An interview with

Lang Whitaker

Journalist, NBA.com & NBATV

Can you remember how many games you’ve been to?

No (laughs) I would say thousands.

Do you remember the first game you went to?

My Dad took our family to an Atlanta Hawks vs. Washington Wizards game.  I don’t remember what year it was, it must have been early 80s.  I remember Manute Bol was playing and it was almost a novelty to see him play because he was just so huge.  He shot a bunch of three pointers.

Really?

Yah (laughs)  I also went to an Atlanta Hawks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers game with my Dad  because I was a Mark Price fan, I’d watched him at Georgia Tech and he was on Cleveland so when they came to town we went to that game. Those were the first two I remember going to.

You grew up playing sports in Atlanta but when did you start writing about sports?

When I was in high school I played on the basketball team my junior year and we were a good team, no thanks to me, all five of the starters got division 1 scholarships and were all really good players. We were ranked in USA Today.  The season ended with us losing in the second round of the state tournament, we should have gone a lot further, so as soon as the season was over I realized it was a really good story.   I sat down and just started writing everything that happened that year in this massive word document for no real reason other than I thought it was a good story and I wanted to remember all that stuff.

By my senior year I did a sports column in the school paper where I would just write about Atlanta sports. Even before that in 9th and 10th grade I worked on the yearbook and did a lot of the sports stuff.  As a professional writer it started later but even back then writing was something I was interested in and sort of had a knack for and didn’t mind doing.  I wasn’t getting paid to do it, I just did it because I liked doing it.

Did you apply to any journalism programs after high school?

I didn’t really know then.  My high school coach said if I wanted to keep playing basketball I should go to a small college.  I kind of knew I didn’t really have much of a future as a basketball player and I had always been a University of Georgia fan, it was about an hour from Atlanta, so I applied to Georgia and got in.  Once I was there I took some English classes and some journalism classes and I knew it was something I wanted to pursue so I ended up majoring in English.

Do you remember your first paid writing job?

I had a bunch of unpaid jobs before I had paid jobs.  I started in the late 90s and the internet was around but it obviously wasn’t what it is now. I didn’t really know what I wanted to write about, I liked sports, I liked music, I liked other stuff.  I had subscribed to this email service that did record reviews, you would get an email every week with all these record reviews and I would read those and think this is something I could probably do. I emailed the guy that ran the site and he said he’d give me a shot.  So I started contributing record reviews to that, it was called Consumable Online.  I did that for a couple of years and I didn’t get paid, I got CDs in exchange.

I would also pick up this weekly paper in Atlanta, it’s still there, called Creative Loafing, which was sort of like The Village Voice of the south.  I would always pick it up and read it for the music coverage and I thought this might be a good place to expand into, I reached out to them and after a little bit of cajoling on my part they gave me a shot.  It just kind of snowballed from there.  I don’t remember the first time I got paid for writing anything.  I think the first year I really tried to write full time for a living I think I made $13,000 or something like that.  Luckily I had a roommate at the time and we would live off ramen and Mountain Dew that we bought in bulk from Sam’s Warehouse so we kind of made that work.


Behind the scenes with Kevin Durant for SLAM Issue 110 before the 2007 draft

Everyone approaches freelance work differently but it seems like you need a lot of hustle and a good portfolio.

I think a lot of it is just relationships.  I think if you want to make it work one of the most important things is just being reliable.  Your boss assigns you something and you’re not in the office with them so they just trust that you’re going to be able to do it in the allotted time and turn it in when they ask you to.  That’s important, to be able to have them trust you, it usually self-perpetuates into more stuff because the more they trust you the more they’re willing to give you work.  Also hustle is a big part of it.  I always compared it to the guy in the circus that spins the plates because you don’t ever just have one thing going, you always have seven or eight things you’re trying to keep going at the same time.  So you kind of have to split your attention between all these different things and make sure they’re all going at the same time and if you forget about one it’s going to fall and crack on the floor.  It takes a lot of attention and a lot of hustle.  But at the end of the day you have to be able to write if you’re going to be a writer.  All that other stuff is great but at some point it comes down to can you do good work and that matters.

How did the job with SLAM Magazine come about?  What was the first piece you wrote for them?

At the paper in Atlanta I did music stuff and that started expanding into sports.  I did a sports column maybe once a month and then I did a bunch of cover stories for the paper that were bigger newsier stories on sports related stuff.  When I was in college and after college when I was broke I couldn’t really afford to buy magazines so I would go to the grocery store late at night and just hang around the magazine racks and read everything for free.  That was how I first read SLAM and I loved it, I thought it was the perfect magazine for me, I loved the content.  I would take magazines that I thought maybe I could one day,write for and I would tear out the subscription card on the inside and look in the masthead to find the names of the managing editor or editor-in-chief, whoever I needed to reach out to and I’d write their names down on the little subscription card and stick it in my pocket.

I did that with SLAM.  The managing editor at the time was a woman named Anna Gebbie and I sent her an email and some clips.  I didn’t know if they had someone in Atlanta to help cover the south for them.  The first thing they said was to pitch them some story ideas, at the time I was dating a girl who was from Kentucky and we went up to her parents house and there was an article in the paper about a University of Kentucky alumni game. It had a list of all the guys who were going to play in it and it was a kind of who’s who NBA all-star list.  I thought this sounded perfect so I pitched that and they said “great, do it”.  It was really short, 200 words or something, but it was the first piece I did for SLAM.

You were later hired to be their online editor.  How did you land that job and how did you go about building the SLAM audience in a relatively new medium online?

This was after I had wrote a few smaller pieces for SLAM. I got more and more assignments and bigger pieces and started doing features for them.  This was probably three years after that first piece I’d done.  My girlfriend at the time, a different girlfriend actually, who I’d been dating for a couple years, she got a job offer in New York.  I’d always loved New York I’d been a couple times and I always thought about what it would be like to live there.  So she was going to move there and I called Russ Bengston, who at the time was the editor-in-chief, and told him “I’m moving to New York and I don’t know if you guys have anything” and he said “actually we have this open online editor position and if you’re interested you’d be great for it”.  That was kind of how that came about.

When I started it was really more of a webpage than a website.  They had a little bit of content that they had done but not a lot.  This was before even ESPN.com I think it was called something else like ESPN Zone or something, there was very little stuff on the internet when I started.   I would sit at my desk and look at other content and what other people were doing and I realized having new content everyday would mean these people would come back everyday.  SLAM at the time was already 7 or 8 years old, there was this whole backlog of content that we had that we owned, so we started posting that kind of stuff.  I started writing everyday and taking news from around the internet and everywhere else and just doing it every single day.  I just hoped that people would keep coming back and that’s kind of how it went for the first five years or so when there wasn’t a lot of fresh content every single day on the internet.

I’m a huge huge Spurs fan and I always remembered that piece you did in 2005 where you got Tim Duncan to talk to you by bringing up video games.  It must be tough to speak to people who get interviewed regularly but you have a real ability to get players to open up and have regular conversations with you, which probably isn’t something they teach in school.

Thank you for that.  I think being a good journalist you have to be able to talk to people and get people to talk to you.  I think you kind of hit the nail on the head, NBA players and athletes, celebrities, politicians, anyone you interview, generally get interviewed almost everyday of their life and you need to be able to get them to tell you something that they probably hadn’t planned on telling anybody that day.  They’re used to being able to say “both teams played hard” or “we tried to execute and it didn’t work out”.  If you want to get something interesting and fresh you need to be able to get these people to talk to you.

I think that’s a skill that’s pretty important for someone who interviews people to have and to be able to draw that out of people.  I’ve always been a person who was able to talk to people, when I was in elementary school and preschool I always got in trouble for talking too much.  The main thing I’ve taken is to listen to people.  I can talk and talk but if you don’t give the other people a chance to talk it’s not going to work out.  Ask your questions and then listen.  It’s also the questions you ask, sometimes you ask questions that are hard to ask but if you don’t ask them they aren’t going to talk about it.  There’s a lot of stuff that goes into it but I do agree that being able to talk to people is a skill that’s pretty important for anyone that’s going to go into journalism.


Photo shoot with Carmelo Anthony & courtside with Tony Parker

How much research and planning do you put into writing a feature or a cover story?

I try to read as much as I can.  Normally if I’m writing a feature for SLAM or if I was writing a cover story I would have a couple days notice and I would print out everything I could find on the person and make a little file, maybe 50 or 60 pages worth of stuff.  Then spend a couple hours reading every single thing and as I read it any questions, thoughts, or anything that crossed my mind I would jot down in my notebook.  I would just try to spend some time thinking about it and take that page of all my notes and try to organize that into some sort of list of questions or thoughts or ways the conversation could go.

I also think it’s important when you’re talking to the person that you actually listen to them.  I’ve brought this up before but I think David Letterman is so good at that.  He has his list of questions on his desk and you know he’s going to hit at least four or five topics but he’s great at listening to the person talk and if they say something unexpected or interesting sometimes the conversation totally shifts and he asks about that over and over.  A list is important but you have to listen to what they’re saying and what they’re trying to tell you and just be willing to go there.  You can’t just stick to what you have written down.

What kind of planning or preparation goes into your podcast or television appearances?

Not as much.  We usually have a conference call the day before and we usually know what we’re going to talk about in general terms.  A lot of the time you’re still reacting to news or stuff that’s fairly recent.  The podcast we usually know a day ahead of time what we’re going to talk about or what’s going on in the NBA world.  Honestly what I’ve started to do is during the week for any kind of those appearances I just try to think about the different ways of approaching these topics or the different questions I’d have about these things.  We taped a podcast yesterday and I knew we were going to talk about the Lakers and there was so much talk about Dwight Howard leaving to go to Houston.  I knew that Laker fans were sort of torn on it but what does it really say about the organization?  I thought about that and I knew I wanted to ask Rick Fox about that yesterday, who is one of our co-host.  I kind of have things in mind, ideas and thoughts about what I want to get to but at the same time we’ll have a guest on and he’ll say something and you’ll say oh that’s kind of interesting and you get into that.  A lot of times that’s where the most interesting stuff comes from.  I don’t spend hours and hours thinking about it but I do think it’s important that you spend time thinking and trying to come up with different ways to approach stuff so it’s not the same thing you hear everywhere else over and over.

When it comes to pitching story ideas and features what makes a good pitch? How to you pitch something thats different or a little out of the ordinary?

It depends.  With SLAM I knew that every 6 months we’re going to do a Lebron story we’re going to do a Kobe story.  You’re going to cover the biggest stories in the game over and over but I also was looking for a story that’s kind of different that you hadn’t heard about a lot in other places.  I wrote a lot for GQ the past two years and with that I would come up with a thought or an idea and would ask my editor “what do you think about this?” or “this is there a different way we could talk about this to make it more interesting and more new?”  If you’re pitching a magazine editor, say you’re pitching Vanity Fair and you say “hey we should do a story on Tom Cruise”, they’ve probably thought of that (laughs) it’s probably something that’s on their radar and they’re thinking yes we should probably do a story on these big celebrities.  But if each time is different and unique and that’s going to make the publication better and it’s going to get the interest of whoever you’re pitching to.

SLAM recently asked players about their favourite cover stories.  Do you have any covers that you’re particularly proud of?

I was the online editor for a longtime and then when Ryan Jones left Ben Osborne became the editor-in-chief and I became the executive editor.  We wanted to do a Lebron story and we knew it was going to be on the cover.  My thought was this guy is the new face of the NBA at that time so why don’t we pose Lebron right in the NBA logo.  We did a shoot and I was there and explained to him this is what we’re trying to do and we’ll make the cover half blue and half red and have you sort of running sort of in the shape of the logo.  It came out pretty cool and that was one I really liked.

Once I became executive editor I had a lot more input into covers and was more on my plate than there had been before.  For so long it was easy to do a cover with guy standing with a ball but after you’ve done that for 70 issues we were trying to look for other ways to do it.  We did Dwight Howard like Superman on the front and the back cover.  We hung him from the ceiling for a photo-shoot in a studio in Orlando.  We had done Kobe on 7 or 8 covers so we couldn’t really just do Kobe standing there anymore so we did Kobe guarding himself, the concept was only Kobe can stop Kobe.  I loved the way those came out and there was such a good team at SLAM, the creative director, Melissa Brennan, has been there for a really long time and she’s incredible.  We would come up with these ideas and say can we make these happen? Sometimes we couldn’t and sometimes we could.  Things would happen or we’d have to change covers at the last minute.  It was a lot of fun coming up with some of that stuff and being able to work with everyone else there.


SLAM Issue 106 & 126 (Courtesy of SLAM Magazine)

What’s the proper etiquette of being a media member and going out to interview a player or cover a game?

The best way to learn the etiquette is just to watch everyone else, especially when you’re starting out.  You don’t cut-up in the pressroom you don’t cheer when you’re sitting in the media seats during the game. That kind of stuff is watch and learn, it’s not that hard to figure that stuff out.  As far as the nuts and bolts of how a story comes together, that Spurs story you talked about in 2005, we wanted to do a Spurs story but we didn’t know what the angle was or how we wanted to do it.  I contacted the Spurs PR director Tom James and told him we wanted to this story but we didn’t really know how we wanted to do it.  I went to San Antonio for 4 or 5 days and basically went to every practice and game that they had and just started talking with people and the more I talked to the guys they were all very open and good to talk to.  The more interviews I did I realized maybe I could just do an oral history with the team.  I emailed my editor who at the time I think was Ryan Jones and said what do you think about trying to make this an oral history and he said that’s great go for it.  So I just continued knocking down interviews and interviewed every player on the team and coach Popovich and general manager RC Buford over those 5 days.  I came back and fiddled around and put it all together and it came out pretty cool.

Are there any stories you were particularly excited about?  You said you can’t really cheer but obviously you’re a big fan so was there anything you were excited for or nervous about doing?

The first cover story I did was Stephon Marbury, I’d just moved to New York and Russ said why don’t you do this Marbury story.  I had watched him play at Georgia Tech when I was in Atlanta and watched him be dominant against all those college guys but I’d never talked to him or anything.  I did that story and got to spend basically a day with him in Coney Island riding around in his Bentley and talking to him. He was great and really open to talk about anything I wanted to talk about and it was a lot of fun.  After awhile you spend enough time around all those guys. Ryan wrote a Lebron story in his junior year in high school, he was on the cover with Sebastian Telfair in his senior year, so that was the first time I met him, after awhile you meet those guys enough and you’re around them enough that it’s not like you’re meeting a celebrity and you’re nervous or scared.

Some of the stories are just fun to tell depending on what’s going on or what point in their career they’re in or if they’re on a new team or if the team has made a bunch of changes and look like they’re going to be a contender.  That stuff is fun to get into.  I don’t really remember being to nervous, my hands weren’t shaking too many times.  Maybe when I had to say something to Gregg Popovich for the first time but other than that it’s not like you’re getting autographs and posing for photos with these guys.  It’s you’re job and you have to remember that and act professionally and do your job.

I thought you handled that Popovich introduction really well.

(laughs) thank you.

Did you have a plan for how you wanted to build your career?

I did not.  When I started out I thought okay what’s next?  I would try to set short-term goals and say next year I want to get a little piece in a magazine and I got a little thing in SLAM.  The next year I wanted to write a feature in a magazine and I wrote my first feature, then I’d like to do a cover story.  I didn’t ever sit down and actually write them out but I knew I wasn’t going to come out of nowhere and write a cover story for a magazine, I knew it was going to take work and I was going to have to get to that point somehow.  I figured it was better to hit the smaller points along the way and make it a more logical progression than just trying to go to the top right away.

You recently wrote a book In the Time of Bobby Cox: The Atlanta Braves, Their Manager, My Couch, Two Decades, and Me.  How did that come about?  Was it challenging having to switch from writing short articles to writing a full book?

That’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, writing that book.  It started cause I’d been at SLAM Online all day for 6 or 7 years and it kind of got to the point where I wanted to take on something bigger.  I like books and I read books so I thought I’d like to write a book at some point.  I met a book editor who was familiar with my work and said “hey you should totally write a book”.  She and I sat down and had a couple meals and figured out what the best thing for me to write would be.  I was always a Braves fan but had never written a lot about baseball, so I thought it would be fun to spend a couple years thinking about, writing about and working on.  It was kind of the end of the Bobby Cox era so it was sort of putting a bow on a two decade time frame.  I wrote a proposal and there’s sort of a format for that, you write an introduction, you write a comparison saying what books are similar to this what will be different, you write two sample chapters.  The whole proposal was about 70 or 80 pages.  My agent and I went back on that and got it to the point that we were comfortable with it.  She sent it out to a bunch of book editors, I met with a couple of the book editors that were interested and talked about ways it could go, different things you could do.  Some of the editors didn’t like that proposal but liked the work and wanted me to do different types of things.  The editor was a huge Braves fan and he’d been wanting to work on a book about the Braves, he was sort of familiar with who I was so we went to lunch and it was a really good fit, we got along really well and he seemed like a person I would really like to work with.

It’s so funny coming from the internet where you write a post and an hour later it’s live and you’re getting emails and reactions and comments.  The book took at least two years to write from start to finish to edit and research and go back and forth with the editor and copy editor and fact checker.  Then they wanted the release to be timed with when baseball had an impact so they set it to come out when the baseball season was starting.  It was really long, much more of a marathon than a sprint.  It took a lot of patients and a lot of work.  I did it while I had a full time job at SLAM so basically I would go to SLAM everyday, write the Links, work on stuff for the magazine, write stories for the magazine, and at night when my wife would go to sleep I would sit on the couch and work on the book.  It took about two years of every night writing from about 10 o’clock until about 2am to knock it out.

Do you plan on writing another one?

I don’t know.  I’d like to.  It was the first time I’d done it so I didn’t really know what it would take or how it would work or how much work it was going to be.  When it came out I was glad it was done, I just wanted to go sit and rest for awhile (laughs).  It’s been 2 years since it came out so I’ve been thinking lately about other ideas I’ve had.  I haven’t sat down to write a proposal or even gotten to the point of writing down stuff I’d like to do but it’s something in my mind that I’d like to do again someday.  I needed a break after basically doing two full time gigs for awhile there.


Rick Fox, Shaquille O'Neal, Lang Whitaker on the set of NBATV

You do the All Ball blog at NBA.com, you co-host the Hang Time Podcast, you’re popping up in Nike commercials, you’ve pretty much worked in every medium from newspaper, magazine, television, internet, books.  In the current media landscape what route would you suggest for aspiring writers?

I think the internet is awesome for people who are starting out because it’s free.  You can signup for a Tumblr and start your own blog for nothing.  If you’re a good writer and you have interesting things to say your stuff can get emailed around and passed around and people will see what you’re working on.  It doesn’t take a lot to get started.  I also think it’s important just to be willing to be flexible, if you want to write a magazine story that’s great but maybe your story is better on the internet or maybe it fits better on NPR than on a blog.  There’s lots of different ways to get the story out there.  It’s neat seeing your name in print but it’s neat hearing your name on the radio and it’s neat getting emails and comments from people on a website.  Being flexible is important and being willing to work in different mediums is important also.

You made the move from traditional print mediums into television and podcasts.  Was there any special training you did to get yourself television ready?

I just watched David Aldridge a lot.  When I started doing stuff on NBATV they brought me in on the show The Beat and DA and I were both on it every week.  DA is so good at television and he’s done it for so long so when you’re on the TV screen next to him it’s really easy to look like you have no idea what you’re doing so I watched him a lot.  I saw how you talk and how you say interesting things and you speak well and you don’t say ummm, and you smile at the camera.  I never had any formal training.  Being able to talk for 30 seconds to a minute at a time lends itself to a lot of different things, interviewing people, being on the radio, doing a podcast, being on TV.

I learned a lot watching DA and the other guys I worked with over there.  So no I didn’t take a class or anything.  The podcast, Sekou and I have been friends for a decade and we would talk on the phone all the time and talk about NBA stuff and email back and forth all the time and text back and forth.  Sekou called and said “would you like to come be the co-host with me?”  It’s basically what Sekou and I have been doing for 10 years but now we record it and put it out there.  In the past it was just between the two of us and making jokes about each other but now it’s put out there for public consumption.

You’ve always been interested in the weirder stories from around the NBA and now with Twitter or Instagram players are able to put themselves out there a lot more.  How has this changed the way you interact with players and fans?

When I started doing The Links I would read every NBA teams newspaper site everyday.  If there’s a big trade and Antoine Walker gets traded you know that’s going to be on SI.com and ESPN.com and every site in the world.  I was more interested in the stuff at the bottom of the column. I’m just going to make something up but it would be something like Walter McCarty is going to switch from number 0 to number 9 this season and that stuff was the funny stuff that I was interested in and it wasn’t getting blown up anywhere else.  So I thought that’s worth a joke, why is Walter McCarty changing his number.  That was always more interesting sort of the minutiae of the league.

As the internet sort of developed it has become a bigger part of coverage for a lot of different sites.  Sure you have sites that report on everything that happens but Twitter and blogs celebrate that fun stuff too.  To me it’s because sports are fun, it can be fun and it should be fun, and I liked having fun with that stuff and talking about it.  The players being on Twitter and Instagram now there is really just more content than there was a decade ago.  Nate Robinson posted a Vine video a couple of weeks ago of him jumping through a door, which was fantastic, it was such a great little video and a perfect use of Vine.  It was imaginative and it was funny.  10 years ago that would have blown everyones mind if a video popped up of that happening with an NBA player.  Steph Curry did a Vine a week later of him pump faking people around his house.  That kind of stuff is great,  I’ve always liked that stuff.  That’s sort of what I’ve always been interested in because the Dwight Howard news is going to be everywhere and I like the stuff that maybe you don’t see everywhere.

I grew up in a small town in Ontario and me and my friend Matt found a SLAM magazine in a connivence store by our middle school in 1999 and for us SLAM was our only real NBA coverage because they rarely played games on Canadian TV back then.  I went back and read your last Links post and in the comment section it seemed like people from all over the world had similar stories. How does it feel knowing you were able to share the experience of basketball fan and be the inside man to so many people around the world?

It was amazing, it was awesome.  When I started at SLAM I really didn’t know what the website was going to become.  My wife always tell people that I skip to work, meaning I really love what I do.  I really do, I can’t think of anything else I would rather do and I feel so lucky that I get to do what I love for a living.  I was at game 6 of the NBA finals this year, one of the greatest games of all time and I got to be there, I got paid to be there.  I don’t look any of that in the mouth, it’s still amazing that that’s my job and that’s what I get to do.  I’m also aware that a lot of people want that job.  Lots of people want to do it, so you have to put in the work you can’t just sit there after you’ve done it for 10 years and coast.  It takes work.  I woke up early this morning and spent an hour and a half looking at websites and looking for different things to write about and for something that would be interesting.  I don’t think you can really take any time off.  You have to put in the work.  It’s been an incredible ride and I’ve loved every second of it.

In Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman argues that all sports journalist hate sports because that’s the only thing anyone wants to talk about it with them.

I think for most people, not just sports reporters, if you do anything for a really long time you’re going to get tired of it.  You might love filet mignon but if you eat it every day for 12 years you’ll probably want something else.  After being at SLAM for a decade I kind of needed something else to do, I’d been doing it for a long time, I still loved doing it but I was just ready to do something different.  Something sort of new.  I totally get what Chuck’s saying there but I also love basketball I don’t want to be ungrateful.  I love basketball and getting to cover the NBA and write about the NBA  and watching games and all that stuff is a gift.

You’ve also managed to diversify your interests, you were writing for food websites, you’re the go to guy for social media news,  you’re writing about the NBA style scene for GQ as well.  Were you actively trying to avoid being pigeonholed as a basketball writer or were you just a good writer with a lot of interests?

I think more the latter.  I like food, I like eating, I cook dinner every night for my wife and myself.  That’s something I hope to continue, I’m interested and passionate so if I can figure out a way to make that my work, I’d like to do that.  Same with baseball, that’s where the book came from.  This is something I like, I’m going to have to spend a lot of time with it, so why not spend a lot of time with something I really like? It’s a little bit of both.  I love writing about the NBA but being pigeonholed as an NBA expert is not the worst thing in the world.  All that other stuff is just stuff I like to do too.  Video games I’ve always loved, I’ve been able to write about that.  There’s times when I’m doing something and I’ll think this would be fun to write about and I’ll jot it down in my phone or my notebook and figure out a way to make that a piece or maybe it fits into an NBA piece I’m working on.  I try to keep my eyes and ears open to whatever else is out there.


Interviewing Dwight Howard

Do you enjoy the amount of travel that is required with your job? What are some of the positive and negative aspects of it?

I love it.  I’ve always loved travelling just in general.  When I was a kid my grandfather would take myself and my cousin that’s about my age and my grandparents would take the two of us on trips every summer. I’ve always loved seeing different things.  I love history.  From that standpoint travel is something I’m interested in.  Even in my personal life I try to travel as much as I can.  In the last decade I’ve travelled all over the world and that’s something I love to do I try to see as much stuff as I can and see different things, meet different people, see different cultures. It’s part of the job and sometimes there’s nights when you’re spending the night at the airport in Washington DC and it’s not that much fun or when you have the middle seat on a flight from New York to Hawaii (laughs) it could be a little better.  I can’t complain though, I’m getting to see the world and I’m getting paid to do that.

It’s probably something you should enjoy if you’re going to get into this field?

It depends.  It probably doesn’t hurt to enjoy it.  If you’re going to cover a team, if you cover a team for newspapers you have to go to every single game, you have to do more traveling than I had to do.  You have to go to every single game so that’s catching 4 flights in 2 days or going to 4 games in 5 days on the road in different cities.  I’ve been able to do it a little more slowly and spend a couple days in each city.  It probably doesn’t hurt to enjoy travel.  Honestly I think it’s about curiosity.  I like the world and meeting different people and seeing different places and I’m curious about differences and similarities around the world and that’s part of being a reporter or journalist is being curious and asking questions and talking to people.  There are some similarities there between travel and journalism.

Grantland recently wrote a great piece about the Iverson era at SLAM Magazine, which is an era I grew up in.  What was it like starting at a small magazine and helping build it from 6 issues a year into what it is now?

At the time I started they were doing 11 issues a year and we did the Kicks issue so that made it 12.  By the time I got there it was already pretty big and pretty well established.  The difficult part about SLAM was being a monthly magazine and at the time you’re going up against newspapers who have daily news and now with the internet it’s minute by minute news.  You’re trying to tell a story or report on something and by the time your magazine comes out you don’t want it to be old.  You have to think about that and figure out how to be different and how to be relevant.  With SLAM we obviously weren’t a huge magazine, we didn’t have hundreds of staffers, it was very small, very barebones. The upside of that is I got to learn how to do a lot of different things.  I learned how to run a website, I learned how to make a photo shoot and edit stories and come up with headlines and cover lines.  I always looked at it as sort of an advantage that I got a crash course in the magazine world being able to do all sorts of different things.

The Chauncey Billups signing last night made me feel old.  You’ve been doing this a lot longer so how do you manage to keep up and stay relevant with all the changes around the league?

A big part is just that I read every day.  You see changes, you see things happening, I think that it’s important to be open to all that stuff.  When analytics started coming in vogue not that long ago, 4 or 5 years ago, I started to see it everyday and you can’t ignore it, even if you don’t agree with it or you don’t care about it, you need to know it, it’s part of the vocabulary of the NBA.  It’s funny you mentioned Chauncey Billups making you feel old because a lot of the guys who were playing when I started covering the NBA aren’t around anymore like Iverson, Marbury, all kinds of people, Shaq, all these different people.  You see players come and go.  When I first started I was the same age as a lot of those guys and now, like last week I was talking to Rubio and he’s 23 or 24, these guys now are a lot younger than me.  I’m a generation ahead of them and we might not have the same cultural touchstones that I had with some of these other guys but it’s fun to see that happen and see that change occur.  The plus side of that is having done it for so long is that I have a lot of history sort of built into my brain that I can’t forget and I can say oh that Spurs/Heat final reminded me of the Spurs/Pistons finals and compare it to different things like that. . .sorry to bring up your Spurs losing in the finals again.

Yah, thanks for that.  As a reporter you’ve probably come in contact with a lot of different media members around the league and around the world.  What are some different jobs for people interested in sports or journalism or communications that might not be very well known?

There are so many different ways content is getting out there these days.  I think there are lots of different things you can do.  There’s people that work on Twitter all day, Tweet, post Instagram, and do social media all day long.  There’s people who take photographs.  There’s editors who come up with ideas and say you’d be a good person to do this.  There’s team PR people, you could work for a team, do different things, and be with the players all day long.  There’s a lot of positions available for people to do.  It’s important to pick something that you like to do and find a way to do it that’s interesting to you.  There’s so many different ways out there and I don’t know the best way to find out all those things other than just trying to get into the middle of it and once you’re in it you’ll see different jobs and opportunities.

Do you have any final advice for people looking to get into sports journalism?

Tomorrow I’m doing a thing for NBA.com where there’s something like 18 consecutive hours of coverage on NBATV between both summer leagues and I’m doing a 12 hour live blog about what it’s like to sit on your couch and watch the game.  It will be fun to do but it’s not going to be easy.  You have to sit there and write for 12 hours straight.  That’s one way of doing it. You could be out there like David Aldridge or Sam Amick trying to break the news and figure out who Dwight Howard is going to sign with.  There’s so many different ways to do it but I like describing what it’s like to people.  During games 6 and 7 of the finals I got to write a couple kind of newsy pieces for NBA.com, I wrote one after game 6 about how the Spurs lost, that kind of stuff is fun too being on a deadline, you have to get your quotes and get your stories.  There’s so many different angles and ways to write about the game.  It’s all basketball you just come at it from a different angle.  Some people played some people didn’t play, there’s so many different ways to cover that and you find the way that suits you and that’s how you go about it.

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Date: May 27, 2014 • Category:
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