Things happen in funny ways.
Not too long ago, I wrote something about Doug and Jackie Christie holding 13 weddings. That prompted an email from Michael Levin, who co-wrote the book "No Ordinary Love" with the Christies.
He said, essentially, that I misunderstood them, and should read their book.
So I did. I was on page 61, in fact, when news broke that then-Knicks intern (and current Knick employee) "getting into the truck" with Stephon Marbury.
Page 61, and I'm quoting Doug here, goes something like this:
I think everybody understands that the NBA has a lot of groupies, waiting outside the arena, at the hotel, wherever, just to meet the ballplayers. What I think a lot of people don't know is that some of those groupies actually end up getting jobs with some of the teams! It's not the teams' fault. It's not like they recruit these women. The women recruit the teams.
It is probably understood all around that these girls are going to end up having relationships with the players. I'll give you an example. Let's say you've got an autograph signing to do. Well, the team might send over an attractive girl to drive you in her car. She might be flirting or just really friendly. And then one thing leads to another and you get caught up in that whole situation -- something I didn't want anything to do with. If we were going to a signing, I would bring my wife with me and we would enjoy it together.
My worlds were colliding. Between the Christies' book and the Marbury story, suddenly my eyes were opened to the underworld of NBA team employees engaging in sexual behavior with players.
It seems like it was not just a one-off either. Jackie writes later on the same page: "Tight skirts and low-cut tops were the norm. And don't let the players have a team meeting, because the girls will come dressed to kill."
I thought to myself, hmm ... this is one strange trend. And the Christies are clearly willing to talk openly about it. So maybe they'll talk to me about it.
And they were nice enough to do just that.
Here's a transcription of our email conversation (with their notations as to who's speaking):
Doug and Jackie, you enjoyed Toronto, and speak highly of your time there with Isiah Thomas. Yet you also are clearly strong believers that women should be treated with dignity. What was your take on this trial?
Doug and Jackie: Our take on the trial that involved Isiah Thomas was that he is innocent, as we were in Toronto with him for a while. He is the utmost professional. He is a kind person. Very high integrity man. He has a beautiful family and always encouraged the team in Toronto to include their families. From what we read of the trial we strongly believe in his 100% innocence and stand behind him.
And yes, we do feel women, as well as men, should always be treated with dignity and respect and we talk a great deal about this in our book. We want to see all people treat each other in the best possible way.
In general, how would you say NBA teams treat women, compared to the rest of society?
Doug and Jackie: We would say they treat them well and sometimes to a fault as the positions that some of the woman hold allow them a great deal of access to the team. Teams are going to find in that case they will have more women having complaints, warranted or not, like what we see here in the New York case.
The teams have to set stricter guidelines as to how the team and the employees work together. We are not saying it can't be done, as it can, but first and foremost they have to make sure that there is a clear line of communication between everyone as to what certain employees responsibilities are, and to set clear boundaries around team, management, and employee relationships. There should be some sort of quarterly meeting involving the full staff members and team to keep the lines of communication open and to squash any problems before they get out of hand.
In this way everyone is held accountable. That is all we were saying, when I played for certain teams: OK, I personally do not want any misunderstandings for me or my family so I will remove my self from the situation altogether.
One of the implications of the MSG verdict was that at this team, at least, women are welcome to be sex objects, but less welcome to be sources of authority. Your book makes it seem like you found that to be the case, too, correct? Can you explain what made you feel that way?
Doug and Jackie: We feel that the teams don't necessarily welcome the sex symbol attitude of some, but did not discourage it either. They simply seem to feel that if the person was performing their job then that was what counted.
But at the same, it is not good to have that sort of behavior in the environment of the NBA. It doesn't help with public perception or the stereotyping of the league, and it lends to the players as well as the management being put into situations that allow for these kinds of lawsuits.
Let's tread carefully here. I don't want to put words in your mouth ... In the case of the Knicks, we heard about an intern who had sex with a player, and then was put on the team staff and later given a promotion. When I heard about that, I was struck that in your book -- which was written long before this story was ever in the media -- you talk first-hand of teams having attractive young women on the payroll whose jobs, it seemed to you, was to be flirtatious and possibly more. Are you suggesting that teams keep young women around to "please" players?
Doug: I would say, after being in the league for 15 years now, that I have seen a lot and there does seem to be a large number of younger attractive women employed on some teams. Often their job is to deal directly with the players, like media relations, community relations, and so on all the way up to the GM's assistant, the coach's assistant, and the receptionist.
Sometimes they are allowed to come into the locker room and place packages (mail) etc. in the players lockers and things like that. They come in even while players are disrobed partially and I just always felt that was not such a great idea, as not only could they feel they are being harassed if guys start joking around, but we also may not be dressed at all, and guys are married and in relationships and that's just not good.
As a free agent, you, Doug, were told by the Sonics last season that you were welcome to join the team, but they didn't want Jackie hanging around much. You decided not to join the team. Is this a pattern of not wanting strong women around to break up the frat house atmosphere?
Doug: I would say that it has to be, on some teams.
My wife is my support system. She is my freind, my wife, my secretary, my assistant, and someone who makes sure that I'm able to just go out there and give my team my all each and every night. She makes sure I get everything I need from massages on the road (she books the appointments) to all of my appearances. (I have never missed one, by the way). If any paperwork is needed she handles it for me and our family.
In turn, the team gets a player that can go out there and play his best ball every night, with a clear mind. I can stay focused.
So, yeah, I would have loved to play for my hometown team, God knows I would -- but not at the cost of my family. And besides, who knows what this year holds! Maybe there is a team out there that can use a 14-year veteran in tip-top shape, 100% healthy, with clarity and focus to get the job done!
What is all this about? Why are there so many stories like this about professional athletes?
Doug and Jackie: There is a stereotypical cloud that hangs over pro athletes that I hope to dissolve by living the example and showing everyone, even if it means being teased and mocked and lied about. I believe that when the team owners decide enough is enough and start to praise the good behavior more, and the sports media highlight more of the good, that's when these stories will start to go away.
I mean, listen: The NBA is a great place to work. But there will be backlash if a player is not seen as the norm. So my wife and I have been taking a whole lot of unnecessary hits, but if it is for the good of the sport I live and breathe then so be it. There will be other players coming up behind me that will not have to go through what I did, with all these negative stories just because they love and respect their family.
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