Staff writer Anthony Cotton, 24, has had plenty of experience traveling for the sake of basketball. And it's not just because he spent the season covering the NBA, the last two weeks bouncing back and forth between Milwaukee and Philadelphia for his piece in this issue on their playoff series (page 24). The 6-foot Cotton is the starting point guard for the Sun Devils in a league at Chicago's Shabbona Park and no small factor in their 45-1 record of the last four years. During the '79-80 season he lived in New Jersey but arranged his work schedule so as to miss only five Sun Devil games.
In high school Cotton had the dubious distinction of being a football star at a basketball power—Proviso East in Maywood, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. He started at cornerback on the varsity his last two years and in the off-season he played pickup basketball at the school. As a walk-on at Northwestern University, he had a cup of coffee as third-string cornerback. During two-a-days in the heat of August, he decided that football wasn't fun anymore. He quit the team, and his only moment of regret came at the season's first game: both cornerbacks ahead of him had been injured, and another freshman started. But Cotton was free to become a total basketball fanatic, the kind of intramural player who arranged his classes around playing the game. "They called us semi-jocks," he says. "I took a job in the intramural office to make sure we always had enough equipment."
Cotton started writing at 10, turning out short stories and mysteries just for his own satisfaction. In college he wrote for The Daily Northwestern for a year, using his stories, and the help of a professor, to land a summer job with The Journal Times in Racine, Wis. It was a small paper, but not one to confine its staff coverage to local events. Cotton reported on major league baseball in Milwaukee and Chicago and was assigned to interview Jim Rice at a time when the Boston leftfielder was especially cool to the press. The 20-year-old Cotton's first question drew an icy stare; chilled, but not frozen, Cotton blurted out, "Why do you have a chip on your shoulder?" The result was an interview of real substance.
The following summer he covered both news and sports for the Chicago Tribune but finally committed himself to sports writing by joining our staff in the summer of '79.
April 26, 1981
Between assignments, Cotton manages to put in time behind the counter of the White Hen Pantry, a convenience store in River Forest, Ill. owned by his wife, Beth Schmidt, and between sandwiches he sandwiches in another "sport"—video games. He is a master at Galaxian, so adept, in fact, that he has a difficult time getting an opponent to play him more than once. Friends who do consent to go around again usually bring along something to read while waiting their turns.
To date, none of the NBA stars Cotton covers has asked him for help with his Galaxian game, but then again, Cotton has fought the temptation to ask a fellow point guard like the Bucks' Quinn Buckner exactly how he posts his man down low.