Catch part one of the interview here, and read on for part two, which covers his column, critical bloggers, favorite stories, Twitter, ballin’ with Obama and battling with Thom Loverro. Again, we thank Mr. Wise for his time.
6. As the Post’s most active general sports columnist, are you allowed to write about pretty much whatever you want? How do you choose your subjects?
There are some events I need to be at, including as many ‘Skins games as possible. Same with any District or Greater Washington team in the postseason, whether that’s the Wizards, Maryland, Georgetown or AU.
When I was hired in 2004, one of the reasons why I took the job was because it was a win-win deal: Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, the sports editor, needed someone to write more local columns. And having mostly written basketball opinion pieces at the The New York Times, I wanted to spread my wings on the columnist front.
After a slow start, I feel like it’s beginning to work out well.
Occasionally I get reigned in when I want to write something off the wall or just spout off about something that got me riled up that day. Emilio and Matt Vita, the new sports editor and Emilio’s former deputy, were very good at talking me off the ledge.
But for the most part, I call the office, tell them what I’m writing that day or brainstorm an idea with one of the editors — usually Matt Rennie, Alexa Steele or Cindy Boren — start formulating and then writing. Some days one of the editors will call and offer up an idea, and about 90 percent are quite good.
Several times a year, you get the, “We’d like you to be there.” And I try to honor those requests if it doesn’t get in the way of a longer project because of the freedom I’m given most of the time.
As for choosing what I want to write, Jamie, I try to write things I want to write. Hoops and human interest are obviously in my wheelhouse. I don’t like writing the games as much as I like writing the people and human condition. But occasionally, if you’re at an awesome game, you have to remember what people are going to remember the next day from that game. And so, when the Caps are in a 7-game war or Maryland pulls off an absolute stunner over North Carolina, you go with the drama of the event.
But I like writing the less-than-obvious angle the most. I still remember Mitch Albom talking at a sports writer conference about 15 years ago. And one of the things he pointed to was the day JFK was assassinated, how all these great American writers pontificated about their grief from their studies at home. And how the most powerful piece written on Nov. 23, 1963, was written by the cantankerous Jimmy Breslin.
Breslin managed to get to Arlington National Cemetery and stand next to the man who dug President Kennedy’s grave. Through the words of a grave-digger muttering sadness as he plopped the soil out from the ground with his shovel, Breslin captured a nation’s grief. That image of an intrepid journalist finding that less-than-obvious angle, using it as a window into a larger truth, was very powerful for me at the time.
Not to sound too cheeseball, but I try to find things that move me emotionally. I remember hearing somewhere, “If you’re covering something that’s moving and you’re not moved by it, you won’t move anyone with it.”
I believe that.
7. You wrote a column about Redskins bloggers two years ago, and I came down on it pretty hard. What was your reaction to that specifically, and to bloggers in general?
Hard on it? You disemboweled me. No, my first reaction was very professional, as in, “Who is this snarky, young guy making me look like a geezer who still buys typewriter ribbon?” Or, “I thought all bloggers were slovenly and lived in their Mom’s basement — this guy doesn’t fit the mold.”
I never was down on the blog world, per se. I read at least two blogs per day now just to stay current, which is huge for me.
My original problem with blogs was the same problem I had with tattoos: if everybody has one, how much of an iconoclast are you really? Dan Steinberg and yourself and my friend Elayne, who writes the Graceful Edge, well, those and other blogs are distinct, unique and have real voice.
But so many fall into the self-indulgent stratosphere of, “I got rainchecked for Pellegrino at Whole Foods!” or “Entourage Rocks!” I just got tired of it. Not everyone is interesting. Not everyone has a life or a job worth writing about, and that’s okay.
Being a sap, I just wish instead of someone telling everyone on Facebook or a message board, which I realize are different from blogs, their inner-most feelings — sharing anonymously with peripheral friends in cyberspace — why not let your parents or your siblings or the people you really connect with into that world?
God forbid if any of us actually took ink to a piece of paper and wrote someone we care about an actual letter, you know?
But I’ve separated some of that from reality. And reality is, if people are writing and reading and occasionally reporting, then that’s just awesome. Because so many of us aren’t writing or reading anymore.
There was never a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” moment as when the Pulitzer committee allowed Internet submissions for this past year’s prizes. Between that and how much of news is broken in the world today by TMZ.com, Gawker, the Huffington Post, D.C. Sports Bog, Deadspin, Mr. Irrelevant, that says it all.
8. I’m an admirer of other things you’ve written, including recent stories on Donald Brashear and Frank Robinson and older ones on Gilbert Arenas and Chris Cooley. What’s your favorite story (or stories) from your time at the Post and before that as an N.B.A. writer for the NY Times?
Wow, that’s a tough one. Someone just asked me to find links to some of those stories recently and so I’ve enclosed a few here.
You’ll probably find a common thread: people dealing with deep, personal stuff — baggage that won’t fit in the overhead compartment — who happen to be athletes. Some of them overcame. Some of them never made it. Some of them died too young. Some of them influenced me in ways I can hardly express in words, but I try. Magic Johnson and Donald Brashear fall in that category.
All of them, though, made me think and feel, which of course makes me the last guy in the world who wants to do a fantasy draft.
Anyway, here are a few, ranging from Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell, a playground legend I interviewed in jail, to the kids from Hoop Dreams grown up to Gilbert Arenas and onto Sean Taylor and Brashear. And, yes, my dog. Thanks for asking that one.
- THE LEGEND OF HOOK
- SEAN TAYLOR’S FUNERAL
- HOOP DREAMS REVISITED
- DONALD BRASHEAR STORY
- GILBERT STORY
- MAGIC AND ME AS KIDS
- STORY OF ME AND MY DOG ALMOST BITING IT
9. You just began Tweeting recently. How’s that going for you?
Oh crap! Lindsey Applebaum, one of our new, whiz-bang editors in charge of educating technological ignoramuses like myself, set me up with an account last month and I completely forgot I was supposed to start tweeting again after vacation. Geez, I’m glad you reminded me.
That’s it. I’m Tweeting five days per week now. I’ve gotta get serious about this. Bottom line: If the 140 characters fit, I must commit.
10. Steinz reported that when you met President Obama at the Wiz game, you said, “Looking forward to playing hoops at some point, Sir.” To which he responded, “Definitely.” Has that happened?
No. And I don’t understand why. There is absolutely nothing going on in the world for the Leader of the Free World not to have jumpers rained down on him by a fellow Hawaii prep star.
It’s actually all up to Reggie Love, his executive assistant. He’s the gatekeeper to the games, so until I hear from him I’m that guy on the playground yelling, “Next.” I don’t even really want a column out of it just as much as I want a good run. If they asked me not to write anything or keep it under wraps, I’d say, “What game?”
Coincidentally, the President’s teammate in high school who I used to play on a summer-league team with, Dan Hale, recently took Punahou to the state tournament as their coach. He beat my alma mater, Campbell High School.
Punahou, of course, is one of the most prestigious private schools in not just Honolulu but America. And Campbell is, well, this poor public school on a rural, very dry part of Oahu.
Basically, in the islands’ caste system, a Campbell boy would never be allowed to take a Punahou girl to a prom. But the President being an inclusive sort and Reggie being from Duke, I’m hoping to lace them up at some point. If not, I’ll just write they’re ducking me.
Bonus question: What do you think about WTEM adding Thom Loverro middays to do battle with The Mike Wise Show?
(In Muhammad Ali voice) Loverro’s be-hind will be mine by Round 9.
Two sportswriters enter the ring. One leaves.
Nah, Thom and Kevin [Sheehan] are too solid of people to wish them anything but the best.
And while I see if I can really balance the Post, my main priority, with radio, I just need to take my own inventory as much as possible.