The following is a transcript of a Halifax Rainmen press conference, held Wednesday to explain the suspension of star forward Eric Crookshank for the season.
Interviewees are head coach/general manager Rick Lewis, owner Andre Levingston, and Crookshank.
Q: What factored into the decision to suspend Eric Crookshank for the season?
Rick Lewis: We have things that we are doing as an organization, as the Halifax Rainmen. When things take place outside that …we’re not going to go into actual details of the incident, but we will say as it states in the (press release), that the athlete, that their conduct (was) detrimental to the team and the organization (and) that’s what prompted us to take action.
Q: Eric talked to the media after the game on Sunday, saying he wasn’t happy with (Lewis’s) decision to bench him. Was it that, or was there more to it than that?
Rick Lewis: Any player can be unhappy with their playing time, their performance, with losing a game. Playing time is not determined by the individual player. That’s what the coaching staff is there for and that’s their responsibility. So playing time has nothing to do with that decision, no.
Q: But was his complaint about it to the media a factor?
Rick Lewis: The complaint to the media has nothing to do with this decision.
Q: How did you arrive at the decision to suspend him for the whole season?
Rick Lewis: We arrived at that decision because of conduct that was detrimental to the team and to the organization.
Q: But why a full season? Why not five games, 10 games?
Rick Lewis: That was just our decision.
Q: I talked to (Andre Levingston on Tuesday afternoon after practice) and you said you weren’t concerned about the Crookshank situation. I assume something (happened between then and now) to change that?
Andre Levingston: Eric Crookshank is not just a basketball player. He’s a special kid to me and I have a personal relationship with him. I want to continue to have that. He’s done some great things in this city and community and he stands as a role model for a lot of kids. But what we’re trying to do here is to let him know there are consequences to your actions. That’s what he teaches to a lot of kids when he stands up in front of them. It’s just not a decision that we arrived at to punish Eric. We’re not trying to do anything to assassinate his character because he’s a great guy. But circumstances warrant the decision that was made.
Q: What do you say to fans who just see it as the team losing its best player?
Andre Levingston: In sports, it happens sometimes. It doesn’t just happen at this level, it happens in the NBA, the NFL. It’s one of those things where, again, it doesn’t matter how good a player is, it doesn’t matter if he’s your star player. If the situation warrants this decision then it has to be made. At the end of the day, we want it to be a positive experience and hopefully Eric will learn and grow from this experience.
Q: What prevents him from signing with another team, even in the PBL, with a team like Vermont. Are there rules to prevent that?
Andre Levingston: No, actually there aren’t rules. And we discussed it with Eric and the decision Eric has made is that Eric wants to be in Halifax.
Q: Why do you still want to be in Halifax, Eric?
Eric Crookshank: To me this is more than basketball. I have a tremendous fan base here, family, the community loves me and I feel I owe them something by staying here and talking to children about bad decision-making and conduct and I think this will better me as a young man. I know my talent speaks for itself and I could go (to another team) but if I run from my problems I’ll be running for life.
Q: Do you feel that being suspended for the season was just punishment for whatever it is you did?
Eric Crookshank: I mean, the consequences, suspended for the whole year, I’m not going to sit here and say I’m dealing with it like it was nothing. What keeps me happy is playing basketball and if being suspended the whole year makes me a better person, I guess I have to do it.
Q: Is there anything you can share with fans about what it was that happened?
Eric Crookshank: We keep everything in our family with the Rainmen. Not to disrespect fans. We all agreed this is good for the organization and for me and I’m going to get ready to talk to children and continue to talk to children and be there for my team. Those are my brothers.
Q: Are you (owner Andre Levingston) worried this will have a negative impact on the team, fan-wise, to suspend one of your best players?
Andre Levingston: I don’t know. Our fans, they love Eric Crookshank. He does some amazing things on the basketball court, he’s charming, and he does a lot of great things. They are going to continue to love him. But I don’t think the fans who are coming to our games … They’re there to support the Halifax Rainmen, not just Eric Crookshank.
Q: Did the incident that led to the suspension stem from what happened on Sunday? Were they related?
Rick Lewis: It was a, in a game, and in an emotional situation, it’s a continuation. There are things that continue. When you don’t get everything out of you, you harbour those feelings, and things can happen from harbouring those feelings. It’s a continuation. It’s not just that day. It’s things that started prior to that (and it) just continues. If you see something’s bothering someone and they don’t talk about it and they try to deal with it themselves, it puts that person on edge and can cause these things. It’s all part of. It’s a continuation, not just that day, but when we took a look at the big picture, it was things that took place even prior to (Sunday).
Q: Were there things that you (Rick Lewis) and Andre (Levingston) could have done to help Eric deal with these feelings before this happened?
Rick Lewis: In hindsight, yes, there could have been, but without knowing where it’s leading … It’s just if you have a child and that child is upset but they don’t say, but they’re acting out, you say ‘I could have done something to help.’ But if you didn’t recognize it until afterward, you can (only) say in hindsight that you could have done things differently. But with all our players, we (pay) attention to their moods and their feelings, because that is my job. We choose to act and react on things as we see fit, leading up to games, preparing for those, and certain things can slip through the cracks.
Q: The question a lot of people are asking is, couldn’t Eric have learned his lesson from a shorter suspension?
Andre Levingston: Everybody’s going to have their opinion on what they think is a suitable amount of time to suspend a player, but again, the situation warranted the decision that was made. We’re not just trying to be, it wasn’t our intent to punish Eric Crookshank. At the end of the day we care more about Eric Crookshank as a man than as a basketball player. So the decision that was made warranted the suspension and at the end of the day we want Eric Crookshank to grow as a great young man.
Q: Is there anything that Eric can do to be reinstated this season?
Andre Levingston: No. It’s a team decision. He will not play again this season.
Q: Will he be here next year?
Rick Lewis: I gave Eric a promise that in this process if he does what he’s supposed to do and if I am here next year, I will definitely ask that he be a part of the team.
Q: A lot of teams and leagues have a policy, three strikes and you’re out, especially with players who have a proven track record. Why not that with Eric, to see if something more lenient would solve the problem, whatever it was?
Andre Levingston: Something more lenient than this wouldn’t solve this problem. Coach and I sat down and talked for hours. It was not an easy decision. We went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. What if? We went through it, there wasn’t (a more lenient solution).
Q: What’s stopping you (Eric) from signing with another team in this league or another league?
Eric Crookshank: I thought about it. I slept on it. Like I tell (Andre) and coach, and everybody, it’s more than money and about playing basketball. It is about playing basketball, but it’s about the bond I have with Halifax. I came here to win a championship. My mind wasn’t set on going to Vermont or Manchester or Montreal. It was to come to Halifax to win a championship. I just have to win a championship off the court this year.
Q: Will Eric be on the bench with the team?
Rick Lewis: He will not be on the bench but he will be down on the floor near the team. He won’t be a part of the bench during the games, but he will not be in the stands either.
Q: Eric, what have you done yourself to try and (convince them not to suspend you)?
Eric Crookshank: I wrote an apology, had a talk with coach and Andre, and we came to the decision that this is the best thing and we have to accept it. Accept it, or it could be worse. You either run for the consequences or walk through them. If you walk through them. So when you see me next year, I’ll probably be buff.
Additional comments (no direct questions):
Andre Levingston: If somebody would have cared about him (on his past basketball teams), instead of caring (only) about his athletic ability, we wouldn’t be at this point right now. It’s unfortunate that he’s 30 and has to be taught the lesson, but better now than when he’s 40 and has a wife and kids who are going to count on him for things.
Andre Levingston: At the end of the day, I think Eric will thank me for it. He may not now, but he will in the end.
Eric Crookshank: Life goes on. I lost my mother (five years ago) and this is probably the second worst thing that happened to me in my life. But life goes on. I know, every time my team (plays), people are going to always remember me, whether I suit up in a Rainmen jersey again or not.
Rick Lewis: He’s going to be missed in our focus in the scheme of things on the basketball court. But by putting him back on the basketball court, if that’s going to slow his growth as a person, now that we’ve recognized that there’s a situation, we’ve got to say, ‘Is basketball more important than the person?’ It’s not.
Rick Lewis: This is our way of assisting, not our way of punishing, of pushing him off to the side. If we wanted to get rid of him, we’d say we’re not going to keep him around us, we’re going to toss him to the wolves. That’s not the case. He’s going to be right here, part of the organization. We’re going to help him in the transition. Something that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.