Want To Become An NBA Writer? Stories From The Bloggers That Cover The Wizards

In the middle of this past basketball season, I received an e-mail from a person that wanted to know more about how I got myself into a position to cover the Washington Wizards.

For that I have to thank Tom for asking me to cover a Washington team that is perhaps the most overlooked in the city. However the level of coverage, enthusiasm, and knowledge does not even stack up to the colleagues I write alongside- so this past season I asked picked their brains about their experience covering the Washington Professional Basketball Team.

I exchanged messages with Kyle Weidie who runs Truth About It, the Wizards blog of the ESPN True Hoop Network;  George V. Panagakos who is the Washington Wizards writer for Examiner.com; and Mike Jones, a bi-coastal writer for Yahoo! Sports.

Here’s what they had to say.

Kyle Weidie – Truth About It

Where did your Washington Wizards love come from?

I moved up to D.C. proper at the ripe age of 10 in 1990. I was a summer baby, came from a baseball family, mostly played baseball (and tee-ball) when I was younger, but I think the District, and the Bullets, played a role in converting me to a basketball guy. My dad loved taking me to pro games of any sort once we moved to Washington, and basketball is his favorite sport next to baseball. He got us a 20-game pack to see the Orioles and a partial plan for the Bullets as soon as we got settled in Washington. And while I enjoyed our drives to Baltimore, it wasn’t long before we had full seasons tickets to see Bullets play in glorious Landover, MD 41 times a year. What can I say? I was hooked from there.

Why did you decide to start writing about the Washington Wizards?

I used to initiate all sorts of long email chains with friends (I’ve always enjoyed writing), so when blogging really grew, starting one seemed like a perfect fit. I was single, 27, video games were becoming passe, and, well, there’s no better way to be creative in an increasing web world than the ability to self-publish. Having web/graphic capabilities (and an art teacher mom) helped make the foray into doing such pretty seamless. I reserved the domain name, truthaboutit.net, at first thinking I’d have a general blog that would tell the ‘truth about it’ — or whatever that means to me. It didn’t take very long, because of my love for basketball, and thus, an inability to separate myself from the Bullets/Wizards, for me to make the team my niche. I kept the domain/site name even though it’s not Wizards-related. The concept still applies, I suppose.

Describe the early days of Truth About It: What did it look like?

It was on Blogspot at first, migrated over to WordPress at one point. It looked somewhat different from when I started in October 2007 — I’ve gone through just one redesign, really, and am long overdue for another. I would do post sort of a like a play-by-play game log, but with my descriptions, analysis, and attempts at humor. Other D.C. or NBA-based content would make it’s way up sometimes. Photoshopped photos were part of the fun and still are. I think I even have some posts analyzing The Wire in the archives. I’m sure most of it would be pretty terrible if I went back and read it.

The launch and content for the first three or so years was a solo endeavor, but now the site has a great collection of consistent writers — Adam McGinnis, Rashad Mobley and John Converse Townsend — with some solid additional contributors as of late.

How did you get access to the Wizards early on?

I would watch games on television and in the early days, I had no DVR. My mission was to provide coverages/posts for all the game, but that would also really screw up my schedule. Eventually the ability to record and stop live television was a game-changer. Not only did I gain more freedom, but I was also able to better review and break down the basketball action. In late summer of 2009 I found a reason to open the lines of communication with the Wizards media and PR team. Brian Sereno, now executive director of athletic communications at George Washington, was very forward-thinking in a new media sense and knew where the trend in coverage was heading. Mike Prada of Bullets Forever and I kind of strategized about getting credentialed together. We got access on a trial basis for training camp, a preseason game, etc., and eventually got game-by-game passes for the 2009-10 season, a quite infamous one in terms of diving into being a reporter/blogger. I covered all 41 home games that year. Whew.

How Did Truth About It Become A Member of the ESPN True Hoop Network?

Kevin Arnovitz approached me in May of 2009 about joining the ESPN TrueHoop Network (a network of affiliate blogs for each NBA team along with seven non-team specific blogs under ESPN.com’s main TrueHoop blog run by Henry Abbott). It didn’t take very long for me to say yes, I was honored. The Wizards were one of the last team’s to be added to the Network, however — they did it piece-meal, and Washington generally is low on the NBA totem pole.

It’s been absolutely superb to be part of TrueHoop. Both Kevin and Henry have been great mentors (I’ve also met them several times covering the Vegas Summer League, NBA Draft), and the NBA editors of the dot.com have been great at increasingly integrating members of the Network as go-to coverage for their teams.

People relish in knocking ESPN for this and that… oh well… this whole TrueHoop Network thing, and how Henry and Kevin have been able to develop it, is pretty innovative if you ask me. Think locally under a worldwide umbrella type stuff… and it’s pretty cool to be part of it.

How do you try and cover the team differently from other writers out there?

We try to diversify coverage — advanced stats, historical perspective, breaking down plays using multi-media, humor via Photoshopping or otherwise, analytical, commentary, etc. — while also recognizing that consistency is key.

This season we started this D.C. Council series for post-game coverage that rates the five starters, the bench and the coach on a scale of three stars (a la the D.C. flag), along with conveying other key components of a game. So far we’ve gotten some good feedback on them, and they’ve really helped to tie together random coverage in the past (which continues to be random to some extent) with content on a reliable basis. Video is also important, not only to help solidify the argument of why you are writing about a player/team performing well or poorly, but also because, I believe, fans would rather see a face with a quote, not just the words. It adds to the increased context that people desire.

What’s the biggest challenge you face today as an NBA Writer?

Time. I have a regular job that I really like and is fulfilling. All of this Wizards stuff is a side gig, a passion. So with those two areas un-married, time is the biggest challenge, and I’m aiming to get better at my management of it.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to somebody that is starting out in sports writing and hopes to become like you?

Find a niche and do it well, be quick-hitting, use Twitter wisely and often, be multimedia (OK, four things, but one sentence).

George V. Panagakos – Examiner.com

Where did your Washington Wizards love come from?

I grew up a fan of the Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Orioles. I missed out on the glory days of the Washington Bullets and became more interested in the Washington Wizards when Michael Jordan joined the franchise in 2001. However, basketball was always my favorite sport to play.

Why did you decide to start writing about the Washington Wizards?

I wrote about sports in general for three years while at George Mason University, as I focused on a degree in writing. My academic work focused on short fiction and novels, and the sportswriting helped balance the workload. I found an opportunity to join the 2008 re-launch of Examiner.com and I was interested in how the site allowed HTML content. When I began writing Examiner.com was a real sandbox, and it put three of my main interests—web design, basketball, and writing—together in one pursuit.

Why did you decide to be the Wizards Examiner instead of starting your own blog?

Examiner.com is all about the community, which is great for a writer who enjoys a workshop-like environment. I’ve met and collaborated with a lot of great writers over the last four years. As an Examiner I also have a license to use Getty photos, which is another perk I wouldn’t have with my own blog. I liked the idea of being part of a community, and while I didn’t become the “South Beach Examiner,” I felt as if I could use my talents to help the Examiner movement.

Describe the early days of being the Wizards Examiner: What did it look like?

Examiner.com has changed a lot since 2008. The early days were all about getting my name out there through self-promotion. I went with the nickname “DCWIZ” at every stop simply because of its brevity: Washington (DC) Wizards (WIZ). Today, Examiner.com allows for much easier sharing and exposure.

How did you get access to the Wizards early on?

I owe a lot to Sports Director Steve Harbula, who mentored me and worked me through the credential process, perhaps the hardest bridge to cross for an independent. I began game-by-game and this season is my first as a full season.

How do you try and cover the team differently from other writers out there?

As as sportswriter you try to focus on what you feel is most important for the sake of the game analysis, or the story. The key players, their responses or progress. You have to be passionate yet objective. Sometimes the story has nothing to do with the game at all, but exterior factors. I try to steer clear of tabloid writing and aim for brevity and statistical analysis. When I’m critical, I try not to alienate. I see a lot of angry sportswriting, which doesn’t interest me. I say save that kind of writing for film reviews. But the great thing about sportswriting—and the reason why there are so many of us—is no one sportswriter can cover every angle in one story.

What’s the biggest challenge you face today as an NBA Writer?

Writing is simple. It’s the words that get in the way. If you were a pessimist entering this season you might say, “Well, the fans aren’t interested in the NBA.” But then you have “Nick Young” trending worldwide on Twitter during Washington’s second preseason game. I suppose I could say the biggest challenge as an NBA writer—from “Blogger’s Row”—would be whether or not the Verizon Center WiFi works. After that, you just have to be thankful for the opportunity.

What’s your ultimate goal with writing? Would like you like to continue to do it as a side gig or are you working to write for a paper/station?

Ideally I can use my experience at Examiner.com to continue in this field. Or, say, if Electronic Arts needs help revitalizing the NBA Live series, and they need some insider analysis. If basketball is involved, I’m there.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to somebody that is starting out in sports writing and hopes to become like you?

Reach out. Ted Leonsis is one of the most hands-on owners in the league. I E-mailed him on a Friday morning and he responded to me on Saturday. Who does that? He’s a great guy. You can only hope the franchise you want to cover has an owner who is as accessible as he is. If not, contact the local sportswriters. Read what they write. Read as many angles as you can, and reference when you can. Collaboration is a big part of sportswriting, and the only way to give readers the complete picture.

Mike Jones – Yahoo! Sports

Where did your Basketball love come from?

I began playing basketball from a very young age. Ever since I can remember, I have always been in love with the game. It is a true passion of mine.

I grew up rooting for the Los Angeles Lakers, my hometown team, but have always loved the NBA. Since then, I have followed the league closely and really enjoy watching all the teams play.

Being in DC has allowed me to familiarize myself with the Washington Wizards, and I have enjoyed covering them and learning more about the organization.

Why did you decided to start writing about the Washington Wizards?

I’ve really fallen in love with DC and think the sports culture out here is very unique. The Wizards have a lot of young talent and it will be interesting to see how they develop moving forward.

Why did you decided to be the Yahoo! Sports contributor instead of starting your own blog?

The Yahoo! Contributor Network has given me a greater voice than if I were to write on my own blog exclusively. Having the branding that Yahoo! brings allows my pieces to gain more exposure than I would otherwise have.

How do you try to cover the team differently from other writers out there?

I’m always looking for a unique angle and a voice that comes from a different perspective than a typical AP recap.

One of the frustrating things I have seen as a fan in the past is an angle to a story that really seems interesting, but has very little coverage. Sometimes I’ll think, “Wow, that’s really interesting, but where is the follow-up?”

I try to look for angles like that and highlight them in my work mixed in with my own personal flavor.

What’s the biggest challenge you face today as am NBA Writer?

I think the sheer volume of bloggers and the influx of social media is a challenge to overcome. There are so many sources of information, that it’s difficult to compete for exposure. With fewer filters, such as editors, there is also a decline in quality often at times, and that hurts everyone’s credibility as sports journalists.

What’s your ultimate goal with writing? Would like you like to continue to do it as a side gig or are you working to write for a paper/station?

As of now, my plan is to continue to write in a freelance capacity. At some point, if a great job at a reputable organization came up, I would have to consider it, but for now, I have been blessed to have a tremendous career outside of writing.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to somebody that is starting out in sports writing and hopes to become like you?

The most important aspect of writing is to be yourself, and utilize your own voice. So often, there seems to be a sense that there is a “right” way to publish. I don’t think that’s the case. Also, make sure that whatever you put out there is professional in nature and that the basics, like grammar, syntax, and spelling, are perfect.

Patrick has been blogging since before it was called blogging. At We Love DC Patrick covers local Theatre, and whatever catches his eye. Patrick’s blog stories, rants, and opinions have been featured in The Washington City Paper, Washington Post Express, CNN, Newschannel 8 Washington, and NBC Washington. See why Patrick loves DC.

You can e-mail him at ppho [at] welovedc.com

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