My first foray in Sports Reporting

While I’m still very much holding onto the casted rod of my novel, waiting on a nibble or two from an agent, I’ve decided to expand my writing hopes. While I’m done plenty of sports commentary on this blog, I’ve never posted a strictly sports-reporting article. Havign submitted the following article to a network as part of the application process, I thought I’d share it to get some feedback.

The application assignment was simple: select a video from the list provided and write a 500-1000 word article on it. The video I chose was a game recap of a Miami Heat/Minnesota Timberwolves match-up from late December. Here’s the link for the video if you’d like to see it.

Miami Heat v. Minnesota Timberwolves

LeBron James arrived at the Target Center to celebrate his birthday, but while most birthday traditions involve receiving gifts, it was LeBron’s pinpoint pass to Dwyane Wade in the final seconds that gifted the Miami Heat with their fourth consecutive win to open the season.

James opened the contest with 15 first quarter points, en route to a 34 point, 10 assist, 8 rebound birthday, but despite James’ statistical dominance, the Miami Heat [4-0] struggled to control the game. Although Kevin Love’s 25-point 12-rebound performance paced the Timberwolves [0-3], it was rookie sensation Ricky Rubio’s 12 points and 12 assists that stole the show. Despite the 5 turnovers, Rubio’s passes were often punctured by throw-downs from the likes of Anthony Randolph and fellow rookie Derrick Williams. Rubio used the absence of free agent signee J. J. Barea, sidelined with a hamstring injury, to wow the Wolves’ crowd against one of the league’s premier franchises.

Much has been made of Heat head coach Eric Spolestra’s new “Space and Pace” offense, a strategy geared toward utilizing the strengths of his athletes, specifically James and Wade. Arguably two of the league’s greatest transition players, this new offensive out-look was on display early and often in Minnesota. Alley-oops abound, the Heat found themselves repeatedly streaking out for ferocious dunks. One particular sequence included Dwyane Wade blocking a Wes Johnson corner three-pointer, then streaking up the sideline in time to catch the lob from rookie Norris Cole. But despite the myriad monster dunks, Minnesota hung around.

While the Miami Heat kept the Wolves at arm’s length through most of the first half, Minnesota’s three point barrage managed to keep the team within striking distance, and eventually allowed the up-start squad a brief advantage late. Rubio’s three-pointer with 2:20 left in the fourth quarter gave the Timberwolves a four point edge. After a missed LeBron three that would have given the Heat back the lead, Battier fouled Rubio, who made one of two free throws. On the ensuing possession, LeBron barreled over a 6-foot 9-inch Anthony Tolliver for the “and-1”, much to the chagrin of Wolves’ coach Rick Adelman and the crowd.

With the score tied at 99 entering the final minute, Wolves’ forward Anthony Tolliver drove for the dunk only to be fouled by Chris Bosh. Tolliver managed to convert only one of two free throws, which allowed Dwyane Wade to regain the lead for the Heat with a long, step-back jump-shot with 33 seconds remaining. With the game on the line and the Wolves’ crowd howling in front of their seats, star forward Kevin Love drove the lane only to miss an awkward runner.

But Anthony Tolliver snagged the rebound and was fouled on his out-back attempt. With 8 seconds left, Tolliver bounced the first of two free throws through and shrugged at the inelegant attempt. However, with the chance to put his team up by one, Tolliver missed the second free throw and Heat forward Udonis Haslem secured the rebound.

Two nights after struggling with the Charlotte Bobcats only to be rescued by a Dwyane Wade game-winner, the Miami Heat faced another daunting task. Eric Spolestra drew up the side-out play, and with 6 seconds remaining, LeBron gave a gift on his own birthday. Rolling around a Chris Bosh rub-screen at the top of the key, Dwyane Wade beat rookie Ricky Rubio to the rim and caught LeBron’s lob from the far-side hash mark. Finishing the night with 19 points, it was Wade’s final bucket that gave the Heat a two point lead.

In the final seconds, Rubio found Wayne Ellington for a decent look, but the reserve guard couldn’t finish the shot and birthday boy LeBron James and the Miami Heat left the Target Center with a 103-101 victory.

Why I Love the Jeremy Lin Story

It’s the stuff of Hollywood, this story. An unrecruited, undrafted player, over-looked by two franchises and nearly cut by his current one, suddenly is given an opportunity to showcase his talent. And showcase his talent he has.

Entering his nationally televised game against the Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks starting point guard Jeremy Lin was averaging 24.6 points, 8.6 assists and shooting 50% over his last eight games. While he does turn the ball over quite a bit, he has absolutely electrified the Madison Square Garden faithful and probably saved his coach’s job. Alas, my own trip to New York’s famed basketball arena did not include a sight of “Linsanity”, as he was in the Developmental League, playing for the Erie Bayhawks where he posted a triple-double on the very night I was watching the Knicks lose in double overtime to the Denver Nuggets.

A t-shirt in NYC

Lin’s story is one of faith, perseverance, and hard work. The 6’3″ point guard played as a freshman in high school standing just 5’3″. By his senior year, he led his Palo Alto High School team to the California Division II state title. He went unrecruited by his dream schools Stanford and UCLA, and it was only Harvard and Brown that guaranteed the player a spot on their teams. College coaches said the lack of recruiting time hurt the evaluation of Jeremy Lin, as he didn’t separate himself athletically. In a New York Times article from 2010 by Chuck Culpepper, Lin said, “I just think in order for someone to understand my game, they have to watch me more than once, because I’m not going to do anything that’s extra flashy or freakishly athletic.” He flourished at Harvard, setting many school records and earning notoriety as one of the Ivy League’s best players.

Lin went undrafted out of college but did land try-outs with several NBA teams. Unfortunately, the try-out process did not include regular, five-on-five basketball action. From that same Times article, Lin acknowledged that the workouts were “one on one or two on two or three on three, and that’s not where I excel. I’ve never played basketball like that.” Despite the difficulty, Lin persevered and eventually signed a two-year contract with the Golden State Warriors, the NBA team that played in his hometown of San Francisco, CA. He played sparingly that first year, bouncing between the Warriors and the D-League Reno Bighorns, but he made it.

However, after the season and the NBA lockout, the Warriors waived the contractual rights to Lin to make room for another player. Lin was signed by the Houston Rockets, but after only two preseason games, they cut him as well. That’s when he landed on the end of the bench for the New York Knicks. Lin was buried in the depth chart behind Toney Douglas, rookie Iman Shumpert, veteran Baron Davis and journeyman Mike Bibby. It wasn’t until playing well for the D-League Eire Bayhawks and several injuries to rotation players in New York that Lin got his chance. Once he was on the court, however, Lin wasn’t heading back to the bench.

The Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey mentioned on his Twitter account after the fiery start of “Linsanity” that they “should have kept [Jeremy Lin]. Did not know he was this good”. Now, Magic Johnson, a Hall of Famer and arguably the greatest point guard in NBA history, says: “He [Lin] is for real. This guy can play basketball.” Lin has captured the national spotlight in much the same way Tim Tebow did during the football season, but the difference might be skill. Whereas Tebow, as I discussed in a previous post, doesn’t seem to have the proper skill-set for his position, Lin most certainly possesses what every successful point guard needs: vision, speed, and shooting touch.

This is where the Hollywood side of the story comes into play. There’s no doubt that Lin’s faith, perseverance, and hard work prepared him to seize his opportunity, but the success he has enjoyed seems like the stuff of scripts. At first glance, he is the archetypal underdog character, and if you look at some of the greatest sports films of all-time, they are all underdog stories. “Rudy” (1993), “Major League” (1989), “The Natural” (1984), “Rocky” (1976), and, my submission as greatest sports film of all-time, “Hoosiers” (1986), all share the same character-type. That’s why the Jeremy Lin story is so enjoyable, despite the jersey he wears.

I love Jeremy Lin’s story. He is all that’s right in sports, despite ESPN’s ubiquitous coverage. He is the type of example I’d have the players on my teams follow, the type of example I’d have my son follow. Truth be told, it’s the type of story I day-dreamed about growing up. Had I made it as a basketball player, Lin’s path would have been the one I walked. Alas, I write this as a mere teacher and hopeful writer, and not a professional athlete.

But it’s Lin’s story that inspires me to continue to have faith, persevere, and work hard to achieve my own dreams of being a published writer. And I hope Lin continues his success. That is–until he plays the Heat.