You don't expect a guy like Qui West to influence the most entertaining NBA Finals in almost two decades. After all, West is a former small-college baseball player turned radio DJ, a guy who jokes that he gave up sports when he realized he "stunk."
The 5-foot-9 West will not be responsible for checking Dirk Nowitzki on the pick and roll or be tasked with trying to slow down Dwyane Wade in transition. In fact, he'll probably only talk about the Finals in passing on his show on 97.9 FM The Box in Houston from here on out.
But West still finds himself in the middle of Heat-Mavericks, playing a starring role in LeBron James' psyche, which let's face it, is all anyone is really talking about in this series. West is the guy who Washington Wizards forward Rashard Lewis called on air to talk about the LeBron James' baby mama rumors.
It's been the biggest underground story of these Finals for a while — the gossip that fellow NBA player Lewis slept with LeBron's longtime girlfriend Savannah Brinson while visiting South Beach, which has supposedly taken LeBron out of his game against the Dallas Mavericks. Scream master sports analyst Stephen A. Smith went as far as cowardly bringing up LeBron's problems of "a personal nature" in several radio interviews while failing to elaborate.
It took West — a hip-hop DJ rather than a sports journalist — to actually do something more with the story than throw things at the wall and see if they stuck. The DJ actually got an interview with the alleged relationship destroyer/basketball history changer — Houston's own Rashard Lewis.
"We've got a lot of athletes from Houston and they definitely like to show the love to The Box," West says of his coup. "We've known them when they were growing up and Houston is a town that brings a lot of loyalty. Vince Young comes on a lot. We've had (former Rockets) Kenny Smith and Clyde Drexler. Robert Horry likes to come on.
"For a lot of Houston athletes, The Box is a much bigger outlet than a TV channel for example. We've got more credibility in the community. The athletes listen to the station and their friends listen."
And when Rashard Lewis comes on to talk about LeBron James' baby mama during the NBA Finals, everyone listens. Outlets from the Chicago Tribune to New York Magazine are writing about the The Box's interview with Lewis. It's a remarkably frank radio appearance — the kind of thing you never get in the press-conference-controlled Finals setting.
Elsik High School's Lewis calmly refutes the rumors that he slept with Brinson. He could be talking about whether he prefers Whataburger or Wendy's for all the emotion he shows in the conversation. Lewis gets into how he went as far as contacting LeBron's stepfather (no, not Delonte West) to assure the James camp that there was no substance to the stories, but he appears anything but freaked out.
"I know, right?" Qui West tells CultureMap in his first interview since he talked to Lewis. "Rashard is just cool. I didn't know what to expect going in. I was ready for him to start going crazy or something. He just wanted to set the record straight on his relationship with LeBron's baby mama though."
Lewis' take is he "never even met" Brinson before. "It's completely false, 100-percent false" he says on air. "The NBA is a small sorority. We're like brothers. And you don't do that to a brother. I would never do that. I would never cross that line."
Lewis says that James' camp told him not to worry that the NBA's biggest star knows the rumors are false. This type of drama is nothing new for LeBron of course. During last year's playoffs, he dealt with still-unsubstantiated rumors that Delonte West, one of his Cleveland teammates, was sleeping with his mom.
For Lewis — a former All-Star with the Seattle Supersonics and the Orlando Magic, but hardly a crossover household name — this type of attention is new territory though.
"I think Rashard was more confused than anything," West says. "He's newly engaged. Can you imagine if you or I were accused of cheating while in a relationship? Then, take that to another level with the chatter being national. You know your woman is giving you some looks. It's a lot to deal with."
Even if you're just the DJ caught in the middle of it. Several media outlets reported that West and The Box started the LeBron James rumors in the first place. It actually began with a post on Hello Beautiful, a blog that West says is owned by Radio One, the same company that owns The Box and dozens of other radio stations around the country, but is not directly affiliated with the Houston station.
West says that the first time he mentioned the LeBron James-Rashard Lewis story on air is when he introduced his interview with Lewis.
"When I first heard the talk about us starting the rumors, I was like, 'Whoa, what's going on here?' West says. "What are we getting ourselves into?"
Not your father's news source
In many ways, what West is getting into is a new media world, one where a hip-hop radio station is much more likely to have unfiltered access to the athletes than an old staid, traditional newspaper. West's producer grew up with Lewis. His call would be answered when others wouldn't.
Houston's at the forefront of this revolution with the local hip-hop community holding influence over the athletes who came of age on the city's streets — and many pros who came into town after making it big. Giving an interview to a paper like the Houston Chronicle is boring, more of the same for many athletes.
Going on The Box is more like going on Howard Stern — only more local and more noticed by the guys you grew up with.
"I was surprised by just how strong the hip-hop community is in Houston," says West, who's been here for nine months, having left a San Francisco radio station for a full-time gig in Houston. "Much stronger than in the Bay Area. It's a way of life around here.
"People you'd never expect to be listening to hip hop come up to me all the time and talk about The Box."
Qui West found himself with a new radio name when he arrived in Houston (his real name is Chris Quiles and his moniker in San Fran, J-Chris, was deemed too pedestrian by The Box's program director). Now, the 25-year-old finds himself with a new claim to fame. He's the hip-hop DJ in the middle of the NBA Finals
"The Finals have been banging, I've been into it already," West says. "But yeah, I guess I will pay even a little more attention to it now."
That's how it is for the Woodward & Bernstein of Baby Mama Drama. Laugh all you want. It's a new world and Qui West is on the inside.
Check out Qui West's interview with Rashard Lewis for yourself: