3 GREAT STORIES: The NBA Finals, and innovation in sports coverage


Every week, I will shine the spotlight on some of the best storytelling in the business and offer my comments. “3 Great Stories of the Week” will post every Monday at 8 AM.

When in doubt, sports shall guide us.

At least, sports journalists often do a great job of leading the way in terms of innovative storytelling.

I will confess: I am an unabashed basketball junkie. As the NBA Finals kicked off last week, I found myself reading a high volume of basketball-related content. I could not help but notice the numerous ways in which journalists, bloggers, and statisticians are now covering the sport online.

It’s a beautiful thing, really.

People watch sports with a variety of motives, and the Internet landscape now caters to all of them. To be sure, one can still go to ESPN.com, SI.com, or  Yahoo! Sports and take in the NBA Finals for its more overarching topics: Who are the heroes and goats? What does the series mean for the individual legacies of players like LeBron James and Tim Duncan? What does it mean to their teams, the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, and their respective fan bases?

But what about the other fans? Many crave new-school statistics and analytics in their coverage; they now have many options. Many love to compare today’s game to that of the past; they too can find many resources on the Web.

And finally, many basketball fans — like me — love the playoffs because they turn the sport into a total chess match. Coaches adjust their game plans; players adapt to different match-ups; and fans can enjoy the whole thing on a macro or micro level if they so desire.

Sports journalists often set the standard for advancing the craft of storytelling, in part because sports as a whole inspire such passion. Most sports journalists begin as sports fans, be they bloggers, writers, broadcasters, or whatever.

I always feel we do our best work about the subjects we love.

Enjoy three stories from this past week that exemplify the quality and innovation available in sports journalism today.

Tony Parker: a riddle without a solution (6/6/13, SBNation.com): This piece by SB Nation reporter Mike Prada is a testament to what can happen when one blends eloquent writing with substantive analysis.

Basketball fans worldwide marveled at the near-impossible shot made by Spurs veteran Tony Parker to clinch Game 1 for San Antonio. For many who watch Parker regularly, the shot was simply another fine moment for a world-class point guard.

In this piece, Prada breaks down how Parker has become a versatile, confident, and intelligent player who is extremely difficult to contain. Prada does this with a slew of video examples and statistics — probably more than the average fan can compute in one sitting. That’s OK, though; these kinds of articles are manna for the basketball junkies and chess match watchers like myself.

Thankfully, Prada blends the expertise with eloquence. He provides a simple but effective writing technique to this article; he begins each paragraph with, “Tony Parker is the NBA’s toughest riddle,” and then spends the rest of his sentences explaining why. As the paragraphs and videos go by, his repeated statement becomes a full-on declaration.

Video analysis: How Al Horford will flourish in Mike Budenholzer’s offense (6/7/13, Peachtree Hoops): I have noticed a trend regarding where die-hard fans turn for coverage of their teams.

More often than not, they are leaving traditional media for bloggers and super-fans.

I am no exception. I follow my beloved Northwestern Wildcats on, not the Chicago Tribune, but a terrific and thorough blog called Lake the Posts.

And when I look for coverage of my hometown Atlanta Hawks, for whom I have been a season-ticket holder for four years, I usually head to the blogosphere.

Without nearly the access of the big boys, sites like Hoopinion and Peachtree Hoops succeed by examining the Hawks with astute and passionate analysis. This particular piece from Robby Kalland is a superb example.

Here is the thought process: (A) The Hawks just hired a new head coach, a current assistant for the Spurs. (B) They possess one tremendous building block of a player in forward/center Al Horford. (C) Why not examine the new coach’s system and how Horford fits into it?

This is analysis for the hard-core fan, and it requires a combination of knowledge, insight, and passion, from both the reader and the writer. Kalland provides all three; on top of that, he turned in this story barely a week after the new coach was hired.

20 years later, Drazen Petrovic tragedy still stings (6/7/13, Bergen Record): Amidst the statistical breakdowns and video analysis, one can still find plenty of beautiful prose that captures basketball’s more intangible qualities.

Take this column from Steve Popper of the Bergen Record. It’s a deceptively straightforward look at one of the NBA’s tragic losses: the sudden death of Croatian legend-turned-American-sensation Drazen Petrovic.

Popper, of course, fills in the details of Petrovic’s career and describes what made him such a joy to watch. But he also finds an insightful vessel for the story: the mind of New York basketball Willis Reed, who knows a thing or two about toughness and broke down in tears during Petrovic’s memorial service.

At the end of the day, basketball is still a dazzling sport — a chance to see naked athleticism at its finest. It caters to flowing and poignant writing, which Popper provides in this column.


Have a suggestion for “3 Great Stories of the Week”? E-mail me at matt@tellingthestoryblog.com.

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