Article of the Week: Tom Friend on Darius Washington

Oh, ESPN magazine, your relationship with the internet pisses me off something wicked. First I have to sign up for your creepy ESPN Insider thing, and then your online version is about six days and counting behind the print version which was printed on a big machine far away, and delivered to my house on trucks and by humans on foot. The internet is supposed to be faster than that, not slower.

And I wouldn't give one hoot what schedule you publish on, except that sometimes you are so good. Like this week. The current issue (as opposed to the one on your website), has a great little article by Tom Friend. It's a profile of Memphis Guard Darius Washington, and his insane, covetous, and jealous father.

Tom Friend wrote a nice little article for the New York Times in the mid-1990s about then-UCLA freshman Jelani McCoy. I remembered his name, because I was lobbying my then-girlfriend (now wife) who worked in book publishing at the time to sign him up to a book deal.

Years later, I met a woman who works for ESPN magazine, and I asked her about Tom Friend. She rolled her eyes. She said that everyone of his stories followed the same formula.

I have been looking for the pattern ever since, and I can't find it. Whatever he's doing works pretty well for me.

I have also known about Darius Washington for some time, especially thanks to his fathers's unappealing repeat appearances in the great book The Jump, by Ian O'Connor. Darius Jr. is a comtemporary of Sebastian Telfair, and in the book, Darius Sr. rears his head again and again saying his son is better than Sebastian. Even if he's right--the evidence is sketchy--it's annoying.

Anyway, I'd love to link you to this Darius Washington article so that you can see for yourself what happens when Tom Friend meets Darius Washington.

But instead, I'll just sort of tell you about it...

In case you have been living in a cave, let me tell you that Darius jr. missed two out of three free throws that would have sent Memphis to the NCAA tournament last year. Everyone has written about that. Friend opens the article with descriptions of Darius hitting high-pressure free throws all the way back through his young life, even when he was a seven-year-old in a halftime free-throw shooting contest. It's not that Darius is some kind of kid that lacks fundamentals or focus. He's just a kid who missed some free throws one time.

Friend shows us why Darius Sr. is so over the top involved in his son's career--because Sr.'s own would-be professional hoops career was cut short by fatherhood, and he's living vicariously through his son.

Then there's a lot of detail about father and son relate. It seems to come down to this: the father mercilessly rags on the son for missing those free throws, as part of a bold campaign to help the son get over it. He tells everyone--even a TV station--over and over again, that he, the father, would have hit all three.

Then (it's beautiful) Friend tells us all about how that came to an end:

Near the end of the summer, the station called him on his boast. With a camera crew in his face, Big D stepped to the line in his gym and... clanked three shots. He'd choked too. Darius doubled over in laughter.

This isn't an article to make you love Darius Washington, but it definitely is an article to make you know Darius Washington much better than you did before. And it's fun to read along the way. That's honest journalism, and that's the article of the week.