School of Hardwood Knocks #2 – Rob Mahoney
The cream of the crop show their best crossover moves as roles are reversed and interviewer becomes interviewee.
“I love those completely unruly 13-game nights in the heart of the season. I’m a huge advocate of the regular season for its predictive value and intrinsic worth, and these specific occasions might be the purest representation of what the regular season truly is. The remote control turns into a vehicle for my stream of consciousness . . .”
No this isn’t poetry, but the beginning of the many questions Rob Mahoney, Sports Illustrated’s Point Forward blogger and founder of TrueHoop Network’s Mavs focused blog The Two Man Game, dived into for The Pick and Roll. Or perhaps it is poetry, and that one sentence is enough to show exactly why, Mahoney has become one of the NBA’s elite sports writers in a relatively short time. Described on ESPN as making “the analytical creative, and the abstract accessible”, Mahoney’s impressive resume includes stints as as a blogger on NBC Sports ProBasketballTalk, the New York Times’ Off the Dribble Blog as well as featuring on Hardwood Paroxysm’s honour roll of ‘Distinguished Alumni’.
Additionally, Mahoney found a 25th hour in the day to write a book. Whether this makes him amazingly ambitious or a sucker for punishment, he already has plans for his next opus to be a work of great intricacy. The Pick and Roll’s Josh Haar managed to call a Time Out from Mahoney’s plethora of other endeavours to learn about Rob Mahoney: The Writer, The Man and the lover of Hong Kong Second Wave films.
1. In case anyone is unaware of your existence in the NBA blogosphere, please enlighten us on who you are, and what you’re currently involved with as a writer.
My name is Rob Mahoney, and I cover the NBA for Sports Illustrated — primarily through the Point Forward blog.
2. How did your career as an NBA journalist begin? What exactly made you realize that blogging was the profession for you to pursue?
Career is always a pretty generous term with these things, especially given that I spent a while writing for free or for relatively minimal pay. But I’ve been writing about the NBA on the internet since 2008, jumping from blog to blog as various opportunities arose. In my case, blogging was never really a possible profession until it was essentially a part-time job. Once I started pouring time and energy into it and seeing some bit of pay as a result, I had the foolish notion that this might be something. I’ve been lucky enough to keep at it since.
3. Please describe the progression process you have experienced as a writer up to this point. Also, tell us: do you see yourself accomplishing greater achievements in the future?
Improving as a writer is a process I find a bit tricky to describe. There are definitely specific aspects of my writing that I aim to work on and address after re-reading my work or getting feedback from others, but ultimately it’s a fluid growth built on subtle differences from day to day.
If you look at something I wrote several years ago relative to something I wrote yesterday, you’re likely to notice a handful of big shifts. Yet most of those changes come from organic growth over a long term, making the gradual movement of that process a bit more difficult to discern. I see it as something akin to a time lapse; there are definite jumps as you skip around in the chronology, but on a small scale it’s hard to see the change for what it is.
As for the future, I’d certainly hope that I have better writing ahead of me. If not, my writing days are due to be pretty damn depressing.
4. What is one aspect of the job which you absolutely love? Is there anything you despise with a passion?
I love those completely unruly 13-game nights in the heart of the season. I’m a huge advocate of the regular season for its predictive value and intrinsic worth, and these specific occasions might be the purest representation of what the regular season truly is. The remote control turns into a vehicle for my stream of consciousness — I jump from game to game to game for bits or lengths or whatever time seems necessary. There’s always something worth finding on those nights, and it’s one of the joys of this job (and of NBA fandom in general) to be able to unearth them.
There’s nothing I really despise, save that I always find myself wishing I had more time to read. Watching games eats up hours. Writing takes its due. Sleeping, eating, and exercise have to fall in somewhere, as does spending time with my infinitely patient girlfriend. I wish I had more time for a lot of things, but as far as work goes, I wish I had more time to enjoy the writing of others, as unfortunately that’s so often where my attention gets pinched. I make time and still read a fair bit, but there are some outstanding writers covering this game who deserve to have every last one of their words read. I wish I could oblige.
5. During the course of your time as an NBA journalist, you have covered the Dallas Mavericks as well as the NBA in general. Are there any major differences between team blogging and league-wide coverage (aside from the obvious)? What is the easiest and most challenging aspect of each?
It’s an entirely different animal, though I think team blogging is uniquely difficult. The overwhelming benefit of covering the league at large is that there’s always a wealth of topics to choose from. It takes work to find the right angles and perfect subjects, but there’s pretty much always some stone left unturned. With team-specific coverage, those stones are scoured in a hurry; the best team bloggers turn a roster inside and out while still commenting on the big picture, and then are left to find new ways to spin the same cast of characters over and over again.
As a result, there’s a camaraderie to the best team blogs that’s just infectious — a genuine sense of community that goes way beyond the buzzword. There are common threads and themes that string through the writing on a frequent basis, and everything feels a bit more connected that way. Every season is its own tome, in a sense, and I appreciate those blogs that allow me a chance to follow along through every chapter.
On the general side of the league, though, I do think it can be tough to track some of the minutiae that only comes from watching a certain subject consistently. You do what you can to be as observant and nuanced as possible, but there’s always more to watch and to glean — a never-ending list of players and teams to gauge. That challenge can be both fun and overwhelming.
6. After the Mavs won the NBA Finals in 2011, you published your own book titled Mavericks Stampede: Dirk Leads Dallas to the 2011 NBA Championship. For those who haven’t had the privilege of reading this piece of work, please give us insight into what this publication specifically covers.
It’s a fairly straightforward retrospective of the most successful season in Mavericks history: an at-a-glance look at the regular season through a few different lenses, a game-by-game walkthrough of Dallas’ playoff run, and a full complement of player profiles. I’d say it’s a bit more X-and-O conscious than other publications of its ilk, but has its doses of whimsy, too.
7. Obviously, writing a book is a little bit different from publishing an article. How would you describe your overall experience with this process? Are you satisfied with how everything turned out, or are you holding on to some regrets?
In most cases I’d agree, though the structure and content of my book really isn’t far removed from an online writing style. Due to the time sensitivity of the book’s release (it was sent to press two or three days following the conclusion of the Finals), a lot of the analysis in Mavericks Stampede is very similar to what appeared on the blog at that time. There are obviously changes, but my fundamental feel for each game is reflected in more or less the same way.
I’m definitely satisfied with how the book turned out, and had a great experience working with the publisher. I don’t have any regrets, really, save the ones that many writers have when reading things they wrote in the past; your own prose always sounds ridiculous in retrospect. Other than that, I’d love to do another book at some point – perhaps this time a longer endeavor.
8. In the technologically advanced society we reside in today, multiple media outlets exist which allow writers to successfully spread their stuff. How large a role have websites such as Facebook and Twitter played thus far in your journalism career?
Twitter has been incredibly helpful in terms of exposure, and strikes me as an unobtrusive way to get your work in front of interested parties. It’s amazing what making that pitch to your followers can do relative to letting an article stand to be found (or not) on its own.
Yet Twitter is really a more valuable resource in the way it facilitates the flow of information. I still use an RSS reader as a catch-all for beat writers, columnists, and bloggers alike, but Twitter helps me stay on top of news and analysis on a minute-by-minute basis. I don’t mean to sound like a commercial for the thing; I’m not even on it that much, frankly, and definitely get turned off by the non-stop chatter. But it has its place in this particular sphere, and certainly enhances my ability to keep up with the cycle.
9. These types of social media outlets also provide fans with the extraordinary opportunity to freely interact with their favorite sports journalists. Is fan interaction integral to the maintenance of your popularity as a writer?
Given that I’m not particularly chatty on Twitter, likely not. I try to answer questions when they’re posed or respond to interesting comments, but don’t do a ton of reader interaction relative to other writers.
10. Do you still consider yourself a loyal follower of Dallas, and hold strong opinions on their current roster situation? What are your thoughts on the offseason moves they pulled off this summer? Do you believe they have a realistic shot at qualifying for the postseason in an extremely talented Western Conference?
These days I’m only a loyal follower of the Mavs insofar as I’m a follower of the league at large. Still, I’m a little lukewarm about some of the moves made this summer, while also acknowledging that they have a very realistic chance of making the postseason. The race for the final two playoff spots in the West should be brutal and fascinating, and I’d expect the Mavs to be in the thick of it; a healthy Dirk Nowitzki will go a long way, and with the additions made this summer Dallas has top-five offensive potential. The other side of the ball could be an abject disaster, but a playoff spot is surely attainable if Dallas 1) is overwhelmingly great on offense, or 2) finds a way to be passable in defensive coverage.
11. Now that we possess knowledge on “Rob Mahoney: The Writer”, let’s learn more about “Rob Mahoney: The Man”. What else intrigues you besides writing and the NBA? Any random tidbits about your life you are willing to share?
I wouldn’t say I’m a particularly complicated guy. For lack of a better delivery device, here’s a sampling of things that I’m into:
Diet Coke; post entry passes; dogs; Wong Kar-wai; meandering sentence structure; anything involving coconut; narrative television; drawer organization; albums with no clear track breaks; tacos; Radiolab and A Way With Words; patient meals of small plates; Kevin Devine; chutney/fruit salsa; well-written endings; driving; word games.
12. Last question: Is there any advice you can provide for the plethora of aspiring writers in this world?
Writing is hard. There are no shortcuts and there are no secrets. ‘Who you know’ matters, of course, but good writing always shines through and bad writers tend to fall short.
Once again, our deepest thanks to Rob for sharing his thoughts with us over here. Be sure to check out the next lesson in the School of Hardwood Knocks, and be sure to share this with your mates if you liked it!
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