Brunson's saga contains a lesson for all of us

You always look for “teaching moments” as a parent.

Stevenson junior guard Jalen Brunson provided me with one this weekend.

I turned up the volume on the TV Saturday night as I watched his interview with IHSA-TV reporter Matt Rodewald in the moments following Stevenson's 70-63 win over Edwardsville in the third-place game of the state basketball finals at Carver Arena in Peoria.

Rodewald asked Brunson, who'd set a scoring record of 56 points in a semifinal game against Whitney Young just 24 hours earlier, about getting caught in a moment and expressing raw emotions, and about what he's learned in the last day or so.

Said Brunson, “To just be careful.”

In today's Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, everyone-has-a-camera-and-a-microphone-on-their-phone world, that's good advice. We all must be extra, extra careful about what we do and say in public.

Every image of you, every comment you make can now be chronicled, and sent around the world in an instant. And, sometimes, what you intended doesn't always come across.

I've talked with my teen/tweener kids, Matthew and Kelsey, about that many times already, and I was at it again on Saturday night.

Brunson, of course, is getting his own refresher on the subject, in hyper-exaggerated fashion.

Social media outlets like Twitter were, well, all atwitter Saturday as a photo of Brunson from Friday's semifinal against Whitney Young took on a life of its own.

The photo, captured by a photographer from the Peoria Journal-Star, shows Brunson seemingly flipping the double-bird during the game. The caption suggested that he was directing the gesture toward the Whitney Young student section.

In a stunning development, the IHSA initially decided to suspend Brunson from the third-place game due to unsportsmanlike conduct. Stevenson was close to boycotting the game in protest. Five minutes before the game, there was no sign of the Patriots in the arena.

In an eleventh-hour meeting, the IHSA board overturned the decision after further review of the photo and television footage.

According to an IHSA statement, “the Board agreed that the gesture could have been inappropriate. However, without additional supporting evidence, we could not make the determination that the gesture was intended as an unsportsmanlike action and chose to overturn the ruling.”

The moment in question on Friday night came seconds after a made 3-pointer by Brunson in the final minutes of a close game was waived off by an official, who indicated that Brunson had been fouled before the shot went up and in.

A frustrated Brunson turned away from the basket (which just happened to be towards the Whitney Young fans) and threw both hands up into the air. The photo captured his middle fingers extended up beyond the others.

Brunson's position is that the photo does not portray him accurately.

“I apologize for the image that was captured in last night's game, but I do not apologize for the action because I didn't do what was portrayed,” Brunson tweeted Saturday afternoon.

The photo doesn't lie. The fingers are up. And perhaps, it is what it is: fingers up. Then again, perhaps it's an unfortunate coincidence, a moment that would mean nothing at full speed, but that seems to mean something quite different when captured in a still.

Of course, we can't possibly know what was really in Brunson's head or heart at that very moment. But at the very worst, it looks like, if he was flipping someone off, he was taking on the basketball gods for wiping out the potential for a crucial 4-point play.

One thing that I am almost certain of, however: the last thing on Brunson's mind was the Whitney Young fans.

I was at the game, sitting right under the basket that Stevenson was shooting at in the second half. The “moment in question” happened so fast that I didn't even notice it. And I would venture to say that most other people in the arena didn't either. If Brunson's alleged flip-off had been angry and emphatic, there would have been crowd reaction. There was none.

The Whitney Young crowd was also doing nothing out of the ordinary to elicit a heated reaction from Brunson. It's not as if he was being baited and baited and finally broke. Brunson, who was having the game of his life, had no reason to make a gesture in that direction.

And I know Brunson. I've talked with him at length multiple times over the years. He seems like a pretty good kid, very respectful and humble on a personal level.

Basketball-wise, he's not only refined on the court, he's savvy off of it. The son of a former NBA player, Brunson has clearly been taught how to be well-spoken, and extremely careful, almost measured and calculated, with his words and his image.

It would be out of character for him to sink to obscene gestures. I think he has too much respect for the game.

Brunson's mother Sandra, intent on getting that message out there, immediately came to her son's defense on Twitter.

“We accept opinions on athleticism, abilities, etc.,” Sandra Brunson tweeted. “What I will not accept is YOU portraying my SON doing something he did not.”

Sandra Brunson re-tweeted tweets of support for Jalen. She also posted a video of the game, essentially suggesting that the full context clears Jalen of any wrongdoing.

“To our Pats Family, I sincerely regret how one person can taint our team's effort (yesterday) and hope u understand my battle,” Sandra Brunson tweeted.

Somehow, the battle for third place was won by Stevenson on Saturday night, in spite of this swirl of craziness and distraction.

Brunson scored a team-high 18 points and rolled up 7 rebounds and 3 assists against Edwardsville. And he got much more help than he did in the Whitney Young game.

Three other Patriots, Connor Cashaw (17 points), Matt Morrissey (16 points) and Matt Johnson (10 points), also reached double-figures.

Within moments of the final horn, Brunson was already thinking about next year, and acknowledged that his journey isn't going to be any easier or less scrutinized.

“It's going to be crazy,” Brunson said. “But it's going to be full of hard work and dedication, just trying to get back down here again.”

Just remember your own advice, Jalen. Be careful. Be careful, Jalen.

• Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

Brunson's gesture biggest story at state finals

Images: Class 4A State Championship Boys Basketball

Balanced Stevenson savors 3rd place

  Stevenson's Connor Cashaw watches as Matt Morrissey hugs Parker Nichols before exiting the game in the final seconds of the Patriots' 70-63 win over Edwardsville in the Class 4A third-place game at Carver Arena in Peoria on Saturday. John Starks/
  Stevenson's Matt Johnson, Connor Cashaw, Matt Morrissey, and Parker Nichols begin to relax in the final minutes of the Patriots' win over Edwardsville in the Class 4A third-place game at Carver Arena in Peoria on Saturday. John Starks/
  Stevenson's Jalen Brunson is met by his coaches as he leaves the game against Edwardsville in the Class 4A third-place game at Carver Arena in Peoria on Saturday. John Starks/
  Stevenson's Jalen Brunson fights through Edwardsville defenders in the Class 4A third-place game at Carver Arena in Peoria on Saturday. John Starks/
  Stevenson's Connor Cashaw holds the third-place trophy with his teammates after the Patriots beat Edwardsville 70-63 in the Class 4A third-place game at Carver Arena. John Starks/
  Stevenson poses with the Class 4A third-place trophy at Carver Arena in Peoria on Saturday. John Starks/
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.