Mitchell plays by the rules

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:47 AM ET

Sam Mitchell is a lot of things but generally speaking, politically correct he is not.

When angry, the Raptors head coach is not above dropping a few verbal bombs. Not only will he dress down reporters, he'll sometimes give them a whack for good measure. Although now he knows which ones will whine about it in print and which will not.

And his sense of humour is, well, many of his anecdotes wouldn't go over big at those dinner parties where they use different kinds of forks.

But scratch the exterior and there lurks a man with old-fashioned values, a small-c conservative, if you will. Conservative in a common sense approach, someone who enjoys making big money but is not averse to sharing it with those less fortunate.

He's a rules man, likely the result of his background in the U.S. military.

So while everybody associated with the NBA these days seems to be running down commissioner David Stern because of many of the new directives regarding behaviour and dress, Mitchell won't have any of it. And he doesn't care if that brands him a league shill, a company man or whatever.

"I think it's a great thing," Mitchell said of the dress code yesterday. "Hockey players have to wear a suit to the skate-around. They have a jacket and shirt on, and a tie. Then they come back to the game and wear suits. What's wrong with that?"

Not every hockey players wears a suit and tie to the skate-around, as Mitchell calls it (in the hockey world it's known as the morning skate), but the message is clear. It's about being professional and Mitchell doesn't care if people think he is kissing up to The Man or corporate, white America.

"If you walk around with jeans hanging off, a bandana on, then people are going to treat you like a kid," he said. "I remember Kevin Garnett, they used to call him The Kid. Third year in the league, he comes to me, 'Man, I'm so sick of them calling me The Kid. I'm a grown man.' I said, 'When you start dressing like one, they'll stop calling you The Kid.' "

Mitchell is also not against the so-called zero tolerance rule in the NBA, even if most players and coaches hate it. The NBA is attempting to crack down on arguing with the officials and generally acting unprofessionally on the court.

It seems odd that Mitchell would support the new rule, given that his give-and-take with the referees is 90% give. But he believes you can play with emotion and argue and banter with the referees and players without showing anyone up.

"Players don't need to be throwing gum (for instance)," he said. "How would like to be sitting in the stands and a player throws his gum and hits you in the face? They should watch their language, they shouldn't be following the officials all day, exciting the crowd."

No doubt Mitchell will take some ribbing for his corporate stand. But he doesn't care, and furthermore, he is quick to praise the work of long-time NBA czar Stern, caring not if anyone has a problem with it. Mitchell is old enough to recall when the NBA was going through a rough patch, when the crowds were small, the TV ratings weren't much better and the players weren't always well looked upon. Mitchell said Stern, who arrived as the commish in 1984, has done a tremendous job with the NBA and most of today's players don't appreciate his contributions.

"Yeah, it helped with Michael and Magic and those guys coming in at the same time, but he was smart enough to seize the moment," Mitchell said. "He did a lot of things for the game and the players. My first contract, I signed for $75,000 US. I remember when Magic Johnson signed for 25 years for $25 million, we were all going crazy. Now, people would say that's a horrible deal."

Cynics might suggest that Mitchell is setting himself up for a job with the league when Toronto general manager Bryan Colangelo pulls the plug on him.

But Mitchell insists he's sincere in his convictions.

"If you don't like it, find somewhere (else) to play," he said. "It's just that simple. Everybody's got rules. You all have them. I have them. The president of the United States has them. The prime minister of Canada. Everybody answers to somebody."


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