School of Hardwood Knocks III: Tom Read

In the family of our School of Hardwood Knocks interview series, Tom Read certainly stands out.

Although basketball-obsessed, the columnist for NBA Australia, NBA Canada and former co-host of the popular Believe The Hype podcast is not a full-time member of the basketball media. With a day job in sports rights and content partnership, Read’s side career as a basketball writer reflects his absolute love for the game.

Read’s journey into the basketball media sphere traces all the way back to 2005. It was on the leafy campus of the University of Canberra, that he met Benyam Kidane. The pair became friends, and as time passed an idea began to take shape.

“Every time we caught up the conversation turned to basketball. [From the beginning] we had this friendship where we talked about basketball every day. We both spent some time in the UK in 2011 and then Benyam was moving home. I just said to him, 'Do you want to start a podcast?’ It was basically just a way for us to keep in contact and we didn’t think it was really going to last that long. It was just going to be something that we would do for probably only a few weeks and then stop doing it.”

From its humble beginnings as a meeting space for a pair of friends, Believe The Hype became one of Australia’s most popular NBA fan podcasts. Its growth and success took both Read and Benyam to numerous All-Star games where they honed their chemistry and off-beat fan-centric style.

For Read, his most memorable moment came during the 2014 All-Star Weekend, which happened at the same time as the 2014 Winter Olympics. During one of their videos, Read asked the All-Stars what winter sport they would do.

The answer given by one of the NBA’s most beloved legends was far more nuanced than Read anticipated.

“Dirk Nowitzki gave an incredible answer, I think it was huge. The answer that Dirk gave to us in the press conference was probably the best answer to any question [he was asked] in the whole press conference. He was getting asked everything under the sun and the one he spent the most time and attention on was answering our random question.”

Read credits the numerous trips to America for helping him learn the intricacies and nuances of the industry. “We were able to grow and speak to so many basketball players in one setting at one time, and also grow our network in terms of meeting other media people and other people that worked in the NBA.

“I would actually recommend to anyone who wants to do this, make sure you can either get to an NBA All-Star Weekend or a Summer League. To be able to meet people and start to grow your contact base and work on your craft a little bit more, is invaluable.

“It will make it much easier when you actually do come over here, because you’ll already understand the culture and you’ll be able to integrate yourself nice and quickly into the NBA media circuit.”

In February, Read made his move to New York, the Mecca of hoops. Now, when duty calls he goes to NBA games in New York and Philadelphia as a member of NBA Australia and Canada. Despite his successful record as a basketball media figure, Read has never had the desire to pursue it full-time. With his career keeping him busy, his media work is the cherry on top of the sundae.

“I always really, really loved it but I knew it wasn’t really what I wanted to have as my full-time profession. I like having it as a creative outlet, as something on the side that I do.”

For Read, balance is the priority. He learned from experience that too much of a good thing, without the space to breathe can become corrosive. “I actually stopped doing [media work] about twelve months ago. Benyam and I stopped doing our Believe The Hype stuff and I was quite burnt out. I was burning the candle at both ends with both the jobs I had been doing for seven years [and the podcast].

"So I stopped and that was one of the best decisions of my life. Since I’ve been over in [New York] and have been back into working in the media and going to NBA games, I rediscovered my love for the game again.”

Read’s professional route has been different from most in his field. However, through its ups and downs, it has been a journey that has taught him the rigorous demands of the industry, and the value of diversifying.

“With the way the industry is now, as a journalist you really have to be a jack of all trades.

“Basically now you have to be able to do absolutely everything. Moving forward there are no individual roles anymore, everyone has got to be able to do absolutely everything.”

Being able to display proficiency at multiple trades isn't easy. It's a daunting task for legions of fresh-faced budding journalists coming into the industry.

Read’s advice?

“You don’t know everything. You can learn from other people and pick up ideas and tips from everyone else.”

Stay humble, ask questions, and keep working.