There are a lot of different ways to run a team blog. Some guys love to pick apart their team's x's and o's. A few offer advanced, breakthrough statistical analysis. Others channel the voice of the fan. Then there are some who exist in a space all their own. John Krolik of Cavs the Blog is one of those guys. He brings an inimitable voice to the basketball blogosphere. Simply put, reading John's work makes you love basketball more:
What are you doing with a sports blog?
Well, you know, I created this blog for the network, so it'll be a bit of an adjustment for me; I only really ran Truth In a Bullet Fedora for a couple of months before I switched over to writing for established sites and having a boss/editor/other columnists on the site.
With this blog I'm looking to, of course, provide great one-stop analysis and opinions about the Cavs, but on top of that I'm looking to inject a little bit of my own personality, get back into posting a number of things a week instead of really working on maybe one post a week for SLAM, being my own editor and trying to find the upside there in terms of what I can do and how quickly I can turn things around and what pictures I can put up, and finding that specific niche.
And not to sound to much like I'm giving a college tour, but with this network I like that I can do all those things I missed about "blogging" in the traditional sense (now there's an odd phrase) while still getting the benefits of the bigger magazines. I've gotten used to having a really good boss and managing editor who's helping you out along the way, having other columnists to collaborate with and bounce ideas off of, and to have other people helping hype your work and get eyeballs on it.
What, to you, is the point of a sports blog?
Well, "sports blog" is a hugely nebulous term -- you could be talking about Mariotti writing on FanHouse, Deadspin, StephenJacksonMakesLoveToPressure.com, John Hollinger's blog here, or whatever. With an independent sports blog like mine, I'm looking to provide not only more words about the team then you'd find with a national site, but better-informed ones. Unless you're Kelly Dwyer, there's no way you can watch every game played by every team and know the players on it and their tendencies as well as the die-hard fans who are watching every game closely, and that can show in terms of the information that ends up getting passed to the fans.
Obviously, beat writers play a huge part of that and the Cavs happen to have maybe the best one, but with a blog you can hopefully be able to give that knowledgeable point of view on the team with a streak of more creative stuff or your own voice or something goofier or what have you.
You come to blogging from a creative writing background rather than a journalistic one. How does that inform your stuff?
I mean, it's tough to say, exactly, as I don't have a degree in creative writing as of yet or done a lot of creative writing work. It's funny, I think of myself as a fiction writer writing about basketball as a hobby when I've got a few hundred readers a day on my site right now and more on SLAM, whereas like fourteen people read the fiction I do for class.
I'd say that the overall impact is that instead of seeing myself as the bridge from people to information, I assume the reader is getting a good amount of information and do my best to add a spin or panache to it that nobody else would be able to give that reader. I'm basically always out there trying to write something that nobody else is going to think to write and always trying to push the boundaries of the form I'm working in and make sure that my byline is adding something to the story. Now that I'm getting a little more access with SLAM, I'm getting some exposure to the journalism side of things and trying to get comfortable with it while still keeping a viewpoint and seeing what I can do with it.
Paradoxically, I've found that some journalism guys tend to be kind of obsessed with big, cookie-cutter narratives that you see everywhere, and try to assign a kind of meaning to everything that happens in a given game or in a given season and make those details fit with some overarching story that fits in with that writer's perception of The Important Things In Sport. I don't know if this is the creative writing, but I try to stay away from those as much as possible and find the really interesting story in the smaller moments or less tidy moments of the game or look for a smaller truth that might be no less profound.
You're a contributor to FreeDarko. How did you get hooked up with those guys?
Hopefully I can actually get back with that soon. It's been a few months since I wrote for those guys, and it's just a matter of trying to find the time and energy to try and start writing those essays again along with what I'm doing now. Those things are an absolute bear to write. As for how I met them, it was complete blind luck and the only time I've initiated the contact that eventually turned into a job -- what happened is me and Shoals initially crossed digi-paths through an email exchange that started out with him linking to a (very wrong) predictive post I wrote about Kevin Durant. Then he posted an OJ Mayo piece I emailed him out of the blue as a guest post, which was one of the best days of my life. After that, we stayed in contact and I was working on another guest post when he just asked me to join the staff, and I was just giddy about it. That's still as good of work as I've ever done, and those commenters teach you so much about how to write, and it was just such a great opportunity that I ended up having fall into my lap because Shoals felt like giving me a chance, and I'm still really grateful for it.
What's it like blogging as an undergrad in college?
I mean, the logistics themselves are pretty much a non-issue. You have a lot of free time and you're writing and getting into that habit of homework for class, so I actually wonder how guys with a 9-to-5 do this. You take more crap from your friends and have to make various logistical changes to accommodate your roommate or if you can't watch the game because someone else is watching the house's TV, but all in all it's pretty easy.
As for the age part of it and being on the younger side of things, what I love about working like this is that it's a non-issue. If I was trying to break in with a newspaper as someone who just turned 20, I'd probably be filing papers, maybe being allowed to file briefs on high-school volleyball. At no point would I get thousands of eyeballs on a 3,500 word noir fiction piece starring Pat Riley. There's just no chance. But with things working out the way they do, I get the opportunity to put my stuff out there along with everyone else and be given opportunities based on the quality of my work. Working games sometimes you do get some funny looks, and I know I have a lot more growing to do a
s a writer, but for the most part I don't feel my age is any kind of detriment to me.
And if I ever do feel young, I remember that my editor and boss at SLAM is three years older than me, 23 and the editor of SLAM online. And if I really want to feel like I've accomplished nothing, I remember that I just read The Broom Of The System, a novel David Foster Wallace wrote as his senior thesis that is just sickeningly good.
You've written eloquently about the complexities of basketball as a life experience for many players. You wrote that we often misunderstand players who might seem ungrateful for their success in the eyes of most fans. Can you expand on some of those complexities?
I mean, that's something that goes back to what I was saying earlier, that we're trying to fit everyone into a narrative and we can forget that these are real people with real stories and have whole sets of goals and layers that we just don't have any idea about and we really insult them and our own intelligence by reducing them to guys who could have been worthy as people but didn't feel like learning how to execute the double pivot along the baseline. There's just always something more interesting going on than that, even if athletes have been trained to speak in clichés in order to hide that fact.
I mean, maybe my favorite non-Halberstam hoops book of all time is The Last Shot. It's about four players at Lincoln High in Brooklyn. Two don't make it and end up at dead-end jobs. One doesn't make it and ends up killing himself. The fourth is Stephon Marbury, and he not only made it out but has done a lot of giving back to that community. Now he represents all that is wrong in the world because he doesn't want to give a million dollars that was promised to him back? It's just not as simple as that.
Because I don't want to end this with a Marbury defense, I'll just say that these are guys who work ridiculously hard to entertain us and deserve our respect. Okay, that's a cliché. Consider this. I get to go to basketball games for free and have tons of people read, listen, and respond to what I have to say. None of this would be possible if these guys didn't play so hard every night, and I contribute nothing back to them. Tickets cost money, but in LA basic cable gets me over 100 local games a year plus the national games every week. These players have given me a job, entertainment, and something I get to be passionate about, and I haven't given them a cent in return. Now ESPN's on top of things I write, and it's my job to let people know what I think about the game I love. How cool is that?