The cream of the crop show their best crossover moves as roles are reversed and interviewer becomes interviewee.
“No matter how bad this gets for me or how burnt out I feel, I know what it’s like to have a real job. When I write something and I’m proud of it; that was my job. I got paid to write about something I care about and that’s fantastic.”
I pulled this quote from a recent episode of the CBS Sports ‘Eye on Basketball Pick and Troll’ podcast Matt Moore co-hosts with Zach Harper. While I’d been a fan of Moore’s writing for a long time, it was only after listening to his podcasts that my respect for him grew to the point where, out of all the possible interview subjects for this series, he was my No. 1 target.
Moore has only himself to blame if my fanboy status has reached a truly embarrassing level. Not only did he respond to my interview questions so quickly –use of the DeLorean (iconic car used as a time machine in the ‘Back to the Future’ movie trilogy) might have be involved– but his answers were comprehensive, entertaining and informative. This one interview alone was enough to justify my initial idea of an interview series with established NBA bloggers and journalists to help the next wave of up and coming writers learn more of the craft they aspire to eventually master.
Usually, in an introduction, we would take you through some of the accomplishments of the interview subject. However, Moore does this so well himself, and in such an unassuming manner, that there’s only one thing left for me to say: if you are a blogger, journalist, editor and/or website creator with aspirations of further honing your craft, this interview is a ‘must read’. So from all of us at The Pick and Roll, we hope you enjoy the first master class in our ‘School of Hardwood Knocks’ interview series.
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 was born in a small town, as the sun rose in the East. The wind whispered the word “snark as this world gave me. . . no, wait, that’s not right.
I was born in Kansas City, Missouri but raised in Northwest Arkansas. Not exactly a booming place of NBA fandom. But all of my friends played basketball constantly in parks and at the rec center in town, that’s where I started to get into it. Watching the NBA on NBC on weekends turned into a ritual, that became obsessing over box scores the next morning in the newspaper.
I never wrote about it, though. I went to college to study journalism but really hated where the industry was at that time. It was really bitter, really focused on networking, and discouraging for someone who just wanted to write. I wound up living in Austin and working various jobs. A friend and I would go to this bar and watch and talk basketball for hours.
I was getting married and my soon-to-be wife said I needed a hobby. I’d gotten into blogs which were just becoming popular at that time, and thought “Hey why not?” I started writing and just found I had a knack for it. I managed to make connections with some other really smart bloggers which opened up opportunities for me. Eventually, I started writing for FanHouse after a recommendation from Tom Ziller (now at SBNation). That eventually lead me to NBC’s ProBasketballTalk.com with Kurt Helin, and then CBSSports.com’s Eye on Basketball. It all just kind of happened, really.
2. Am I right in understanding that your role at CBSSports.com includes some editorial and managerial responsibilities as well as writing?
I’m involved in the process of directing the content and direction of our NBA coverage at CBSSports.com. I’m lucky that my editor, Mike Coulter and producer, Sergio Gonzalez, allows me to give input on how we cover the NBA. I have some administrative site duties that have come largely as a result of the fact that when we started, CBS had never had a blog team like us before. We wound up making up a lot of the processes, so some of that has been my design because no one else had time for it.
3. Back on 28th July 2010, Henry Abbott congratulated you for getting “a full-time NBA media job” with CBS. While him saying “nobody works harder” could be seen as a platitude, this has been verified by other people I’ve spoken to in the industry. What turned you from the guy in your mid 20s who was making all the wrong decisions to one of the very few who works full time in this industry?
I LOVE doing this. I’ve worked so many crappy jobs in my life, and I know what it’s like to be there. It’s such a blessing to have this opportunity, I feel like it’s my responsibility to work constantly to give the reader as much as I can. This is such a plush gig, the only way to get ahead in a market where there’s so much content is by working as hard as you can.
I think a lot of it also came from my experiences early after college. I was working three jobs and still couldn’t pay the bills. You go through that and it teaches you a different way to approach work. You want to survive in an industry this unstable, with this much competition? You had better be ready to chase after every single pageview you can get (within the limits of your scruples). Those days you don’t want to write? That’s when you need to write the most. If you don’t feel like you have anything to write about it, you’re not doing enough to pursue ideas.
4. Could you fill our readers in about what being a member of the ESPN Truehoop network actually means? How did Hardwood Paroxysm become part of it, and what opportunities did it open to you once you were a member?
I had danced with SBNation adding Paroxysm early on, but instead, we wound up founding Ridiculous Upside, their D-League blog which I eventually turned over to Scott Schroeder. In 2008, Henry Abbott told me they were starting THN and wanted me and I jumped at the opportunity. Henry’s been a monstrous blessing for me in my career, helping with advice, links, and support. So I’d pretty much jump through fire for the guy.
I think the biggest thing is just the connection of being associated with ESPN, which of course is a major player in the league. There are perks and benefits, but really just making an independent blog seem legit helps a ton with getting credential opportunities and resources.
5. As the founder and editor of Hardwood Paroxysm, can you describe what extra responsibilities being an editor entails? What are some of the things you never had to think about as a writer that suddenly become hugely important as an editor?
I’ve done different things in that role, because a lot of it depends on the writer. We don’t (read: can’t) pay anyone, so I tend to allow writers the freedom to have whatever level of oversight they want. If I bring on a writer, I’m giving him or her the freedom to write what they think is their best work. Now, a lot of it beyond just site management in terms of the nuts and bolts of creating and maintaining the site means working to improve writers that want it. It’s giving feedback and workshopping pieces, it’s providing input on who they should talk to or read for more ideas, it’s presenting holes in their argument so they can be prepared for criticism.
And a lot of it is trying to urge writers to keep writing. Writers are lazy, editors are obnoxious. Being both I get to see all sides of it. I often wish I had more time to just work with writers. I love helping talented people bring the most out of their work.
6. When you were starting out as a blogger who were some of your influences and people you respected? Not only in terms of NBA journalists and bloggers but wider influences, be they literary or film or TV?
The writer that first made me want to write professionally was Hunter S. Thompson. I read “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72” when I was 14 and it changed my life. I’d never read anything like it, the strength of voice. I like writers who have a strong voice that bleeds through. Quentin Tarantino was a transformative figure in pop culture when I was growing up.
But blogs are really what prompted me to strengthen my own writing. Tom Ziller, Henry Abbott, Kelly Dwyer, Matt Watson, Bethlehem Shoals, and Bill Simmons were huge influences in getting me to want to write about the NBA. Deadspin under Will Leitch, the SBNation blogs, all of these really made me interested in the medium and prompted me to want to start my own. The mid-00’s bleeding into the late 00’s were very exciting in terms of the development of blogging as something more than just software.
7. How has your psychology degree impacted your writing? Broadening the question, a lot of people who have hopes to become full time writers are obsessed with basketball to the point that they have little interest in other things. Can you please talk a little on this topic and about how other interests have actually helped and not hindered your writing career?
I try not to psychoanalyze players because that’s a really dangerous idea. But a lot of the work I did in college was in social psychology. It brought in concepts of sociology and cultural psychology which give you a broader perspective on how sports impacts people mentally, and reflexively, how sports impacts fans.
Most writers will tell you this. The best thing you can do is have more resources to bring into your writing. New ideas, new analogies, fresh concepts, new structures, all these things will make you better. Being silo’d will make you boring. Too often people now are focusing on trying to legitimize their arguments and not enough on making it something people want to read. You can have great arguments and lots of data and make a convincing argument but it doesn’t matter if I don’t WANT to read it. Develop your voice. The arguments and proof will come naturally with the time spent researching the game.
8. What would you advise someone getting a start as a writer/blogger/website in order to become more visible and set themselves apart, given the amount of blogs and websites now being started up?
Write every day. You wouldn’t believe how far that goes. You’ll eventually get noticed, get linked, get read, get tweeted. And when you get a reader, you want them subscribing to your RSS feed or coming back the next day. You want to be consistently producing content. It’ll also make you stronger. I stress this over and over again. Writing’s a muscle. You’ve got to keep it strong.
I think from there, it’s using conversation to raise exposure. Tweeting me and five other readers your link? I’m going to ignore it. Sending me a mass email? Not going to read it. But if you are doing good work and send me a question, a comment, some feedback? I might investigate.
One of the things I did early on was to do roundtables with writers I liked. This got me in front of them and brought their readers to HP when I was starting out. Being open and asking questions will always get you further than making bold statements and trying to “shock” people. Ask good questions, write good stuff, be entertaining to read, and the work will speak for itself.
Then, once you’ve established a relationship with writers, you can email to them and let them know you’ve written something and would love some exposure. Be patient, be respectful, and be consistent.
Also be humble. No one likes a jackass.
9. What are some of the do’s and don’t for people wanting to forge a career in the industry? Is there a right way and wrong way to approach a person such as yourself when trying to make a name?
Well, I mostly answered this above, but I’d add two more things.
1. Never, ever, ever expect someone to help you. I have people that will send me stuff to review, then follow-up a day later to see if I’d read it yet. I’ve even had people say “Not to bother you, but I kind of want to post this soon.” I go ballistic on stuff like that. I have HP to help manage, I write daily for CBS, I have a two-year-old, a wife in grad school, and the same demands any normal guy has. I’m happy to help, but never expect it to be on your schedule.
2. You can press almost all of us and say “None of us really know” and almost all of us will agree. It’s just sports and basketball’s really difficult to understand. Acting like you know better than other people, especially people with more experience is never going to help you. It’s OK to have opinions, it’s good to stand by them, it’s great to have passion. No one likes a guy who’s going to “teach” you about something you’ve put a lot of time into. I’m not going to be very receptive if you approach me like that.
10. Is there anything really obvious that every wanna-be writer should be doing, but not enough people actually do?
Always be gracious. I try and stress to players how I know how valuable their time is. Everyone’s time is valuable and unless you’re paying someone for it, it’s a gift they’re giving you.
Oh, and when you link something in a blog post, always set it to open in a new tab.
11. Please finish this quote (because I can only seem to find half of it when doing a Google search) and expand on it:
“I spotted Zach when he was linked by Yahoo and spent an entire day …”
. . . reading his work on his own site. The guys that work at the major sites will take time to read Yahoo’s rotation or Henry Abbott’s bullets. We want to see what the new voices are out there. Zach blew me away by how funny he was and how much work you could tell he did. It’s why he’s at where he is.
Harper quit his job to focus on writing about basketball. That took major league balls. If you get to know Zach you know confidence is not something he’s lacking, but I still admire the way he’s always just gone after what he thinks is the work that needs to be done.
12. I know this doesn’t relate strictly to you, but often people are their own worst publicists. As a fan, could you tell our readers a bit about Zach Harper’s intriguing “Journey down the rabbit hole” series for Eye on Basketball?
Oh, man, you need to check this out. With the explosion of sports content over the past six years, it’s hard to find genuinely innovative content. Zach’s put together a piece that combines NBA context, analysis, with pop culture insanity and the kind of stuff that everyone does when they’re browsing the information super highway. It’s sincerely one of my favorite things he’s come up wih and a really cool piece to read every Friday.
13. You were recently described by Tom Ziller as a “lovable maniac (and superbly unique voice)”. Do you ever worry about being deprived of access to a particular player or team, based on something you write and how should up and coming writers handle the prospect of this happening?
I worry about it, because I have such a respect for these people. From PR folks to players to writers to coaches to GMs. This is hard work, it’s high-pressure, and I never want to dismiss the amount of work even the worst NBA players have put into their careers. At the same time, I have to be honest with my criticisms and sometimes that can be biting. I don’t go after teams to purposefully attack them or to make a name for myself. I’ve KILLED the Wizards over the last four years because they’ve been a terrible team that made poor decisions. But I did a piece on Bradley Beal last year and loved talking to him because I think he’ going to be a great player. I’ve been big on their process and think their future is bright. When they win, I’ll laud them for it just as I crushed them when they struggled.
But I will say sometimes I get caught up in how smart or funny I sound, and that’s not good. It’s easy to throw cracks at players from the couch when you’re not seeing the work they put in every day. You have to keep perspective and try and balance criticism with praise. Otherwise you’re just negative.
14. Many NBA journalists will literally jump out of an open (or closed for that matter) window if asked about to play favourites in case they are seen as having perceived bias, but you wear your favourite teams and players as a badge of pride. What does it take to become a favourite of Matt Moore and was revealing info like this something you thought about before doing so or was it never a concern? Could you share with our readers your favourite teams and players?
I love Marcus Thornton. Love, love, love that guy. Kid just has such a great approach to the game, always attacking. I love Wade’s game, have since college. I’ve never seen anyone so electric. His play style just really sparks my imagination. The Grizzlies are my favorite team, because most players have a favorite team, and I liked Memphis’ core and thought they’d never be good so it would never be a conflict of interest. (Whoops.)
I love the league and all the players, really; that’s the secret. I have such admiration and awe of what these guys do. It’s a difference in modern writers I think. Fans want you to just admit your bias so they know where you’re coming from. The problem starts when they start ascribing your bias because they don’t like what you have to say.
15. Do you notice many differences between people who work full time in the industry and studied journalism at University/College, versus and those whose path began as bloggers? If so, what are some of those differences in attitude and skill-set. For example, I’ve noticed that NBA writers who studied journalism are less likely to reveal bias for a particular team or player.
There’s also a difference I think in the approach to the gig. If you went to J-School and then covered high school basketball out of college and worked your way up, you think you’ve had it rough and you’re kind of bored with this. It’s more new to some of the bloggers and yet a lot of the bloggers have worked in crappy jobs so they have more of an appreciation for it. There’s also less machoism. You can’t barge into a coworker’s office yelling about how something is bullshit. It’s unprofessional, so there’s a different approach from people that have worked real jobs.
At the same time, man, these pros, the really great beat guys, they know tricks and how to handle things in such brave and smart ways. There’s so much each side has to learn from each other,and that’s what’s been great about the past three years or so. The biases are going away and we’re learning how to bring the audience the best stuff by taking new approaches from one another.
16. You’re fascinated by divergent topics such as fan psychology and man vs machine. If you weren’t a sports writer, what would your top 3 fantasy occupations be?
I think at this point I’d like to just be a magazine writer. I’ve gotten really into the process of interviews so writing for various publications and doing books sounds great. It would be nice to cover some new thing, too.
After that, I’d love to own a bookstore with my wife. Put a taco bar in on the side, coffee in the morning, spend my day reading and petting my dog? Yes please.
Finally, I’ve thought about being a lawyer. It’s something family and friends have pushed me for. I’d need a lot of work to get good at it, but I’ve always had an interest in it and where it would lead career wise. Part of that is my minor in poli sci, because I’m such a big (POLITICAL PARTY REDACTED).
17. Do you have any plans to write a book/biography? Considering your wide array of interests, I think a basketball-based book that segues all over the place would be fascinating. Going back into the realm of fantasy, if you could write a book on any subject/s be it/they non fiction or fiction, what would it/they be about?
I actually just got done pitching a former player who turned me down for a book opportunity. It’s just about finding the right subject matter and having that opportunity present itself.
I’d love to basically write a more casual and funny version of Chris Ballard’s “The Art of the Beautiful Game” because I think it’s the second best NBA book ever written behind Halberstam’s “Breaks of the Game.”
18. I view your podcast with Zach Harper as the closest thing to the ideal mix of sport and popular culture. Not just because you’re just as likely to preview the new Robocop film as you are to talk basketball, but because you’re just as likely to use a scene from ‘Celtic Pride’ to back up a statement as you are to use Basketball Reference or you’ll compare Beasley’s career to the plot of ‘Breaking Bad’. Please tell our readers a little about your podcast, how it started, and some of the fantastic things you have in store (provided we all do our bit with iTunes reviews, downloads and comments.)
That’s all Zach, man. When Ben Golliver, who I adore as a person and a writer, left for Sports Illustrated, Zach was my first choice for a replacement. We’d wanted to get a podcast going for years and I’d struggled because I just didn’t have the time to do the editing process. Bringing him on was perfect and gives us a huge opportunity to give people something different than the Jones, which is of course the best podcast out there for NBA.
Gonna be a huge year for the podcast. You can expect more guests, and probably getting our other great writer, Royce Young involved. Royce is so smart and yet he’s quiet about it. we want to get him out there more because he’s got terrific takes on things and is really funny.
19. On your podcasts, you refer on occasion to something called ‘camp-fire chats’. Could you please explain what they are, and how tools like this can be useful?
We nabbed that concept from SBNation who uses it. It’s a chat program and it’s where we call out which stories we’re writing on, coordinate coverage on major stories, brainstorm, and spend a lot of time talking about Breaking Bad and Kate Upton. There’s also a Kenny Loggins emoji that has erupted which causes general hilarity.
20. Lastly, is there anything I’ve left out, topics you’d like to discuss further or upcoming things you’re involved with you’d like to share with our readers?
Nope, just that I’m glad you wanted to do the interview, it was a real pleasure, and if young writers want/need advice, my Twitter door is always open.
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