There are few things in life more fragile than reputation, and rarely is this more true than in the strange world of the NBA draft. It doesn't take much to scare away NBA scouts and general managers. Run-in with the law? Occasional marijuana use? The whiff of a bad attitude? These are men with tenuous jobs and just a few multimillion dollar contracts to hand out each season, and they want to be absolutely, positively sure the recipients of those contracts are not a locker room cancer waiting to happen. (Unless, of course, you possess the all-important "potential," in which case, "Hey, everyone makes mistakes! Come on down!")
New Mexico forward Drew Gordon, who entered the NBA draft this spring, knows this all too well. Unfortunately, thanks to his prominent role in Sports Illustrated writer George Dohrmann's February expose on UCLA -- which detailed the near-total breakdown of the program under coach Ben Howland thanks in large part to the insubordination of Gordon's No. 1-ranked 2008 recruiting class -- Gordon finds himself with an unflattering reputation in advance of the June 28 NBA draft.
Fortunately, Gordon, who had two excellent and incident-free seasons after transferring to New Mexico, seems to be approaching things the right way, as the San Jose Mercury News reports today:
Yet as he visits with NBA teams in advance of the June 28 draft, including the Warriors on Wednesday, questions will be asked about The Article.
"It will come up," said one prominent NBA scout. "Teams will be doing their background work to find out what the problem was there." That's OK with Gordon.
"Once people get a sense of my character and have a chance to see how I really act, they'll realize that the impression of that article is not accurate," he said. [...] "We were freshmen, and we weren't getting much playing time," Gordon said. "So we did take advantage of the college life and make some ill-advised decisions. But when I read that article, there was so much negativity there. It was hurtful."
Contrast that reaction with that of fellow former UCLA forward Reeves Nelson, who is reportedly filing a $10 million lawsuit against Dohrmann and SI for "recklessly and negligently fail[ing] to investigate" the claims made against Nelson in the story. (Among those claims: Nelson intentionally injured players in practice, relished in starting fights, urinated on teammate Tyler Honeycutt's clothes and bed, and treated assistants and program staffers with utter disdain, and that's before you get to the missed practices and team buses that led to Nelson's dismissal from the team last November. It's quite a highlight reel.)
Nelson may or may not have a legitimate grievance, and he is within his every right to aggressively respond to things said about him in a magazine story, but it's not hard to see why Gordon's response is the more appropriate one, at least professionally. For one, it reduces the drama and hot air around Gordon's draft stock (Chad Ford currently ranks him No. 59 overall). More than that, though, it allows Gordon to turn the page, to admit some mistakes, to chalk it up to youth, and to prove to his potential future employers that he should be judged not by his actions in 2008 and 2009 but by his performance at New Mexico the past two seasons.
Reputation is a fickle thing, but it's much harder to repair than it is to derail. Gordon has a legitimate and rare chance to do the former. If his NBA career is to live up to his once-deafening high school hype, he'd do well to seize it.