Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chatting with HoopSpeak’s Beckley Mason

Today I would like to present a quick conversation with HoopSpeak’s founder, Beckley Mason. If you’re not a regular HoopSpeak reader; shame on you, because it’s one of the best basketball blogs out there.

I’ve long admired Beckley’s work from afar, so I was very excited to have the chance to ask him some questions. He didn't disappoint. I hope you enjoy…

1. Everyone has to start somewhere in the blogging world; tell us about the origins of HoopSpeak. What exactly inspired you to begin blogging about basketball? When was your site taken under the Truehoop umbrella of basketball blogs and how did that happen? Where do you see yourself and your blog in three to five years down the road?

I began writing about basketball because none of my friends where I’m currently living really care that much about the NBA. I needed to find an outlet to discuss hoops, especially after my coaching season had just ended, so I started up sort of on a whim.

I was interested in sportswriting, but didn’t really know how to go about getting people to read me, so I thought I’d get some practice in the meantime. Almost no one read the blog at first outside of internet bots and my parents [Ed. Note: Believe me, I know how that feels].

Then in November of last year, Henry Abbott AKA TrueHoop AKA The Shining Dome clicked on a tweet I sent him, clicked around on the site and excerpted something I had written about LeBron James a few months earlier.

Next thing you know I’ve met Kevin Arnovitz in D.C. and agreed (dumbfounded as I was I somehow nodded my head in agreement) to join the Network, which was and still is a major thrill.

Since then the site has really grown, and we’ve gotten some very talented folks on board. Ethan Sherwood Strauss finally gave in to my wooing and then Joey Whelan, Anthony Bain, Zach Harper and Brett Koremenos came on board, I think in that order.

I’ve been lucky to get some opportunities to write for pay and more exposure on ESPN, and I’m guessing I’ll keep chipping away with freelance opportunities until I finally get a chance to be a full time writer. That’s the goal.

2. As a writer, who are your biggest influences? As a basketball player?

I’m not very cool, so I discovered basketball writing I really connected with through ESPN, particularly Henry and Kevin at TrueHoop. I didn’t start reading about basketball much until I lived abroad and couldn’t watch games, so I got into reading a lot of sportswriting only a few years ago. I at first rejected John Hollinger because, again, I’m behind the times, but his work has become pretty indispensable to any serious NBA fan.

Tommy Craggs and Ethan Sherwood Strauss are also people I learn a lot from in terms of writing form.

When it comes to playing, I always idolized the crossover. I spent hours and hours mimicking Iverson’s crossover motion, and was a huge Jay Williams fan when he was at Duke... though I also had a weird, indefensible infatuation with Hollis Price.

3. As a sports blogger, I’m always interested in other blogger’s writing processes. For instance, I can never stay in one place for more than a couple hours at a time, so I’m always moving from the library, to my home, to the local Borders, etc. Am I crazy, or do you have weird little writing ticks like that too?

Whatever works man! If I’m writing for more than a few hours at a time, like if I’m doing a bunch of research or watching a ton of video, I’ll move around a bit between home and a local coffee shop (I know, I know... typical). Otherwise I just try to write ideas down when I have them--often this happens at work when I should be thinking about other things--then let the idea marinate and then I’ll write when I get home.

4. One of my favorite things about HoopSpeak is that it drifts effortlessly from thoughtful pieces such as America’s hatred of LeBron James to more stat infused writing. There seems to be a real divide in the basketball community between the stat-heads and the more narrative driven writers. Where do you stand on this? I read very few writers that take the middle-ground yet you seem to be one of them. Thoughts on this?

If I’m not attempting some sort of more than basketball commentary, I like to focus my writing in a way that helps me learn about the game--usually using video or statistics. If you haven’t developed a working knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of advanced metrics, it’s tough to do more than just track questionable narratives. As more and more writers who do a great job of weaving narratives into statistical trends are becoming mainstream, like Tom Haberstroh, I think we’ll see basketball writing begin to resemble the logic-driven ethos of good baseball writing.

There’s also the issue of “is what you’re writing factual?” Any time you say “this player is playing well (or poorly),” that should show up somewhere in the numbers. “Statistics” has this connotation like it’s a disingenuous way to view the game, but the object of the game is to score more points (a statistic) than your opponent, and the best statistics allow us to better understand how and why points are scored.

However I’m still not sure just how much to value individual efficiency. It’s easier to be efficient when you only do a number of simpler tasks. It’s also true that ideally, everyone on the court should make the smart, simple play, resulting in maximum team efficiency. But I also wrote about how this year Chris Paul was having a more efficient but less dominant season than in his last healthy year. Was he playing better or not? I’m inclined to say he wasn’t but I’m still not sure, there were some bad players getting major run on that Hornets team.

5. In case you haven’t heard, there’s a big fat lockout on the horizon. What the hell is a basketball writer to do? Are you optimistic or do you fear a long, protracted fight that will cut into next season?

I’m trying to find a new day job (if you’re looking for some web/marketing writing, let me know!) and reading a lot. I’ve heard conflicting ideas from people I trust. I doubt anything will be done before the second half of July, but I suspect that the two sides are secretly closer than they appear. There seems to be lots of posturing.

6. This question is pretty much obligatory and completely inane: How many titles will the Heat win in the next five years?

Three shall be the number and the number shall be three.

7. Obviously, I love basketball unconditionally, but I also write about football and have some baseball stuff planned for the future. I couldn’t imagine writing solely about one sport…do you ever feel like branching out and trying your hand at something different? Why or why not, and what other sports are you interested in?

I’d like to write about soccer and tennis. Those were my other two sports growing up, and I think doing either well is a major challenge. Eventually I’d like to write about things besides basketball or sports all together, though I’m sure I’ll always be a hoops writer at heart.

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