talk to you,” he said. “Our job is to talk to the media. I don’t have to talk to one particular guy. Media is media members, like four or five.”

Tramel and Westbrook have a history perhaps exacerbated by the easy familiarity that can develop between reporters and athletes in smaller media markets. In a recent Oklahoman column, Tramel promised to continue asking questions “with no hope of getting an answer, because the media shouldn’t give in to Westbrook’s desire to control everything.

“That’s the seed of Westbrook’s frustration with me in particular and the media in general. Control. He is frustrated that the media is out of his control,” Tramel wrote. “That was manifested during the 2017 playoffs, when he intercepted my question to Steven Adams about why the Thunder collapsed so much during the minutes when Westbrook sat. Westbrook wouldn’t allow Adams to answer; he tried to commandeer the press conference and basically succeeded, despite my repeated attempts to point out that I wasn’t asking Westbrook, I was asking Adams.”

Obviously, reporters would prefer that relationships with the people they cover be less adversarial, and Tramel said he’s no different.

“When Westbrook famously said he didn’t like me three years ago, I didn’t take offense,” he wrote. “He has no idea if he likes me. He doesn’t know me. This is just Westbrook marking his territory. And me marking mine.”

Most reporters are happiest when they are not part of the story, and Tramel again suggested he’s the same.

“The idea that Westbrook has some personal issue with me is misguided. That’s not true. Westbrook’s issue is with media in general. I don’t know from where his original distrust came, but I know he’s allowed it to fester over the years, with no guidance from Thunder officials,” he wrote. “It’s too late — far too late — to do anything about it now. But Westbrook has been disrespectful to the Oklahoma City media going back almost a decade. And the OKC media has not been disrespectful back.”

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