Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Narrative of Basketball & The Raptors Reporters

I am a writer and communicator at heart, and am always seeking to see what is written about a particular event, individual, or phenomenon, how it is communicated, and then I essentially base my experience on the delivery and execution of the surrounding media. I see almost everything through a journalist lens, by default.

I enjoy basketball. I admittedly haven't always been a hardcore fan, but this year I am closer than I've ever been. It all started with the NBA lockout in the summer, discovering that I had NBA TV, and then listening to updates from Derek Fisher and David Stern and the subsequent reporting of the breaking news as it unfolded.

From NBA TV, I was drawn to TSN, and SportsNet, and to the web, and to the blogs, and to the Fan 590, and then I realized that I had officially become interested in what would happen next! It was a daily curiosity. I became fascinated by the side story of the players, the negotiations, the speculation, the union, the press conferences, and I was drawn into the game of basketball...not by the basketball itself, but by those who had built a career around the reporting of basketball.

Enter the Raptors reporters, then I discovered the Score Mobile app for my BlackBerry and it was a wrap. The lockout ended, the games began, and I was without a doubt drawn whole-heartedly into the story of the NBA.

I'm an entertainment junkie and pop culture enthusiast by nature, so I have always known about the players. I know my Dwight Howards from my Kobes and D-Wades. I know the big names, the mid-level guys, and a few of the abstract players. I am familiar with the corporate culture and the cities in which the team are established. I recognize the personal stories, and see the YouTube videos and other antics that the guys sometimes produce.

But much like any other fiction novel or modern-day narrative, the lows and highs and expectations and unpredictability of the NBA lockout drew me into the hype and fanfare of the new short season. There were quick trades and aquisitions, and then before I knew it...it was time to play ball and I was beyond ecstatic!

How could I not get sucked in? There was a new energy! It was almost psychological how the looming "strike" and fear of not having any basketball at all made me crave it even more. After a summer of watching endless documentaries, and watching the NBA veterans like Chris Webber and Charles Barkley sit around and discuss their experiences, successes, and hopes for the future of the game, it was the narrative of basketball that ultimately seduced me.

Don't get me wrong...I enjoy the game. What's not to love? Young men, graceful physicality, team dynamics, coupled with the media coverage, celebrity fanfare, and thrill of competition. Basketball is the bomb!

I started off the Raptor's season at their home opener and was motivated by hometown pride. Jamaal Magloire. Drake. Mark Strong. 4 Korners. Kardinal Offishall. This was specifically MY culture! Literally, the very people that shared my common experiences of growing up as a first-generation Canadian, and they were integrated into this franchise. So endearing! (See blog and video from home opener).

And then I researched our players, spanning the globe in heritage, and coming together to play for this Canadian team in an otherwise American league: fabulous! So add a bit of patriotism and warm acknowledgement for my city and country, and I immediately became a Raptors fan, a basketball follower, and sports media addict when I realized the network of reporters and ball experts that are dedicated to telling the story that is the Toronto Raptors.

Paul Jones & Eric Smith ~ always on point, always have great commentary, and although I can't always catch them on radio when watching the games, I am definitely a Twitter follower, reader of their blogs, and spectator of their online video reports. (Shout out to my good friend Ancil London for snapping this great pic of them at the NBL draft last year!) I love the way they interact with the basketball community one-on-one, and how respected their perspectives are. Paul used to play for York University, and was also the assistant coach for the University of Western Ontario's basketball team. After years with the TDSB as a principal, he joined the Raptors' coverage on the Fan 590 in 2004. Eric has been a sportcaster for Global Sports, as well as CBC Newsworld, along with hosting a weekly show "Hoops" on 590.

Jack Armstrong ~ He's a Brooklyn native, and he's kinda hilarious to me. I enjoy the very sound of his voice (and have become oddly curious about Miller Genuine Draft as a result). The one-liners and emphatic remarks during the game keep me smiling and really amplifies the experience for me. Whatta personality! Jack is a former coach at Niagara University, who's been a sportscaster for TSN, Rogers Sportsnet, and Raptors NBA TV.

Sherman Hamilton ~ An analyst for NBA TV, as well as The Score, Sherman is a former member of the Canadian Men's National Team, and also previously played with the Canadian olympic team, as well as in Lithuania. I watched a lot of him during the lockout, and came to depend on his updates and expertise.

Leo Rautins ~ Always providing an informative perspective as an NBA analyst, Leo has an obvious wealth of knowledge and experience. You can often hear his personal passions for the players and coaching perspectives, as the former head coach of the Canadian National Men's Basketball Team (2005-2011). A member of the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame, Leo was the first Canadian drafted in the first round NBA draft in 1983, and spent years playing in Europe as well.

Matt Devlin ~ A New York native, the Raptors' play-by-play TV announcer, Matt spent 6 years doing the same for the Memphis Grizzlies, and 3 with the Charlotte Bobcats. He's a likeable guy, and a consummate reporter, with experience spanning from olympic coverage with NBC, to announcing on TNT, and for the NFL on Fox.

And this is just the basics after a few months of observation. This is just the beginning of what will now be a livelong appreciation of basketball.

As a communications graduate, it is the introduction to these journalists that really made my experience as a "new" basketball follower complete. While I do enjoy watching the game itself, it is the multi-media experience that truly fulfils me. The real-time Twitter updates, the clever commentary, the video blogging, and behind-the-scenes photos. Player interviews, post-game summaries, and even the pre-game banter. This is the packaging that MADE sports come alive for me...the fact that the game doesn't exist in isolation, but that there is a sick network of interactivity, entertainment, and journalist brilliance that supports it.

As a writer, I love a good story! I love the plots, the character development, the lows and the well-deserved highs. The sadness, and the triumph, the interpersonal connectivity, and the uber-exaltation of the players to an untouchable hero status. The combination of elements are fascinating, and the rapid unfolding of the shortened season has been great.

I see the genuine passion and love for basketball that these reporters have, and it reminds me how important it is to do what you love, live what you love, and to share and inspire others through your work. How wonderful to be able to dwell in your favourite things, make a living, be entertained, and interact with the community on a regular basis, all in the name of sports! When the Nets were in town, I remember sitting in the ACC and watching the rows of reporters before me with their laptops and headsets, and being distracted by their activity rather than the game. Awesome jobs!

Usually All-Star Weekend is when I officially tune into the NBA and catch the end of the season as the stakes rise...this year I'm glad I'll be heading into the break with full knowledge of what's going down. I am, indeed, proud of myself for discovering a new passion, just when I thought I had seen and appreciated all that the world of entertainment had to offer!

So this is my thank you to the voices, words, and faces that have made my official introduction to the world of basketball and extremely informative and entertaining one. I will enter the 2012-2013 NBA season like a true connoisseur.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

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