Writing on Pro Hoops Not Always Glamorous But It Beats a Real Job
NBA beat reporting boils down to just one thing -- telling the story of a team.
Some reporters do it strictly by writing for newspapers or websites. Others do it mostly with video. Some even do it just on Twitter or by focusing solely on analytics. (Though Twitter and analytics-only reporters tend do something else as a full-time job.)
I was once a Cavaliers beat reporter for FOX Sports Ohio. That was between LeBron James' first and second stints with the team (2010-14). For a short while, I was tied with a handful of others as losingest writer in the NBA.
When I moved into television in 2015, I started a website so I could keep writing. It was mostly aggregating other people's NBA content. It started as a hobby. It turned into a full-time job with real income. It was a lot of work and long days. Basketball never sleeps.
I mostly loved it, but there were definitely times I hated being chained to the table in the kitchen, banging out junk on a laptop. At least, that's how it sometimes felt.
I have a beautiful wife and three average-looking sons. I wanted to spend time with them. It's hard to be a good husband or father when you're working 12-hour days. And when I worked less than that, I felt guilty.
So when Sports Illustrated called in September and offered me a chance to cover the Cavaliers ... and do nothing else ... I jumped at it.
I also knew that a lot of people had just been laid off from SI.
This is a tough industry. I've been laid off twice. I didn't know most of those who worked at SI before, but I felt for them.
Sportswriters are tied together in the same manner as those in the restaurant industry or those in the accounting industry or those who make ceramics for a living. We all have a common goal, and that's to support our families by doing something we love.
It always hurts a little when those who are really good at it or those who are just really good people are let go.
At the same time, we shouldn't just expect it. It isn't our God-given right to write about sports. And despite what I see from some of my colleagues, sportswriters aren't making a major difference in the world. As FOX Sports NFL insider Jay Glazer once said, "We're sports reporters. We don't count."
Sports are a diversion from real life. We report on that diversion. People take sports seriously -- so seriously that they sometimes lose sight of what actually matters. But I'm still not convinced this should be an actual job.
NOT ALWAYS GLAMOROUS
With the decline of newspapers, sportswriting in and of itself isn't really a sustainable field. If you want to do it as anything more than a hobby, you'd better be relentless. You need to develop an array of skills. You have to give the readers what they want and you have to produce numbers.
In the age of the Internet, everyone can track pageviews and everything is based on what readers consume.
Along with all that, you have to be lucky.
Compliments from other writers are always a nice slap on the backside, but they don't earn you a paycheck. That is why when I got into this business, I decided I would write for the readers -- and only the readers. I still see too many writers who seem as if they write mostly for the praise of other writers.
Along with that, if you are successful, you'd better get used to most of the people you cover finding you ... well, more annoying than anything.
I have a great relationship with many coaches and players. Others hide when they see me coming.
Fans are another matter entirely. Praise their favorite team and you're a "great writer." Chastise their favorite team and you're a "hack." I've been called both. Once it was by the same fan in the span of four days.
But I've been doing this for 20 years and that aspect of it will never change. Whether I covered high school, college or pro sports hasn't mattered. A hack is a hack and it's certainly not against the law to say that about a sportswriter. I often welcome it. It means I aroused some passion in the reader. As a writer of anything, that is always the goal.
COLUMN ABOUT NOTHING
Today, I'm not really a beat reporter. I'm more of a hybrid between a guy who tries to tell the story of the Cavaliers while at the same time giving my thoughts on the team and NBA as a whole. One of my former editors told me I'm a "new age reporter with more opinion than anything and even some occasional actual insight."
Not sure that was a compliment, but I took it. I also knew it didn't matter to the readers. They want information and analysis on the Cavaliers and NBA. My goal is to give it to them. I'll allow the readers to put my job description in any box they want.
All I really know is I love writing. I love basketball. Sometimes, I love basketball way more than writing. Sometimes, it's the writing I enjoy most. Sometimes, I don't feel like doing either.
Yes, believe it or not, there are times I dread going to a game. Then I remember that I don't have to lift anything heavy or spend long thankless hours in a factory or do any of the many jobs that make our world work.
Then I also remember that my goal has always been to tell the story of the team for those people in those important roles. My goal has always been to be their diversion. I want to be the best diversion possible.
Mostly, I've been blessed that those in charge of deciding who writes about basketball for a full-time job keep hiring me. I've covered the NBA for FOX Sports, CBS Sports, the Boston Herald, New York Post and now, Sports Illustrated.
To me, all of it is the second-best thing to actually playing in the NBA. At times, it's even better. After all, I can write a lot longer than athletes can play. There are no pro athletes at 80 years old, but there are some sportswriters.
So what's the point of all this?
Nothing. There is nothing about this that matters. It has nothing to do with the Cavs. I'm just bored on a snowy Saturday afternoon south of Cleveland. I felt like writing about something ... anything. I wanted to share something about myself and my job with my readers.
That's just what hacks such as myself sometimes do. Sometimes we just write because it feels good, not because we are good.
But hey, at least they keep paying me to do it.