School of Hardwood Knocks #11- Jared Dubin
The cream of the crop show their best crossover moves as roles are reversed and interviewer becomes interviewee.
The School of Hardwood Knocks’ most recent edition features someone who is a favorite amongst many of The Pick and Roll’s writing team. That alone makes him a perfect candidate to be interviewed for the series, as writers don’t get more aspiring than us!
Jared Dubin is perhaps best known as the writer and Co-Editor In Chief of Hardwood Paroxysm. Described as “the OG blog”, it may not have been the first basketball blog, but just about every professional blogger has earned their stripes writing for them at one point or another.
While Dubin is a lifelong fan of the NBA, his true allegiance lies with the New York Knicks. Having been a key figure within the NBA blogosphere for the last two years, he recently added the title of ‘published author’ to his resume and much of his work has more of an analytical quality to it, than one would usually associate with blogging. Dubin has written for many outlets of note including Bloomberg Sports, Grantland, Hardwood Paroxysm, Bleacher Report and Hoopchalk.com, a member of the ESPN TrueHoop Network, focusing on the X’s and O’s, that he founded as well as being their lead writer.
Dubin is multi-talented, to say the least. Aside from keeping up with the NBA and writing about its many wonders, he is licensed to practice law. He also contributed to the writing of ‘We’ll Always Have Linsanity: Strange Takes on the Strangest Season in Knicks History’. In the book, Dubin and crew recount both the strangest and most wondrous season to be a Knicks fan, in living memory. Co-author, Jim Cavan, describes it as a “brief anthology of recollections from the tumultuous season, consisting of a mix of prose and polemics, stats and rants, reflection and raw reaction.”
Dubin is part of the new breed of writers and analysts who are strong advocates of the analytics movement within the NBA. This is ably demonstrated in his often thought provoking, and at times ground breaking, content. His ability to combine quality statistics and actual basketball acumen is a rare quality and something that should be valued highly as not many writers are talented enough to find a balance between the two. This is not to say that he is solely focused on the serious stuff. One has only to view his tumblr, listen to his podcasts, or read this interview, in fact, to appreciate his ability to use humour, when appropriate.
From blocking Knowshon Moreno in high school to completing a business administration degree at the University of Miami, to clerking at the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, Dubin has done it all . . . and that was before he became a professional writer. He’s one of the best in the business and, undoubtedly, one of our favorite reads. So it’s with great pleasure that we present our interview with this man of many talents known as Jared Dubin.
1. Can you begin by telling our readers a bit about your background, when you first fell in love with basketball, started writing about it and your career progression since?
I never know what people mean when they ask about my “background,” so I’ll just go with this: I’m 26. I think I’m a Taurus, but I could be wrong because I don’t follow astrology and I heard they changed up what signs people are a few years ago. I was born on May 8, so I’m whatever that is. I grew up in Marlboro, New Jersey (go Mustangs!) and attended Marlboro High School, the University of Miami, and New York Law School. I live on the upper east side of Manhattan with two friends that I’ve known for nearly my entire life. That all sounds background-y, right?
Like most kids from my area that are the least bit interested in sports, I started in a rec basketball league at a very young age and just couldn’t get enough of it. I played middle school, high school and AAU ball growing up, and obviously spent a lot of my nights watching Knicks games. I’d say I fell in love with basketball when I went to the NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland in 1997. It was the NBA’s 50th anniversary, so the weekend doubled as an honoring of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. I have about 40 or so signatures from NBA stars past and present in this gigantic book they gave out that weekend. My dad and I talked to Earl Monroe for over an hour in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I shook Shaq’s hand and it came up to my elbow. We chatted with Larry Bird and Chris Webber in the airport, while I was wearing a C-Webb Bullets jersey. We stayed in the same hotel as the players, and I think the only one we couldn’t get near at any point was MJ, who had a private elevator to keep him away from the crowd. It was a surreal weekend, and I’ll never forget it.
I picked up writing on a whim in my second year of law school. I had always done better on essay tests than multiple choice or any other kind while I was in school, so I suppose I had at least a modicum of writing talent before I decided to actually give writing about basketball a go. I convinced a friend of mine from law school to let me write for what, at the time, was supposed to be a sports law blog. I thought what I wrote was fairly terrible, but he thought it was good and encouraged me to stay with it, which I’m thankful to him for. The NBA lockout hit a few months later, at which point I started my own (now-defunct) NBA blog because my friends were sick of hearing me complain about the NBA lockout.
I wrote there pretty consistently for a few months, at which point I sent an email to Matt Moore where I told him that I loved Hardwood Paroxysm and wanted to write for the site. I didn’t hear back from him for three months, then got a random email on a January morning that just said “Welcome to the Paroxysm. You start Monday. Google group invite coming.” Everything that’s happened in my writing “career” from there (coauthoring a book, starting my own TrueHoop Network site, freelancing at various basketball-Internet-y places, and working for Bloomberg Sports), I owe at least in some way to Matt, who is as encouraging and patient and kind a person as is possible, despite what you might think based on his Twitter account. I swear.
2. As a writer that covers the landscape of the NBA, how do you keep up with the Association in its entirety? Are you able to set aside time to watch certain things or do you follow teams spontaneously? During basketball season, do you still find time to keep up with your other beloved teams like the Yankees, Rangers, Dallas Cowboys and Miami Hurricanes to your satisfaction, or is that just a sacrifice you have to make?
I accomplish this mostly by rarely sleeping. I’m trying to be better about that this season by saving some late-night games to watch on DVR or the league pass archive in the morning, but I doubt I’ll be very successful. On nights the Knicks play, I watch that game start to finish – as a fan – while taking terrible notes. Since most Knicks’ games are early, I usually get to catch a late game as well. Then I’ll fire up a DVR’ed or archived game the next morning, and in many cases, re-watch the previous night’s Knicks game at some point, just so I can see if my notes are in any way coherent and/or correct. On nights the Knicks don’t play, I tend to flip around so I can see as much of the league as possible, even if it’s just for a few minute stretches. And then I’ll watch and takes notes on a full game in the morning.
I find far more time to follow the Cowboys and Canes than I do the Yankees and Rangers, simply because my football teams only play once a week. It’s far easier to carve out two to three hours once a week than three to seven times. I sometimes wish I had more time to follow my other teams, but then I’ll catch a five-hour Yankees-Red Sox game umped by someone like Joe West or C.B. Bucknor and I think “Yeah, I’m okay.”
3. Has your degree in law helped at all with your current occupation, whether it be anything to do with the work itself or the dedication needed to apply oneself when studying law? Would you like to practice law someday, or has the studying experience been enough? Are there any other dream jobs you’d love to do?
My favorite class I took in law school was called Persuasion. Basically, we just had to write a persuasive essay on a different topic every week, and then we discussed our essays in class. That’s helped my writing a substantial amount.
I’m licensed to practice in both New York and New Jersey now, and I’d certainly like to practice at some point. I wanted to be a lawyer since before high school; the writing thing kind of just happened over the last few years. We’ll see how it goes.
I suppose my dream job would be to own the Knicks, but I don’t think my Bar Mitzvah money is enough to get Mr. Dolan to sell.
4. At law school, and when studying Business Administration before that, I’d imagine you’re taught to write in a very particular style. What have been some of your influences in life, be they writers or otherwise, that were instrumental in ensuring your pieces don’t read like court transcripts?
I try to read as many smart writers as I can every day. The crew at Paroxysm is insanely talented, and whenever I think my writing is getting too dry, I’ll open something that Danny Chau or Steve McPherson or Jordan White wrote recently and see the kinds of fun things people can do with words. I have a very analytical and X-and-O based approach to the game just because I played for so long and that’s how I think about things, but I believe it’s important to read people who write differently than you do.
Like most writers in my age range, I was weaned on Bill Simmons’ writing. Over the last few years, many more writers have popped up who I try to read as often as possible, simply because I like reading what smart people have to say. To name just off the top of my head: Zach Lowe, Jonathan Abrams, Howard Beck, Dan Devine, Seth Rosenthal, Zach Harper, Rob Mahoney, Tom Ziller, Mike Prada, Henry Abbott, Kevin Arnovitz, Tom Haberstroh, John Schuhmann, Beckley Mason, James Herbert, and about 100 more I’m undoubtedly forgetting and/or offending due to said forgetting.
5. When Matt got the job at CBS, and a few other writers left, you found yourself juggling a huge workload both writing for and running a number of sites. How did you handle the entire workload with very little help, especially while doing a law degree?
Matt actually didn’t pass HP to Amin and me until after I had graduated, so it wasn’t as hard as one might think. I worked a bunch of short-term jobs while in my first year as co-EIC, and mostly was able to manage the writers and wrangle people in my spare time. It helps that our email threads are going throughout the day, so I was able to keep tabs on what was happening pretty much just by checking my phone.
6. Recently, as guest on on a podcast, you told a story about how you sent Matt Moore some of your pieces, which earned you the gig at H.P. Were Matt’s words of encouragement, to trust that he wouldn’t have given you the job unless you were up for it, enough to get rid of any self-doubt in your abilities? Or do you still have moments of self-doubt?
I love everything I write, right up until the moment I click Publish (on WordPress) or Send (on an email), at which point I hate it. I suspect that will never change.
7. You’ve been both an editor and writer so can see both points of view. What are some of the best advice editors have given you as a writer and as an editor? What extra responsibilities does an editor, or site founder, take on that writers might be blissfully unaware of?
Best advice: start writing, keep writing.
My editorial role at HP is much more big picture (i.e. organizing things like the HP Preview and wrangling our crew of 30,000 writers to get some posts up) than it is editing individual pieces, though there is some of that as well. I’m lucky enough to work with a large and talented enough crew that my “job” mostly involves getting out of the way and letting them do what they do best. I tend to edit individual pieces more often at HoopChalk, which takes a good deal of time. I suppose the biggest issue is realizing that I can’t impose my style and/or word choice on people who aren’t me. Everyone writes differently, and I have to let that shine through on things they write, even if it’s going up on my site.
8. Please fill our readers in about your role at HP, how the podcast got started, how long it’s been going for and whatever else you believe to be pertinent information. I’ve enjoyed the ones you’ve hosted or been a guest on and your delivery is very professional. Was there a learning curve when you started on podcasts and can you give some tips to people who may be thinking of starting one or are new to it? My pet peeve which I find very off-putting is when the podcasters are unconsciously saying “you know” and umming” a few times every sentence.
The podcast has existed almost since the site did, though we only recently got it onto iTunes. We did that right before I started at Bloomberg, which in a cruel twist of fate has zapped all available time I had to record podcasts. I like doing them, but don’t think I necessarily have any idea what I’m doing. I don’t think there is anyone on the planet who says “You know” more than I do. If I sound professional, it’s probably because I have ample public speaking practice from mock trials in law school.
9. The first piece you wrote for Grantland, ‘The Definition of Insanity: Why It’s Time to Move Away From Retread NBA Head Coaches‘ came about through networking . . . literally; as I understand it to have been @netw3rk who helped you get in contact? Had you wanted to, or thought about, writing for Grantland before that point? Do you actively network with other writers to put yourself in positions where opportunities like this may present themselves?
I was talking to Jason Concepcion (aka @netw3rk) about a piece I was writing and he gave me a contact point there. I would say I wanted to write there, but I didn’t really think about it much because I didn’t think it was a thing that could happen. I’m happy they liked it, as well as a few others I’ve written since then. I’m a freelance contributor, and I pitch pieces just like I imagine any other freelancer would. Chris Ryan, who is excellent, let me write about why Iman Shumpert is the coolest Knick since Clyde Frazier for the NBA Warning series, which was just about the best thing since ever.
I definitely actively network with other writers, whether it’s at games, meeting up when they’re in New York or I’m elsewhere, or at places like the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. I just like meeting people, putting faces to writing, or more often, faces to Twitter accounts. It can’t hurt to know people.
10. What motivated you to create Hoopchalk? I, personally, enjoy the X’s and O’s of the game and really love the idea of a site dedicated to that. Have you always been passionate about that side of basketball?
When Sebastian Pruiti got a job with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he shut down NBAPlaybook, the original X’s and O’s blog for the TrueHoop Network. Before last season started, I felt there would be a void in that type of coverage (which didn’t wind up being the case, as everyone and their mother started writing breakdown pieces), and that the network should always have a dedicated X’s and O’s/strategy blog. I approached a bunch of talented people to line up contributors before even contacting Henry Abbott and Kevin Arnovitz with the idea for the site, and they were immediately interested after I did contact them. As the staff I originally assembled moved onto bigger and better things, I started bringing in more people throughout the season, and added some more this offseason as well.
I’ve always been passionate about that side of basketball because that’s how I’ve always thought about basketball. When I played in school and AAU, I’d ask coaches why we ran a certain play at a certain time, or why the play was structured the way it was. I just always liked knowing that stuff. It made sense to me to try to write about it.
11. Can you please give some of the up and coming writers who follow ‘The School of Hardwood Knocks’ series some tips? Are there any obvious mistakes that you notice inexperienced writers making all the time?
Start writing. Keep writing. If that fails, find someone smarter than me to get advice from. Oh, and read other smart writers.
12. I love ‘We’ll Always Have Linsanity’. I thought that it was very uniquely written from a different perspective. For those who may not have read it, could you please provide a little info on how you contributed to the book? Was there anything about the publishing industry that you learned or surprised you during this process? Would you like to be part of something like that again, and if so, would you prefer a solo project or another collaborative piece?
Well first, thank you. I’m glad to know that someone other than my dad read the book. He bought 20 copies.
As far as my contribution goes, we re-used and re-purposed a few things I originally wrote for Paroxysm to use in the book, and then I wrote another chapter on Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, and the first good Knicks defense in nearly a decade. I learned that while writing a book is hard, editing and publishing a book is about 100,000 times harder. Seth Rosenthal, Jim Cavan, Robert Silverman, Mike Kurylo, and Jonathan Silverman did tireless work editing, publishing, and promoting that thing, and I’m incredibly proud to have been a part of it. I supposed since I’m doing shout outs, I should give one to Dan Litvin, Jamie O’Grady, Jason Concepcion, and Jake Appleman, who were the other coauthors and are generally fantastic people.
I’d certainly be interested in doing another book. I’m not sure if I’d prefer a solo project or another collaborative piece, but I do want to write another book at some point. I already have a subject and title picked out. I don’t think this particular idea will happen, though.
13. You became far more actively involved in the movement to keep Lin with the Knicks to the point that you were the driving force behind the petition to match the Rockets offer. As a writer, was there any hesitation in becoming so involved, and in hindsight you do still hold as strong a view as you did then?
I actually did not start that petition. I just tweeted it out once and people thought I did. I didn’t hesitate or regret doing it, because I believed the Knicks should have re-signed him. I don’t think teams should let young assets with upside walk for nothing.
14. You ask in Chapter 5 of ‘Linsanity’ “do you feel that Twitter and writing and generally being part of the NBA blogosphere has elevated it to another level than it would be at if you weren’t an active participant in those arenas?” Please tell our readers what your answer is to this question, not just in terms of Lin, but the NBA in general?
It absolutely elevates my experience of following the NBA to a different level. There’s a constant feedback loop on nearly everything that happens, which at times is incredibly enjoyable and at others is incredibly horrifying. I like knowing what people think, as well as what they think about what I think, but there are times where it just gets to be too much. That said, being part of “Basketball Twitter” enhances the NBA experience on those nights where there are 13 games, six of them are in #LeaguePassAlert range and Durant is gunning for 50 on another channel.
15. You have a rivalry with your mom that goes back to when she threw out your Mitch Richmond jersey. Considering all those years you spent on your first degree, then law school and interning, clerking and externing, did it take your parents a while to get used to your change in career path? At what point did they realise that this writing thing is a legitimate career?
It wasn’t just Mitch Richmond! There were like seven or eight other jerseys she threw out. She will be thrilled to know that not only do I still complain about it to her, but now I’m doing it in interviews as well. Aren’t you proud, mom?
I think they realized writing was a legitimate thing that I could do when they saw the actual hard copies of the book. But they’ve always been very encouraging, even before that. When I was just writing my personal blog and emailing them all my pieces, they were never on the “Why are you doing this?” train. My mom would always say something like “I don’t know who [x] is or what [stat] means, but cool!” and my dad would say something like “Why doesn’t Carmelo pass more?” But then they’d forward the email to the rest of my family and their friends, who I’m sure were like “Why is he doing this?” My brother always thought it was cool, I guess.
16. Other than having a 65% success rate with your elbow pass, what are some other hidden talents or information our readers might not know about you?
I have the single worst singing voice on Earth. It is not possible to be more tone deaf than I am. But I am good at impressions. I do an especially wicked Boston accent, honed through copious re-viewings of The Departed and Good Will Hunting, as well as living with a friend from Boston during college.
And I think my elbow pass accuracy rate is something more like 71% these days.
17. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
For more Jared Dubin:
Follow him on Twitter (@JADubin5)