Change is a constant, we all know that. Athletes and eras exit stage left and new ones emerge. Jason Kidd recently announced his retirement as did Grant Hill. Members of the NBA class of ’94, their careers were intertwined. It’s a transitional time in many ways – the NBA finals have finally begun with the Tony Parker-led Spurs taking Game 1 in Miami. The draft comes next and then the long hot summer. Coaches are coming and going including the current COY. Another legend refuses to go quietly into the good night, using a book blitz to provoke copy from those who chronicle the sport, ranging from place mat sketches to a San Antonio Spurs prediction. Sports writing has been going through its own metamorphosis for quite some time and will no doubt continue.
There wasn’t always the internet. There was a time when ink-stained hands and visors were common catch-phrases. The term catch-phrase in of itself is just another definition of meme. Some of today’s readers and citizen journalists might not necessarily equate link-fueled breaking news with seminal influences but the connecting dots do exist in the ether. How far back to you want to go? Grantland Rice was known for his elegant prose and Four Horseman mythology while Jim Murray combined heart and biting humor in a career than began during World War II and lasted through the Michael Jordan era. Ring Lardner melded jazz age sensibilities with baseball bush league stories and Red Smith summed up the role of beat writer as succinctly as any when he famously opined that you simply sit down at a typewriter, open up your veins and bleed. If you’re still unsure of how the past connects the present, just ask David Halberstam.
The ‘Page 2’ school of sports journalism has always served as a way to bridge hard reporting and colorful commentary. Simply turn from the front banner headlines and enjoy a respite. T.J. Simers worked a variety of west coast beats before landing at the L.A. Times in 1990. His style often causes blowback from readers looking for more metric truths but there’s something to be said for using a shooting contest between your daughter and Dwight Howard as a framing device. Besides, it translates nicely to ancillary pieces. Perhaps no writer mixed things up as much as gonzo trailblazer Hunter S. Thompson. Late in life he wrote a rambling series of Hey Rube pieces for ESPN that are beyond facile description. Bill Simmons took over ESPN’s Page 2 a decade ago, bringing an accessible Sports Guy take to what had previously been some pretty wooly waters. Simmons’ career has continued to flourish and morph, including his current role as one of ESPN’s talking heads. Are there really six degrees of separation between Grantland Rice and Dwight Howard? I don’t know but it’s an easy segue back to a Lakers-centric topic of conversation.
It’s not just players and writers of course. There’s always the conflict of league-mandated interviews between sideline reporters and coaches and none so treacherous as those involving Coach Pop. Continuing the circular trend is a carousel of coaching updates spinning out from the George Karl ouster. On the odd-couple front comes this story about Jerry Sloan and the Birdman. Indeed, old versus new school debates seem to be anywhere and everywhere these days. Witness the analytics-driven conflict between Lionel Hollins and Memphis vice president of operations John Hollinger. The information highway is long and ever-winding, a morning’s search can lead from a superstar’s continued path back from a devastating injury to the connection between athletes, celebrities and money management.
You can continuing with colliding worlds and emerging stories as long as your index finger has the strength to click but at some point you have to pull yourself away from the luminescent screen. What did Marshall McLuhan used to say, the medium is the message? No, I’m not hyperlinking it. Go, have some lunch, take a walk. Something.