Covering Pro Basketball: Sportswriters Say It's Rigorous but One of the Most Pleasing Beats
Haughton, Jim, Editor & Publisher
Covering pro basketball
Pro basketball writer Lee Shappell of the Arizona Republic in Phoenix has run in 30 marathons, but admits that he has never faced any assignment in his 14 years in the newspaper business as physically demanding as covering the Phoenix Suns of the National Basketball Association.
"I don't think editors anywhere really appreciate what an NBA writer goes through," Shappell said of the rigorous physical and mental pressures of covering the pro court beat.
Shappell's views are shared by most NBA men and women writers, including more than 50 surveyed by Editor & Publisher.
While there is practically unanimous feeling that covering NBA teams can be physically and mentally taxing, most writers agree that it is one of the most pleasant assignments in sports because the players, team management, and the league are so cooperative.
Writers surveyed rate player cooperation far above pro baseball players and say they are easy to deal with. The league and its franchises have polished their public relations to a high level. Game dressing rooms, for example, are open to the news media until 45 minutes before game time and 10 minutes after the contest.
Pro basketball plays an 82-game regular season schedule - it began in early November and ends this year on April 21 - before an interminable playoff schedule that can continue until mid-June. Most games are one-night stands, then teams move on to the next town a night or two later.
The pro court beat can take a writer to any of the league's 27 cities on swings of from four to seven games, often involving road matches on successive nights in cities far apart. A West Coast or Midwest team can make an Eastern swing covering Boston, New York or New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, and perhaps Miami or Orlando. An Eastern team can open in Portland, play two nights later in Sacramento, then go to Oakland and Los Angeles.
The huge salaries NBA players receive could be a problem for the writers if they thought too much about it. Most do not. Their big concern is travel.
"Travel. It's nuts. Players are making a fortune and a little short-term chaos is a trade-off for financial security, but I make the same wage as every journeyman," said Dave Krigger of the Rocky Mountain News, now in his third year covering the hometown Denver Nuggets.
The league's extensive travel forces writers to be extra careful guarding themselves.
"I take care of my body as if I were a player. I don't drink or smoke," said David DuPree, pro basketball editor of USA Today and a former University of Washington football player. DuPree previously covered the Washington Bullets for the Washington Post.
Jackie MacMullan, who covered the Celtics beat for the Boston Globe for several years before becoming the paper's NBA columnist, said she works out daily on road trips, either swimming or cycling. Constant flying left her dehydrated and her physician suggested that she increase her water intake, now up to 10 glasses daily.
When on the road, MacMullan tries to eat her main meal of the day around 3:30 p.m. before the normal 7:30 p.m. tapoff. Some teams offer complete pregame meals or buffets. MacMullan rates Detroit and Milwaukee the best, Philadelphia the worst.
An increasing number of NBA teams now own or charter planes and sometimes writers travel on them, their papers paying their way. Detroit, Los Angeles (Lakers), Seattle, Indiana, Sacramento, Portland, Phoenix and Boston own or lease planes that leave immediately after a game. They are designed to get players home or to their next destination in time to get a good night's sleep before the next evening's game. Some teams fly to game sites on commercial routes but use charters to get them home, especially when they have a contest the next night.
Writers with morning papers usually do not fly on the charters because tight news deadlines require them to work several hours after games. …