Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Sharp on the State of Basketball Twitter, Sports Writing, and the Wizards | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Sharp on the State of Basketball Twitter, Sports Writing, and the Wizards

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Updated: October 8, 2017

Andrew Sharp has become a staple in the ever so popular and growing dialogue of NBA basketball on the internet. So it was only right to get his opinions on the state of basketball twitter and the positives and negatives of that particular community. Sharp even goes into detail about his pre-Grantland blogging days, and even how he had to be sold on the concept of podcasts. He is currently over at Sports Illustrated and is a co-host on the popular basketball podcast Open Floor with with co-host Ben Golliver. This conversation took place in an empty Capital One Arena podium room right before the Wizards took on the New York Knicks in a preseason game. Read on if you’re curious about the lifestyle of an NBA journalist and maybe interested in some advice for young journalists. Oh.. and there is Wizards talk too.

Troy Haliburton: I know you’re based out of DC, and you come to a lot of Wizards games, but do you have an editor who tells you where to go for different games? Like if there is a hot story in Chicago, do you have someone sending you to different arenas to cover that story?

Andrew Sharp: I don’t have an editor who will give me directions like that, but I will pitch stories that I want to cover. Like the Sixers, they were close to D.C., and I was like “let me go to Philly and write about where they are”

Because they are a hot team right now?

What’s cool about where we are right now is that you can cover the entire the league from wherever you live, and particularly in Washington the fact that every team comes here and you can get time with them through the Wizards. So like this morning I was at the Knicks shootaround talking to guys.

If I’m traveling it’s usually because of a story that I pitched. In the spring I really liked De’Aaron Fox out of Kentucky, so I talked to some of his people, and they were open to having me come out there, so I pitched a story to have me go out there for a day and watch him work out in California. That’s usually how it works for me, now people above my pay grade like David Aldridge are definitely getting sent places based on bosses to cover stories.

So you’re Grantland based and they were very much known for their longform writing. And you are an amazing writer, but you’re branching out into different multimedia facets with your podcasting, which I enjoy listening to you and Ben Golliver. How much are you trying to keep up with the times and expanding to different multimedia platforms and the whole pivot to video thing that seems to be sweeping Sports Journalism?

So it’s funny, first of all, SI is trying to get into video just like every other outlet is trying to get into video, so if I pitch a story with a video component they are more excited about it. As far as the Grantland tie, most people think of it as a long form spot, but it was also that they perfected the podcast formula and the Ringer did it too. So for me Grantland was fun as much as it was serious longform. There were a bunch of people who were really smart and made covering basketball fun. When I first started out, I was covering all sports, but after a year or two of being indoctrinated I decided that I just wanted to write about basketball. With the podcast specifically, when I was hired there [Grantland] David Jacoby was in charge of podcasts. He asked me would you ever want to do a podcast with Chris Ryan, and I was basically like ‘I don’t listen to podcasts, I don’t understand the point of podcasts.’

Wow, was this in like 2011?

No this was like 2013. I was like this is the stupidest thing in the world. Then a year and a half later, I tried it and really enjoyed it. It’s not really a conscious decision to do multiple things, it’s more of doing the work and having fun with it.

Speaking of podcasts, do you get more enjoyment out of recording podcasts with Ben or is your heart always going to be more into writing? Or are you able to keep your feet in both realms?

It depends on the story I’m writing. Right now I’m currently doing a story on international players, so I talked to Marc [Gortat] for awhile and I love to do stuff like that, but sometimes column writing is not as fun as it used to be because there are so many takes everywhere, so sometimes that gets old. The podcast is way more fun than I ever expected it to be, so a lot of times I’m looking forward to bullshiting for an hour.

You’re pretty much getting paid to sit around and talk about basketball, which I’m sure that you would enjoy doing for free.

Exactly. It’s also really nice that Ben as a co-host knows the game really well so it’s really fun to just sit and talk with him, just as it is to talk about the Wizards with you guys who are down here regularly and know the team really well.

How do you feel about the sort of big-picture aggregation of basketball content right now? I can only speak from the Wizards media perspective, but there are only a few regular people who are down here on a regular basis but there are tons of people who write about the comings and goings of things happening in the building, which turns into this 30,000 foot view and not covering teams on a ground level. This is not specific to just the Wizards but covering the NBA in general.

I think that there are pluses and minuses to the way that things have evolved over the last few years. On the one hand, it really does make a difference to interact with people at the arena and sort of realize that everyone is human and you understand things on a different level, which also means that you hear things behind the scenes. A lot of times when I was younger and didn’t come to the arena to report I would see national columnists write things that I would disagree with and only later would I find out that they knew about something else, but just couldn’t put it in the story.

I completely understand, you have relationships with people and it’s different when you’re down here and having it being a lot harder to trash talk someone online but then have to see them face-to-face.

That’s the other side of it, I remember being a 23 year old blogger and saying ‘These guys are full of shit’ nobody is critical enough, but the plus side is that when you’re not here everyday or in arenas everyday you can write more dispassionately about certain things because sometimes people deserve criticism and don’t get it because people like them. It allows people to be more critical in spots, but dynamics are really strange.

I dealt with the same thing, this is going into my 3rd season coming down here, and I can remember being on the internet with the hot-take cannon loaded up, but it’s different when a player can pull up on you and say ‘Oh I saw what you wrote about me on the internet.’

I’ve actually never had that happen to me where a player has approached me over something critical I said about them, but it is something that is in the back of my mind, particularly when I go and talk to people for an extended period of time. I find myself putting a positive spin on what I’m trying to write, which isn’t exactly how it used to be.

You mentioned 23 year old Andrew Sharp when you were blogging, how did you kind of get your break into the sports writing industry?

I was really really lucky, SB nation had just started, and when I got out of college I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so I applied for this internship at SB nation and they had just started their national site and they really didn’t have enough people to do the work, so I was allowed to do a lot of things that I wasn’t really qualified for. That was the key, I basically got to write a lot, and it kind of just took off from there. Over the course of the years I was there and even when I moved to Grantland, the NBA was just more fun to write about. Like football over the last couple of years has been so depressing.

Don’t get me started on how fantasy football has ruined football writing.

Yeah, now I’m speaking strictly as a fan, but I wish that there were more good football writers.

I feel as though basketball writing has taken off to another level because of the whole analytics community and the dialogue that is happening around the game on the internet.

Totally. Basketball twitter has become it’s own little weird ecosystem. Like we’re at a preseason basketball game right now and I am legitimately excited to be here.

Hahah we were just talking before we started this and I told you how I gave up a Nats playoff ticket to be here, and you told me I was crazy.

There are times where I want to look at things and then I think about how I can’t believe I care about things like Kelly Oubre’s minutes and growth that normal people would not have any interest in whatsoever. And that’s the beauty of having so many people around the league who are really good at covering the game and make it really entertaining to follow along.

What kind of advice would you give to a young person who just graduated from college and wants to get into sports writing?

That’s a good question. When I talk to young people, it’s hard to have a satisfying answer and one of the things that is difficult to deal with is because of the popularity of the sport over the last few years, there are a lot of people willing to work for free and these companies have figured out that they can get pretty good content for free, so the model around sportswriting is kind of tricky right now.

So it’s harder to breakthrough from doing it for fun and not making much money to trying to make a career out of it. My best advice is to read good writers and find good people that you respect to use as guidance and then write for whoever will let you write. If we’re being practical, get on twitter and tweet at people you admire, but don’t tweet angrily, but if you have constructive thoughts share your work and ideas. When I was young it was really hard to send blind emails to like JE Skeets or Trey Kirby and Kevin Arnovitz and be like can you read or share this. It’s not fun to do that. But you’d be surprised at how you can meet people that way and they will share your stuff.

Yeah, If your work is good people will find it, but you definitely have to put yourself out there.

Yeah, I hated putting myself out there, but twitter makes that process a little easier.

I guess I’m obliged to get a few Wizards questions in while I have you.

Honestly we can do 20 other Wizards questions!

How important do you think it is for the team to get off to a fast start? One of the things that people around here talk about is not only how the team seemed to have a lack of depth in the playoffs, but how well the team played at home last year and how it would be great of the team could not somehow be a 4 seed again and maybe shoot for that 1 or 2 seed.

I think it’s really important just because everyone looks at last year as a success and you want to carry that attitude and swagger over into this season. If they start the year .500 through Christmas, that’s not a great situation. This is a really important year in terms of possibly solidifying their place among those two or three teams at the top of the east. And if you look at the way player movement works nowadays, players have the leverage to kind of force their way to where they want to go and the Wizards can position themselves to be a destination that players will want to go play. They’ve shown that they can win with this team, and the people in the building are confident, and I as a fan am confident, but it would be nice to have them do it one more year to kinda prove that last year wasn’t a fluke.

When we talk about getting off to a fast start, we have to start with the fact that a trigger word around here has been continuity. And the fact that the Wizards kept the band together makes continuity a tangible factor that the team will sell as a positive. A big part of that continuity was the effectiveness of the starting 5 as a unit, but they won’t have that because of Markieff Morris’ injury. And they gave him a timetable of 6-8 weeks which means he could miss the first 6 games of the year or closer to 15.

Well I’m never comfortable with Wizards injuries to start the year. Some of these injury timelines tend to drag out with the Wizards. In terms of continuity, I think that the most important thing is having Wall, Beal and Otto come back because continuity can sometimes be an empty buzzword, but the main thing is that everyone on this team is young. And if Beal and Otto can continue to go they will be straight. Beal played very well at the end of last season and you want to see if he can do that over the entirety of a season. With Otto he was the player that the team expected probably one out of every three games, so the team probably just wants to see him be more consistent.

With the NBA trending towards more small ball lineups, how comfortable are you with having Jason Smith start at the 4 next to Gortat? He was a player who had only shot 11 threes before last season but ended up shooting a good percentage on more than 70 attempts last year.

I don’t know, this is the time of year where everyone is a stretch four and claims to have gotten better over the summer. It’s one of those situations where I’ll have to see it again to really believe it. Jason Smith is a solid player, and for the first time in the last couple of years the Wizards actually have a favorable schedule to start the season so they should be alright with Smith. There is a lot of buzz around Mike Scott right now, so we’ll wait and see on him.

Power Forward seems to be the most controversial position right now on this team, and one of the best lineups of last season was the front court that includes Kelly Oubre and Porter playing the forward positions. What are some of the things that you are seeing or hearing around the NBA about Kelly Oubre’s development.

Oubre is a guy who the Wizards seem to be very excited about internally. And when he is engaged and playing well he adds a dimension they don’t have in terms of his ability to guard multiple positions and stretch the floor and he’s a great athlete and they need guys like that. And with the two-way wing being the most valuable position in basketball, so if he can even be half as good as… a guy like… uh nevermind scratch that I don’t want to compare him to anybody too good right now! [Laughter]

I’m with you in the cautious optimism. A player I like comparing him with is former Wizard Trevor Ariza

Ariza would be a great best-case scenario, that would be perfect. Big picture wise the best case would be for him to help the team this year while also positioning himself as a valuable asset that other teams would want in case you needed a trade chip down the line.

Last question. How many All-Stars will the Wizards have?

Two! Brad was an All-Star last year, at least in my mind. Otto should be gunning for that as well, but I think the team will be happy if he can just produce as well as he did last season.

 

Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
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Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. He is going into his second season writing for Truth About It, and also writes for sports analytics website numberfire.com. You can find him in a district bike lane in the Northwest neighborhood of Bloomingdale.