School of Hardwood Knocks #7 – Eric Pincus
The cream of the crop show their best crossover moves as roles are reversed and interviewer becomes interviewee.
In this edition of the School of Hardwood Knocks, I had the honor of interviewing the cerebral writer for HOOPSWORLD and the Los Angeles Times, Eric Pincus. Eric has covered the Lakers and Clippers on HOOPSWORLD and specializes in delivering NBA news with a financial slant. Anytime news or rumors regarding player transactions are released, Eric Pincus is is one of the most reliable sources in the media to seek out for information regarding plausibility and financial implications. He started working for HOOPSWORLD in 2002 and was hired by the Los Angeles Times prior to the 2012/13 season to write for their “Lakers Now” blog. In this session, we get to find out a little bit more about the man behind the work.
Everybody involved in sports media didn’t plan out for it to be their career path, many people just turn out to be made for it. So I decided to start this off by finding out the genesis of Eric’s career and why he involves himself with complications of the NBA’s dollars and cents.
DW: What was your occupation before becoming a basketball writer?
EP: My family has an event planning company. I’ve always been involved with it, and still am. I do some software development, IT, etc. along with some of the finances.
DW: I read that you got into this field pretty much by posting regularly on basketball message boards and then eventually developed a relationship with HOOPSWORLD. Did you receive offers to write for anyone else before working with them?
EP: I started writing because I enjoyed the game and found I had a way of presenting my take that seemed to interest others. I went to UCLA for political science and psychology, but I took a ton of writing classes. At some point my friend noticed that HOOPSWORLD had an opening and just like that, we teamed up. I’ve had other offers throughout but have been very loyal to the HW brand. Last year the Los Angeles Times called and I was able to find a happy medium with all my Lakers content there – the rest of my NBA content at HW.
DW: You’re the go-to guy in the NBA media in regards to the salary cap. Were you given that particular assignment by the powers that be at Hoops World or is it something you brought to the table yourself? How was the concept formulated?
EP: I don’t know if I’m the absolute top go-to guy, I think that’s reserved for Larry Coon – a close friend. I just have an aptitude for that sort of thing, with legal, accounting, economic backgrounds – and naturally an understanding of the sport. My understanding and knowledge just grew over time and HW has always been great at playing to their strengths of their writers.
DW: How does it feel to be known as the cap guru?
EP: I just want the table to be set accurately. If a reporter is going to throw ideas or rumors out there – keep it grounded in what’s actually legal and possible. If something is going around Twitter, etc. – let’s just make sure it’s real. An understanding of the rules and the numbers can give a sense of what teams may do with their personnel.
DW: I’ve read through the Collective Bargaining Agreement many times and feel that I would fail if I had to answer questions about it on a reading comprehension test. There are only a few people outside of NBA team executives that understand the CBA, you’re one of them. What is it about the CBA that intrigues you? Or is it something that is natural for you to learn about since it is already within the scope of the content you’re responsible for at HOOPSWORLD?
EP: The CBA is basically a revision of a revision of a revision of a revision, etc. – every time done under the stress of two parties battling for a bigger piece of the pie. It’s complex and unwieldy – but the rules are there. I find player movement in general fascinating. The CBA as the mechanism for how it happens is an extension of the game itself. It’s not just trying to win a ball game or a season – but leveraging the rules to build that team capable of winning. Sometimes that means going in the opposite direction to get to the goal.
DW: Are you fully versed with the intricacies of the CBA or do you still find yourself studying it constantly to make sure you’re giving out the correct information?
EP: There’s no way to have it down cold. There are ambiguities and inconsistencies that make sure you do your homework before throwing out an opinion.
DW: I understand that you’re a fan of HBO’s The Wire; do you think your knowledge of the salary cap would allow you to manage the financial side of Avon Barksdale’s operation better than Stringer Bell?
EP: Just follow the numbers.
The last season of “The Wire” featured an individual by the name of Scott Templeton, who was a reporter that manufactured false human interest stories in order to climb the ranks for the publication that he worked for. I tried to slip in a question on Eric where he would compare one of his peers to Scott Templeton. Being the class act that he is, Eric declined to answer, which leads to the next series of questions regarding style, integrity, and building relationships in the industry.
DW: A lot of people, including myself, tend to criticize writers that present new information and cite an unnamed source. You’re under no obligation to appease the audience but have you ever felt compelled to give up your source to your superiors?
EP: There’s a level of trust that’s been built. The LA Times is more conservative on that front, as they should be. We don’t use the word “source” or “sources” at The Times.
DW: How valuable are the industry relationships that you have built as far as achieving career goals?
EP: Hugely significant and valuable.
DW: Do you believe that your success is more attributed to the contacts you have made or the quality of the content you have published?
EP: Has to be both but more the quality of content. You can know everyone under the sun but if you can’t present it properly, what then?
DW: Are there any writers (could be journalists from any genre or novelists) that have influenced you?
EP: Too many to mention. Larry Coon has had a tremendous influence. I enjoyed Howard Beck and Tim Brown when they were on the Lakers beat. I appreciate what T.J. Simers and Mark Heisler offered – though I didn’t always agree with their takes. Peter Vecsey was a pioneer in his way. Chad Ford threw a lot on the wall when he was with ESPN, but it was certainly interesting. Marc Stein is always grounded in his material. I’m sure I’ve left someone out. Outside of the NBA, the list is too long.
DW: What is it about their styles of writing that captures you?
EP: There are many ways to get to write a story or get to the truth of the matter –“All and all, they were all just bricks in the wall.”
DW: Do you take anything (styles of writing) from those writers that you incorporate?
EP: I’ve learned from a lot of people on how to do this job, but my style is my own.
DW: Are you a fan of either the Lakers or Clippers?
EP: I’m a fan of the game. I grew up in Los Angeles and went to games at the Forum and Sports Arena.
DW: Compare and contrast the experience of live blogging Lakers games for LA Times opposed to writing a standard basketball article. Do you feel any more pressure when you’re live blogging games because it’s in the moment?
EP: The pressure is just making sure I keep the balls in the air. In-game blogs you have more
of a time crunch but no, not much additional pressure outside of deadline.
DW: Twitter has created a society where people worldwide live “in the moment” and can react immediately to news as well as broadcast what’s on their mind. How has this affected the reporting of news?
EP: I would like to live-tweet more but if a dozen people are banging it out, is the goal to type on my phone faster than they can? I’d rather just listen and take in what’s happening, then write about it as quickly as possible – after it’s over. If it’s something significant that needs to go out, I’ll live-tweet. It’s not my preference.
DW: Much praise goes to the person that tweets information first, the infamous #WojBomb for example; on the flip side much negativity greets those that report incorrect news. Is it more important to be first or right? Please elaborate.
EP: Few remember who broke a story – many remember who blew one. I’m not that interested in being first. Naturally I’d like my story to hit before anyone else’s but it’s not what drives what I do. If we’re talking opinion, that’s different – but in actual news, right trumps first every time.
Mr. Pincus dropped a lot of gems in this interview. Forget about being a writer, I know that I’m a better person just from reading some of his responses. The man was a psychology major, so I’m truly feeling like I just received a free therapy session except for the simple fact that I was the one asking all of the questions. If you scrolled this entire Q&A session and found yourself at this point, you still have an opportunity to absorb some good game.
DW: Eric, I sincerely thank you for agreeing to this interview. I have one last question… What advice do you have to offer somebody that is trying to make a living as a sportswriter/broadcaster/analyst?
EP: Write and then write some more, then write a few more times. You have to get to a point where it’s second nature, so that the mechanics of writing are out of the way. Also – shorter is usually better. Don’t fall in love with the words just because you wrote them – edit yourself.
More Eric Pincus:
If you’re an NBA fan with a Twitter account and not following @EricPincus, you’re just not doing it right.