Chris Broussard Interview Part II
In part II of Chris Broussard’s interview, he and I discuss the NBA at length. We range from the state of the league compared with the scrutiny other sports receive, preseason predictions to whom he would like to see coach next in the NBA. We also touch on Chris juggling his multi-faceted ESPN career with the fortunate responsibilities of being a husband and raising a family. Of course we also converse about some things political, but hey, you know how we do here.
I won’t take up your time with a lengthly lede.
MT: How are you holding up juggling your ESPN duties and the responsibility of raising twin daughters?
CB: I tell you what, it’s a lot of work. Especially with ESPN the Magazine, ESPN.com , TV and radio. If you work at a newspaper, it’s hard to cover sports at the highest level and have a good lifestyle for your family. The travel is crazy. As a beat writer, when I was with the Akron Beacon Journal or covering the Knicks and the Nets, I was traveling all the time. Even when you are at home, you are still gone. You are gone in the evening when everybody is home covering the game and home when everybody is gone during the day. You are really away a lot. Being at the magazine, my travel is not as intense. It’s more of a leisurely lifestyle. I’m home a lot more. I have more time with my two 9 year old daughters and my wife. It’s been great.
MT: Give me something real quick on each of your stops.
Cleveland Plain Dealer:
CB: They hired me right out of college. I thank them for that. I covered high school sports there. I didn’t get much of an opportunity to do college or pro sports, but I’m not bitter and I’ve moved on. I’m thankful for the opportunity they gave me because I didn’t have much experience and I learned a lot there.
MT: Akron Beacon Journal:
CB: That was where I got my first breakthrough. I went from covering high school sports to professional sports. If I hadn’t gotten that shot, I may not be where I am today.
MT: Beat writer for the Cleveland Cavaliers:
CB: I learned a lot on the fly covering the Cavs. That’s where I cut my teeth covering the NBA as a beat reporter. I have fond memories of that time. Mike Fratello, Terrell Brandon, Bobby Phills, Chris Mills, Tyrone Hill….those were some overachieving teams. Hard working and overachieving teams. Wayne Embry was the GM and he’s been a good mentor.
MT: People forget about Bobby Phills. How good a player was he?
CB: Bobby went to Southern University and was one of the leading scorers in the nation.I think he was a second round draft pick. No one really expected him to make it in the NBA. He turned himself into a very productive player through hard work. He was strong. He wasn’t Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade athletic, but he was very athletic. He could shoot. Beyond all that, he was a great guy. Very upstanding. He was a good role model. Education was key to him. His father was a dean at Southern University in Louisiana. His parents were very much into education. His goal was to give himself a couple of years in the NBA to see if he could make it. If he didn’t, he wanted to become a veterinarian. After he was done playing he was going to go back and become a vet. He had this camp where he would give out backpacks. They would study in the morning and then play ball in the afternoon. He would always incorporate education into his talks with youth. It was unfortunate that when he went to Charlotte and died in that car accident. He was an all around good solid person.
MT: New York Times covering the Knicks, the Nets and the entire NBA:
CB: I loved it at the Times. I was there six years. I really wasn’t looking to move on, but ESPN called me so I did. The Times was great. There is a different type of journalism in New York City. Being in that type of environment really helped me as a journalist. I think that’s where I came into my own. I’m very thankful for my time at the New York Times. I got to cover some great things there. I covered Michael Jordan’s first game back with the Washington Wizards and the last game of his career. I covered NBA Finals there. I had a great time with the Times.
MT: Let’s keep it movin’. How about ESPN the Magazine? What’s it like there and what are your personal goals for the magazine?
CB: Well, my contract is up in September, so we are trying to figure out how I’m going to divide my time between TV, the magazine, radio and the .com. I think my magazine responsibilites will remain the same. What’s great about magazine writing is that you get to know the players better than you do as a newspaper writer. When you are on the beat, you see them every day, but you don’t get to see them away from the game. You see them at games and at practice. When you do a magazine article on a player, you might spend time at their home, in their car or go out to eat with them. You might spend time with their family. You get a better sense of the guys as people. They get a lot more comfortable with you. That’s not something specific about ESPN the Magazine, but it’s been a great experience for me just as a magazine writer in general. One thing I will say about ESPN and ESPN the Magazine is that they give you great opportunities. I’m a senior writer, but we have people who are not senior writers–staff reporters and staff writers–and they get to do cover stories. They get to do big time features just like we do. It’s a great opportunity for them.
So many different writers have had the opportunity to be on TV interviewing players. LZ Granderson, who hasn’t done a ton of TV for ESPN, was able to do an interview with Greg Oden. They didn’t tell him that they were going to give it to somebody else.
MT: What’s your opinion of the new EIC at the ESPN.com, Rob King?
*I have an interview with Rob that will be posted here Monday.*
CB: I don’t know Rob personally. I’ve dealt with him–talked to him on the phone and by email. All of our dealings have been good. I know from a professional standpoint he does a great job. I have full faith that Rob will do a great job. I just don’t know him that well.
MT: What’s your opinion of blogs and what would you change–if anything?
CB: I think blogs are great. With a player, they give him or her a way to reach out to fans without going through the media. It’s unfiltered. It also gives the average fan or people that are trying to get into the journalism field and haven’t gone the traditional route, the opportunity to get their voice out there. High powered outlets or publications then see them and they maybe they latch on. It’s a great opportunity for aspiring Black journalists–since there are a limited amount of Black journalists out there. That’s good.
On the negative side, journalists for newspapers and magazines have editors, we have to go through legal channels and can’t just write anything. That’s good for obvious reasons. Bloggers can write anything they want for the most part. It’s not fact checked and it may be erroneous. That can be a negative because once it’s out there in cyberspace, it’s gone. Even if you write a retraction, it’s still out there. That can be a danger. Blogging, and also the internet in general can be very empowering but it can also spark chaos. You could get to a point where you just have a bunch of voices and everybody is yelling something different, but there’s no cohesiveness. While it’s good to get different opinions voiced, there also needs to be standards for civilized society. There needs to be some type of cohesion and unity. We definitely need more than two major political parties in this country–for example. Do we need one hundred? If you have that many voices you won’t have a majority view. Whoever would end up elected, wouldn’t be representing the majority and chaos might ensue. I think that’s a good parallel. It hasn’t gotten to that point, but I think it could.
Overall, I think it’s a good opportunity for voices to be heard that othewise wouldn’t.
MT: At the NABJ Conference I asked a question–you were on the panel–about Bobby Bonds’ legacy and how he was perceived in a negative way and why it transferred to Barry Bonds. I think it’s lazy reporting by journalists and also editors that choose to start their stories off with Barry Bonds is an asshole. It doesn’t need to be said a million times. It conditions the reader to believe something that he has no idea of knowing. I’ve met Barry Bonds personally–he was cool with me, so that’s all I can write about. I think it’s really irresponsible of present journalism. People he has impacted in a negative way should write in such a fashion–that is, if they weren’t a jerk to him of course. I’m speaking of the writer that chooses to cherry pick off other journalists words. That’s just lazy, downright ignorant and straight up childish.
CB: Mike, your right. It’s been written a million times that Bonds has been mean to the media and some writers haven’t even dealt with him. I haven’t dealt with him a lot. I haven’t covered that much MLB, so it’s hard for me to speak about what he’s like personally. But your right. Seeing people talk about him on television, you do get the impression that he’s a nasty person and not a good guy to deal with. This may be true. Journalists that I respect have said that.
You are correct that writers could give a different perspective. Even if he acts like a jerk, if you give the historical perspective of his Dad’s bad relationship with the media, maybe that gives you some background as to why Barry Bonds is the way he is. You make a great point. There’s always two sides to every story. I’ll say this too and I’m not talking about anybody specific, but there are journalists that do view athletes as objects that they can use to boost their career when they break a story. They don’t treat these athletes with respect that a human being is due. Athletes and journalists generalize when speaking about one another. You make a good great point Mike.
MT: You were captain of your baskeball team at Oberlin College. Who were some of your athletic inspirations?
CB: Might want to pass this on to your readers – Oberlin College was the first white college to admit Blacks and women. Oberlin, Ohio was a major stop on the Underground Railroad. Tommie Smith used to coach there at one time. The famous Black revolutionary poet Sonia Sanchez’s son, Mungu, went there with me and was one of my best friends there, so OC had a very strong Black community. Also, I was captain of the hoop team but didn’t play baseball.
Muhammad Ali. He was courageous and stood up for what he believed in–whether you agreed with him or not. He risked a lot. Now we have hindsight, we know that three years later he was writing again. When he gave up his title, he didn’t know he was going to fight again. That type of committment to your people is what Black athletes need today. Black journalists and Black politicians need the same type of committment.
Until our people are not in a perilous state, we need a committment from those who have made it.
My favorite baskeball players growing up…Dr. J was number one. Then I went from Doc to Magic and from Magic to Michael. In football, my first love, I loved the Pittsburgh Steelers. My favorite player was Lynn Swann.
MT: We share a lot of the same favorites.
CB: I guess it was a sign of the times.
In baseball? I’m disheartened that Blacks aren’t playing the game as much as they used to. I looked up to Willie Stargell, Davey Lopes and guys like that. Willie Mays was before my time, buy my father would tell me about him. I like Rod Carew.
In track I liked Carl Lewis. Boxing I was a big Sugar Ray Leonard fan.
MT: How about journalism influences?
CB: Some of the guys that I’ve mentioned. I was older when I met Michael Wilbon and David Aldridge. Ralph Wiley was definitely a pioneer. I read Bill Rhoden from afar when I was younger. Jim Murray from the LA Times was just a great writer. I really wasn’t into writers growing up. I did read Sports Illustrated religiously. That was really impactful to me as a sportswriter. I took in a lot of its style and the way stories were written.
MT: What are your thoughts on the state of the NBA?
CB: That’s a wide ranging question.
MT: Compare the game now to the era you most associate the origin of your interest. You spoke earlier of Doc, Magic and Michael.
CB: On the one hand, we all tend to romanticize the past. When you look at old NBA films, much of the stands were empty. Look back in 1980 when Magic was a rookie and had that great 42 pt, 15 rebound, 7 assist performance….
MT: Yeah, don’t make me cry again Chris. It broke my heart as a Sixers fan.
CB: (Chris chuckles) My bad…that game was on tape-delay. Attendance is at an all time high in the NBA. The ratings aren’t what they used to be because now you have so many different options. The athletes are more popular, more well known, and making more money than ever. In a lot of ways, the NBA is OK. Every part of America that is in the public eye has an image problem. The Catholic Church with the priests molesting kids, big business with Enron and all kinds of scandals. Even journalism. The New York Times had the big problem with fabrication. So has other reputable media outlets. The NFL with players getting into trouble. MLB with steroids. Out of all these entities, the only time I hear image problem is with the NBA.
Why is that?
My feeling? I think young Black men in America have an image problem. Because the NBA is 80% Black and these brothas are in your face and not covered by helmets and pads. The sports lends itself to more creativity and individuality. I think that’s where the NBA’s image problem stems from. I don’t think the NBA had an image problem in the ’60’s when it was mostly White. You started hearing about it in the ’70’s. When the league started leting people in the league based on how good they were it became mostly Black. I think it’s all overblown. There are a few individuals here and there that have problems.
Let’s just look at some of the mega-stars and their character and image: Le Bron James. Dwyane Wade. Chris Paul. Kevin Garnett. Tim Duncan. Vince Carter. Paul Pierce–stabbed and comes back and plays. Baron Davis. Allan Houston. You can go on and on. Those are so many examples. What’s in their character that you wouldn’t like? Some of the player’s sheer appearance–cornrows or hanging out with his boys from the ‘hood–actually overrides true upstanding character.
That’s ridiculous and it’s not fair. The image problem gets attached to the NBA because it’s dominated by young Black men.
MT: Great point.
MT: What do you think about the referee scandal?
CB: Obviously, it’s terrible. As long as there isn’t two, three, or more refs and also players involved, I don’t think it will be this huge thing that affects attendance negatively. It is big deal–don’t get me wrong–and you will hear conspiracy theories, people will joke about it during the playoffs and stuff like that. The NBA will be fine as long as it’s just Tim Donaghy.
MT: What do you think about the passing of Eddie Griffin?
CB: Griff is just a sad, tragic story. Talented young guy who lacked direction and guidance.
MT: Yes it is. Such a shame. I’m sure we’ll hear more about his death shortly.
Is the talent shift in the Eastern Conference real?
CB: Well it helps (the shift), but the Western Conference is still far superior. You have Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio–those are the teams that are better than anybody in the east. Houston would probably be a contender in the east. Utah would probably be a contender in the east.
Boston should be the favorite in the east. They should not only get to the Finals, but they should have a shot at winning it. I don’t think you should be able to write them off. The east has gotten better. Detroit is going to be decent, but not better. Boston is definitely better. Cleveland is going to be better because of the experience gained in going to the NBA Finals. Chicago is going to be better because of added experience, but they still don’t have that low post presence offensively that they need to become a real contender. New Jersey added Jamaal Magloire and Nenad Krstic coming back. Sean Williams is going to be that athletic spark that Jason Kidd will help to develop.
MT: I think Williams will be dynamite. I interviewed his former coach, Al Skinner a couple of years back and he raved about Williams’ athleticism.
CB: No doubt.
The east has definitely strengthened itself.
MT: I interviewed Grant Hill for an upcoming SLAM Magazine issue(#112). Talk about Grant signing with the Suns at this stage in his career.
CB: I think it was a good move for Grant. It’s a good chance for him to get that elusive championship ring and also to play a solid role. One thing that helped Phoenix a couple of years ago was Boris Diaw being a playmaker on the floor. In addition to Steve Nash, they had another guy that could make plays and create. Last year, Diaw had a down year, so they were lacking that extra playmaker they sorely needed. Whether Steve is on the floor or not, Grant can make plays for other people–as well as himself. It’s hard to tell how much Grant has left, but these last two years in Orlando were solid. Especially two years ago. He’s another guy I could have mentioned earlier. Total class act. You would love to see a guy like that get a championship.
MT: During the interview I could really get a sense of just how energized he is for the upcoming season. This off season was the first time in years that he actually had a chance to work on his game.
Ok, here you go. NBA 2007-2008 awards time.
Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year and MVP:
CB: I think I’m going to say Greg Oden for Rookie of the Year.
Doc Rivers is going to have a huge increase in wins but I don’t think Doc will win it. Last year I picked Mike Brown. Good question, because there’s so many criterias….I’m going to go with my same pick last year and say Mike Brown for Coach of the Year. I think he’s going to have a solid year and people are going to give him his due.
MVP? It won’t be Dirk I know that (Chris and I laugh).
Kobe is going to be on a mission!
MT: Yes he is!
CB: He’s going to have to win though. It won’t be Dirk, I don’t think it’s going to be Nash….I think I’m going to go with Le Bron.
MT: Good choice.
CB: I don’t know if I went with him last year. I thought he should have won it two years ago.
MT: So did I.
Who would you like to see coach in the NBA right now?
CB: Mark Jackson. I hope he gets a shot. I think he would be a very good coach. I know he wants to coach. He was obviously a coach on the floor during his playing years.
MT: 2007-2008 NBA Champion?
CB: See I’m going to end up saying something different when it’s time for ESPN to come out with their predictions (Chris and I laugh). You got me on the run!
MT: Hey man, just doing what I do.
CB: I think I’m going to say…. Phoenix. I’m finally going to say they are going to get over the hump. I say that with definite hesitation though.
MT: Wow! Phoenix. Interesting. Rest assured it will be a very exciting season. Thanks Chris!