ESPN reporter Ramona Shelburne has apologized for comments she made on a radio show Tuesday suggesting the backlash to Anthony Davis’ trade request last season could be partially blamed on racial issues.
During an appearance on ESPN Los Angeles’ “Mason and Ireland” show, Shelburne said the situation with the Pelicans was “very charged” because Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, is an African American unlike most of his peers and the Pelicans are located in the south. Paul went public with Davis’ request in January ahead of the 2019 trade deadline, resulting in a $50,000 fine from the NBA. Davis remained a member of the Pelicans through the end of the 2018-19 season before being sent to the Lakers this past summer.
Here is a portion of Shelburne’s interview from the show:
“I do think there is a racial component to this. If you took a poll of who the most disliked people in the state of Louisiana [are], I think Rich Paul would be at the top of that list… If you were close to that situation, I think part of the reason why New Orleans didn’t want to trade him for so long — they obviously couldn’t get fair value for him. But I think the idea that a black agent was telling, not asking, telling the team ‘you should trade him,’ and that he wasn’t gonna stay did not go over very well in New Orleans.
“Especially with, I don’t want to say ‘that fan base,’ but like, you’re down in the south, man. This was very charged. And I think that when things get ugly emotionally like that, it’s not just about what’s going on, on the court. It’s not just about the moves that are being made.”
Shelburne issued a statement to The Times-Picayune on Wednesday following an intense response from local reporters and Pelicans fans.
“Since my appearance on LA radio Tuesday, I’ve spoken to many people and now realize that I inappropriately oversimplified a very complicated and emotional situation,” Shelburne said. “I sincerely apologize for that mistake and to the city of New Orleans.”
After digesting the full context of this, it’s actually more insulting and more reductive than the initial quote revealed.
— Scott Kushner (@ScottDKushner) November 27, 2019
I keep typing and deleting responses to this statement because I’m so blown away by the implications here. Absolutely baffling, and honestly pretty damn insulting. https://t.co/3NOfBIvR0O
— Mason Ginsberg (@MasonGinsberg) November 27, 2019
I think Ramona Shelburne is an EXCELLENT reporter, but her comments about New Orleans yesterday are reprehensible @ramonashelburne
So incredibly frustrating for someone to throw such an ignorant take out there and then never have to address it again
— T-Bob Hebert (@TBob53) November 27, 2019
Davis, who is back in New Orleans to play against his former team for the first time since being traded to the Lakers, was asked ahead of Wednesday’s game if he believes a negative response from fans will be racially motivated in any way.
“No,” Davis told reporters. “No, not at all.”
To paint Davis and Paul as the victims here is ridiculous. Davis’ request and Paul’s bold approach completely derailed the Pelicans’ season, and Davis didn’t handle the backlash well. He sent mixed messages about where he wanted to play, flipped off a fan as he was leaving the floor following the conclusion of an April game and wore a “That’s All Folks” shirt to his Pelicans finale. Paul got his client to the Lakers at the end of the day, but this wasn’t a clean breakup.
Pinning all of the anger on race and “the south” is reductive and wrong, and it too easily dismisses what Paul and Davis did to earn that reaction. If even Davis can understand that while standing in the middle of the storm, it shouldn’t be too difficult for the rest of us.