Earlier today, I read an interesting article about Golden State Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser in the San Francisco Chronicle: “The Curry Whisperer: Shot guru Fraser has MVP’s ear.”
Why do I mention this here, on a San Antonio Spurs fansite?
Because Warriors Beat Writer Rusty Simmons tells a story about Fraser which will sound oddly familiar to Spurs fans, like us, who were avid readers of Grantland.
Back in April 2014, Bill Barnwell wrote a fascinating piece about Spurs coach Chip Engelland: “The Shot Doctor.”
In it, Barnwell describes how Engelland helped Steve Kerr when he was playing in Portland. Barnwell wrote:
“With Kerr playing reduced minutes in Portland as a 36-year-old during the 2001-02 campaign, he found himself struggling to stay loose for meaningful shooting opportunities. Kerr told Engelland about his problem and the shooting expert flew up and offered a solution: a 30-minute, seven-shot workout. Kerr and Engelland would sit alone on the bench in the Portland practice facility after everybody else had left. Engelland would ask Kerr to tell him what was going on with his kids or even leave him to read a newspaper. After a few minutes, Engelland would shout at Kerr to go, and the two would sprint off the bench and set Kerr up for a single 3-point attempt from the wing before returning to the bench. Repeat six more times and you’ve got the league’s most unlikely — and simultaneously most logical — shooting workout.”
Fascinating, right? (If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read the entire article here.)
Now here’s what Rusty Simmons wrote about Bruce Fraser, who is an assistant coach for the Warriors under Steve Kerr and working with Steph Curry.
“When Kerr, one of the best shooters the game has seen, found himself in a slump, he wouldn’t have considered calling anyone else.
“In that episode, Fraser flew to Portland, but didn’t want Kerr to pick up the airfare, hotel bill or food costs. Fraser simply wanted Kerr to shoot better and suggested a never-before-tried drill to do it.
“Kerr wasn’t playing many minutes. When he was in, he’d get a shot or two. Then, he’d return to the bench.
“So, Fraser had Kerr re-enact his usual 48-minute game without Kerr realizing it. The two would chat on the sideline for six minutes and then Fraser would jump up and pass Kerr a ball at the three-point arc.
“Make or miss, Fraser would go back to the bench. Sometimes, he’d start reading a newspaper or start asking Kerr about his family. After 12 minutes passed, he’d dart for the ball, shuttle it to Kerr for another three-pointer.”
My first thoughts were, who flew to Portland? Who ‘suggested a never-before-tried drill’ to Kerr? Was it Fraser or Engelland?
I sent a letter to Bill Barnwell asking him that very question.
Then it occurred to me, maybe Warriors Coach Fraser took credit for a shooting drill actually developed by Coach Engelland? But that doesn’t make any sense, does it?
Assuming that Fraser did not tell Simmons the story about flying up to Portland to work with Kerr, developing a shooting drill that involved him sitting most of the time, reading a newspaper, I’m left thinking that Simmons stumbled across, or knew, the anecdote about Engelland and mistakenly attributed it to Fraser. It was an honest, but strangely specific, mistake.
On the other hand, Simmons was recently suspended “after writing a news story on the Warriors’ purchase of land for their new arena that was copied almost entirely from a Warriors press release.” Perhaps that explains why he might have taken a story about one NBA coach and attributed it to another, to make his piece more interesting. I honestly don’t know.
Deadspin reporter Kevin Draper found numerous examples where Simmons cut-and-pasted press releases for copy in his own articles, so maybe what we’re seeing here is just sloppy or lazy journalism. Or worse.
I Cc’d Draper in the aforementioned letter to Barnwell. (Barnwell’s response is below.) I will let you know if I hear from Draper.
UPDATE #1: Bill Barnwell responded to my email, in which I asked whether the drill for Kerr was created by Fraser or Engelland. He replied:
Kerr told me it was Engelland when I interviewed him for the piece in 2014. Chris Ballard also tells the story in “The Art of a Beautiful Game” and says it was Engelland.
UPDATE #2: I received an email from Rusty Simmons. Here it is, in it’s entirety:
Thanks for the head’s up, Daniel.
What a silly mistake. Kerr gave me the anecdote in March, and I wrote about it when Klay Thompson was in a shooting slump.
… When I was working on the Fraser feature, we talked a lot about his shooting drills. I somehow confused Fraser/Engelland on the previous Kerr/Portland anecdote, a mistake made worse by the fact that I had already correctly written about it once.
My editors are currently discussing what needs to done (on top of the obvious need to write a correction).
There you go. The drill was created by Spurs Shooting Coach Chip Engelland, not Warriors Assistant Coach Bruce Fraser. I’m glad we got this sorted out.