Perhaps by now you've heard of Ernie Provetti and his 12-year-old son, Nick, the young man who was jostled courtside in Orlando the other night when the Celtics' Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who goes about 275 pounds, hit the winning shot in Game 4 then bolted all that massiveness upcourt to celebrate.
Young Nick never complained, but Ernie objected rather loudly, at one point saying that Davis charged up the sideline like a "raging animal." The bloggers took exception and called Ernie an idiot and CryDaddy.
And I, in a less-than-exceptional moment, went on television and called Ernie Provetti a terrible father. I said I'd be embarrassed to have such a wimpy daddy and suggested it would be OK if somebody gave Ernie a good hard smack. Judging from national reaction, of which there was plenty, a lot of folks agreed. All in all, it wasn't quite as out-of-bounds as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban telling Kenyon Martin's mother that her son was a thug, but the back-and-forth left Nick in tears and could have gotten quite contentious.
Until Ernie did what guys rarely do when it comes to sporting passions.
He conducted a little introspection and got a grip. He sent an e-mail to my producer at ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" which said in part, "What I said about Davis is inexcusable and disgusting and I feel horrible about it. . . . Sometimes we as fans take the game as serious as some of the players. I love the Orlando Magic and the NBA. I go to every game and shout for calls for my team, like any good fan does, I guess. I was incredibly disappointed about the loss. However that did not give me right to call Glen a "raging animal." And I am truly sorry for that. . . . How can I expect Glen to control his emotions after making the shot of his life if I cannot control mine?"
Suddenly, Ernie didn't seem like a bad father at all. I called him at home in Orlando, to apologize but also just to listen. "That game was so intense. You're sitting so close. I think, of course, the calls are all going in Boston's favor. Then, I'm in a rage. I can't believe I said what I did. The first day the blogs said some pretty terrible things. Nick was crying. I'm thinking, 'I inflicted this. I brought this on.' Davis didn't deserve to have those things said about him. It was reprehensible, what I did."
Celtics GM Danny Ainge called Provetti, who didn't believe the caller was really Ainge, and hung up on him. Then Davis called. "Before he could say anything, I apologized," Provetti said. He was so nice . . . called me Mr. Provetti, which I wouldn't have done. He was so gentle."
OK, you have to know a little something about Provetti. He grew up in New Jersey, a huge Knicks fan. His ex-wife once asked John Starks and Doc Rivers, now the Celtics coach, to autograph her stomach when she was pregnant with one of their children. Provetti went to Cathedral College -- "It's in Douglaston, Queens, down the street from St. John's," he says -- and was studying to be a priest. He also played on the basketball team as a 6-foot-2 forward. In the 1990s, he'd travel from New York to Chicago for almost every Bulls playoff game to see Michael Jordan play. And now, a divorced and single father of three with custody of his children, he has courtside seats in Orlando. Oh, he's a junkie. "The two things I love most in life are my kids and the Orlando Magic," he said.
And you know what owner he identifies with?
"I've never met Mark Cuban," Provetti said, "But I know he's an emotional owner who cares, who wears it right out there."
It was Cuban's regrettable incident with Kenyon Martin's mother that led directly to an even uglier scene two nights later, where several family members of Nuggets players were harassed in the Mavericks arena. That shoved Provetti to the back burner. "Thank God for Mark Cuban," Provetti said he thought at the time. "Watching what played out down in Dallas, I thought about how he makes mistakes . . . like I do, obviously. I was mortified, and definitely upset for her."
Cuban, too, apologized. "I should have not said anything and I was wrong," Cuban wrote in his blog, where he also offered to let Nuggets family members watch the game in Dallas from his suite and take Martin, who is from Dallas, to dinner. To me, Cuban's apology was sincere, but Anthony and Martin want Cuban to apologize in person, which seems fair to me since he insulted Martin in person.