School of Hardwood Knocks II: Steve Chalmers, Big V Basketball

V: Beneath this mask there is more than flesh.

Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof. - V for Vendetta (2009)

Whilst most (actually, all) of us are certainly not bulletproof, it's just amazing how powerful an idea can be.

And that's all The Pick and Roll was back in 2013, a topic of idle conversation, something that would have never materialised without an insane amount of effort. We're past the two year mark now, and while I'd like to think the site is still very much in its infancy, we have certainly made a difference in the lives of people, most notably our own crew of writers.

The original School of Hardwood Knocks series made its debut in 2013, interviewing notable NBA journalists and bloggers who kindly shared their perspectives on sports journalism. The School of Hardwood Knocks II is a chip off the old block. I decided to take the questions on to some of our own people, especially those who have made a start in the Australian basketball media industry, and have them share their thoughts on the journey so far.

Let's start with my man Steve Chalmers. Co-founder, editor, and so much more, he's been on board since inception, and continues to steer the ship today. How were the early years of The Pick and Roll like, and how is life these days, when working as a Communications Coordinator at Big V Basketball?

I'll let him tell the tale. Read on.

Right at the start

Q: It might be weird asking this question, but how was life like before The Pick and Roll (PnR) happened?

It certainly does feel strange, hearing a question about the time before The Pick and Roll was a thing! While it feels like an absolute age ago, it really only is a maximum of three years (prior to even the thought of PnR existing).

I was a very young man, still trekking my way through university, studying a Bachelor of Commerce at Melbourne's Deakin University. (Nothing like media or sports journalism you're thinking, I know!)

I had always enjoyed the finance side of life all the way through high school and university; to a point where I was spending exclusive time on work experience in the CBD, trying to get a handle on the lifestyle of a financial executive.

Basketball however, has always been a passion. Growing up basically living at the local basketball stadium meant that I could live and breathe the sport. When I was 19 I suffered a torn ACL while playing, forcing me to find other ways to engage in the sport while sitting on the sidelines. I had a real interest in the NBA at the time and decided to create a Facebook page – Everything NBA.

Writing about basketball came late to me; I wasn't the best of English students through high school, however I took up blogging when I applied to contribute to US Sports Down Under (another Australian site that covered a variety of US pro sports). That was where I met (online) like-minded writers who had the same passion for the sport. After spending just over a year contributing, a couple of us branched out as we felt we could provide slightly different content for an avid Aussie reader.

After some long months of planning, it was September 2013 which saw The Pick and Roll launch!

The early days

Q: How were the early days like from your perspective, when the site was in its absolute infancy? What did you feel was the biggest challenge back then?

It was a strange challenge, feeling extremely immature while trying to build a rapport with Australian basketball fans.

I wrote pieces that are completely different to what I do now – I still remember writing daily NBA updates each morning because I had the time on my hands. I didn’t know much about anything really, so that was probably the biggest learning curve – having to inhale everything that came at me, knowing it would better me for the future.

The biggest challenges are still somewhat similar today: finding consistent and quality contributors while trying to improve the awareness of the website – more eyeballs means more progress.

The Big V era

Q: Later on, the opportunity to work at Big V presented itself. How did that actually happen, and did your work with The Pick and Roll make a difference?

My work with The Pick and Roll certainly helped. I was actually meeting with someone to further improve my knowledge and to gain more ideas about how to make the site more successful. It so happened that a friend put me in touch with this person, who had just started to work at my junior association.

The meeting was extremely helpful, more so for The Pick and Roll than myself. However he did ask what I was doing personally. Having just about finished my university degree, I was ready to declare myself ‘unemployed’. Things then seemed to fall into place; he knew of a vacancy at Big V and from there I managed to land the interim job before making it permanent after a month.

My experience with The Pick and Roll couldn’t have been any more important. A lot of things I had learned with the site were what I needed to know for me to land the job. Job applications now all require experience, but it’s so difficult to find anywhere to gain the required experience – The Pick and Roll bridged that gap.

Q: How were the first six months at Big V like? Was it a huge challenge overcoming the learning curve? What kind of skills did you have to pick up along the way?

The first six months were a whirlpool! It was gone before I even knew it. Thrown into the deep end as I started right when week 1 of the season began, I had to think on my toes each and every day.

The challenge was just keeping grounded; who would have thought that I would have found myself in this position so quickly? I picked up a ton of design skills really quickly, I always had the experience of writing content and providing social media content, I just needed that image or a poster to go with it.

The same goes for video skills. Everyone knows how to press ‘on’ on a video camera, but it’s the angles, the shots, and then the editing. Who knew a two minute video took so bloody long to create, when you have to edit them!

Q: A media role is never quite the same every day, but what would an average day at Big V look like?

Well, it depends what time of year you catch me! A day during the season can vary between extremes.

We supply weekly shows that are published online. These shows provide updates on league results, fixtures, news and opinions. Editing this visual content, creating interesting stories which Big V fans want to read, making graphics that visually please our Big V community, along with the ‘less exciting’ stuff – keeping club media up to date, staying up to date with association charity and fundraising events for future promotions, making sure the league is servicing its commercial partners, etc.

A little sprinkle of Magic

Q: Going sideways a little: what are your thoughts on your NBA team, the Orlando Magic this season? Are they headed in the right direction, or should a little shakeup be needed somewhere?

Funny you say this actually, it’s been a while since I’ve even been able to watch a full quarter of my Magic play - something I was quite used to doing back in my ‘Everything NBA’ days!

Thankfully I still keep tabs on the team, even though I’m much more involved with the NBL rather than the NBA these days.

Orlando are sitting in the worst place in the standings right now, however they’re heading in the right direction. Staggering around ninth and tenth in the Eastern Conference at just below .500 means that you’re nowhere near competing for a title, yet you’re not getting a high draft pick at seasons end.

In saying that, after a few average years we have a great core of players – Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic are players you would love to see at your franchise long term. Aaron Gordon seems to be developing into a nice impact player, while you still can’t help but think how well the Magic did out of the Dwight Howard trade (so many years down the track).

On the NBL

Q: You're still very much involved in managing the NBL side for The Pick and Roll these days. What kind of coverage do you think the fans are looking out for, that mainstream media isn't quite providing?

Well, I’d like to think we’re starting to become somewhat mainstream media, even in a minimal way.

Australians crave any NBA media they can get. People are always sharing articles on their Facebook and Twitter about ‘How Westbrook is better without Durant’, or ‘Why Rajon Rondo was better in Boston’. Even the weird and little stories find a way to make it - the Aussies love the personalities within the American league.

These people are all casual fans though. This is how we much approach the NBL side of things. There are many Aussies who have negative feelings about the local league. However, the competition is booming with talent, and that was even before the ownership takeover.

The content has to be relatable to the casual NBL fan - how do we engage the fan to keep wanting to follow the league? Once we break through the early stages, that’s where the benefits come in - not just for us, but the sport in general.

Q: Let's talk about the NBL Dream Team fantasy league, and the Box Score #NBLDT previews that Dean (our other NBL editor) and yourself run. How has the experience been so far, and what do you hope to achieve with the Box Score series next season?

Well, Box Score kind of came out of nowhere. The two of us have been playing NBL Dream Team for a few years now and there is hardly any promotion surrounding it, let alone advice articles/podcasts.

Many would be aware that the AFL fantasy game (Dream Team/Supercoach) have taken off thanks to backers such as the Herald Sun and Telstra, adding to the fact that the AFL fantasy game is quite easy and engaging to play.

The same goes for the NBL though. Their Dream Team is simple to play and it keeps you in the know about every game each week. There’s no longer a Sydney vs. Perth game or Townsville vs. New Zealand (teams that you may not support) that doesn’t count for something.

With 3,700+ Dream Team players this season (a number which we hope to see significantly increase), we felt that the time we spend each week studying our Dream Teams can be put to good use and help others. This is where we decided to create a podcast so we could speak about each angle and really explain things – things we felt we couldn’t quite get across in an article.

The experience has been a great, yet challenging one. Having to find the time where both of us are available to record in what is a tight time schedule (NBL rounds finish on Sunday and restart Wednesday) was a tough one. The next is trying (and still trying) to find more ways to promote your episodes (I’m no expert on the iTunes/Stitcher type stuff yet).

As to where it may go? It’s the first year we’re doing it so it's hard to tell. I’d love to say that NBL Dream Team has enough players playing for a large commercial partner to invest heavily in it; heavily enough for someone to approach us to be an ‘official’ Dream Team podcast or affiliates/ambassadors. But that’s all still a long way away.

A bit of advice

Q: How much of a difference has your work with The Pick and Roll made in your life, and looking back a couple years, would you have imagined yourself being where you are right now?

No way would I have imagined me standing where I am right now! It was speaking online with a couple of guys (who I really didn’t even know) which kickstarted the creation of PnR, to now working full-time in the industry while being an integral part in an Australian media outlet.

Sure, there’s no monetary involvement with The Pick and Roll yet, but it’s the experience with the site that’s so invaluable. I’ve met some incredible people along the way, some of which who have given me lifelong advice, others who are wonderful networking associates.

It couldn’t have been done without the people who started it all though, those who turned a thought into a product – those who I have lifelong friends.

Q: One last question to wrap things up: What advice would you offer to like-minded folks, who aspire towards joining the industry in a similar capacity?

Don’t think something is out of your reach. If you’re looking to find a foot in the door in this industry, be prepared to do the voluntary stuff to gain experience. Put yourself and your name out there as well, the only thing you can be told is no.

As one of my big mentors would say, ‘Onwards and upwards, said the midget’.

Steve can be found on Twitter at @cp_chalmers.