Seventeen years later, I can’t quite remember her name or even what she looked like. But I’ll never forget what she did for me.
My sixth-grade school librarian, perhaps noticing the kid flipping through the same Sports Illustrated every day until the new issue showed up, cut me a deal: She would give me two old SI issues from the archives in the back room, and when I returned them, she’d give me two more. It was Netflix before its time, no fee. That’s how I learned to be a sports writer.
Back then, they were all my idols, from the high schoolers to the college players to the pros. Reggie Miller, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Allen Iverson, Deion Sanders, Mike Tyson, Ken Griffey Jr., Jerry Rice, Eric Metcalf, Ricky Henderson, Mike Powell … I wanted to tell those stories when I grew up.
Dime Magazine helped me live my dream. Six years ago, Pat Cassidy gave me an opportunity to be published in a real magazine that would be read around the country. Five years ago, I joined full-time, and by then Dime was being read around the world. Today, I’m walking away to another opportunity, a new goal, spending my last day in the Dime office before I move from New York back to my hometown Seattle to live the next dream.
I signed up at Dime to go to NBA games at Madison Square Garden and playground tournaments at Rucker Park. To spend time in Tracy McGrady‘s grown-up mansion and Derrick Rose‘s childhood home. To follow behind the scenes, step by step, as Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings and Lance Stephenson tried to make it. To be there when they did. To shine some light on the underappreciated career of Tim Duncan and the forgotten journey of Kenny Brunner. To do Vegas and New Orleans with a VIP pass and an open bar. To reach an audience that I never thought I could otherwise. To do what I love to do and get paid for it.
I leave now with a lot more than what I signed up for. First, thicker skin: When you get called an idiot and a loser multiple times a day on DimeMag.com, you have to be tough in order to keep believing in yourself. Second, realizing the value of teamwork: Going into the trenches every day with my Dime teammates — Pat, Josh, Jed, Justin, Aron, Holly, Alex, Brandon, Newman, Christian, Andrew, Naomi, and so many more — fighting to win whatever was up for grabs, allowed me to respect and appreciate and admire their work. Third, a greater work ethic: This job stretched me to limits I didn’t know I had. Writing Dime’s daily Smack column somewhere near 365 days a year, I’ve surely penned enough for a couple of books on basketball. And that was just one of countless hats I’ve worn here, all of which I know honed the skills needed to succeed in my next venture outside of the sports journalism world.
At Dime I threw myself into basketball in order to live up to the expectations of being considered an expert, though often it was just so I could answer my Dad’s questions. Those conversations early in the season where he needed to catch up on who was good, who went where … they were better than what you’d see from Charles Barkley on “Who He Play For?”
Like the talk we had last night.
Dad: “So, any more big trades? I heard Portland got somebody.”
Me: “Yeah, Gerald Wallace.”
Dad: “Where’s he from? Who’d they trade for him?”
Me: “Charlotte. It was for Przybilla, Dante Cunningham — you remember he went to Villanova? — this dude Sean Marks who’s a center, and some picks.”
Dad: “Is Wallace good?”
Me: “Yeah, he was an All-Star last year.”
Dad: “So who’s gonna play center for them? All their guys they got left are hurt.”
Me: “Umm … I don’t know.”
One of my favorite parts of working for Dime was simply telling Dad what I did on a particular day. It was even better when it involved somebody he grew up watching: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tiny Archibald, Darryl Dawkins. When I told him two days ago that I’d interviewed Clyde Frazier and Earl Monroe, it felt just as good as it did in college when I told him I’d met Mean Joe Greene.
The day I met Clyde and Earl was the same day I was in MSG for the New York Knicks debut of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. Of all the events I’d worked at the Garden, my last was the biggest.
This was one of those full-circle nights. The first issue of Dime in which an article of mine appeared — a one-page “What’s My Name?” profile on high school sophomore Kevin Love — had a cornrowed Carmelo on the cover. Back then, ‘Melo was just beginning to own Denver. On this night, he was beginning the next chapter of his career. Before the game, I interviewed Brandon Jennings, now a grown man doing what he always wanted to do. Five years ago, Young Money was the subject of one of my earliest Dime features when he was a high school sophomore still dreaming of the League.
Half an hour before tip-off, I found myself behind a family of four on an escalator. Leading the pack was a boy, probably eight or nine years old, wearing a full Knicks uniform and clutching a basketball like he was the one about to play the Bucks. He sneaked a glance into MSG’s makeshift media workroom and yelled, “Look! I saw Walt Frazier and Chauncey Billups!” Walt was there, but obviously whoever he saw wasn’t Chauncey. But who would correct him? That moment made his night.
Working in this industry, you can lose that part of yourself, that 9-year-old full of wonder and excitement over sports. Which is sad, because that’s why many of us became sports writers in the first place. While I still love sports, I lost that 9-year-old part of myself a long time ago, sacrificed to the business. When you get to go behind the curtain, when you get to know these idols as regular men and women, when you get to see how it’s done, you also get to see the ugly side. And then double-overtime games become overtime work, and even the most enthusiastic among us can become jaded.
I lost that 9-year-old sports fan part of myself. But what I gained was more valuable. I’ve been told by readers that stories I wrote inspired them. I’ve reached readers in prison. I’ve been re-printed in China. I played a role in producing the best basketball magazine in the world. I landed my dream job and worked the hell out of it until it was time to go. Given one hundred do-overs, I’ll take that trade every time.