Third man in: Reality checks in sport journalism

a/Behind the Bench/Sports by

Thursday, April 25, 2013; the moment remains clear in my mind. The Los Angeles Clippers, led by my hero, Chris Paul, squared off against the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 3 of the first round of the NBA playoffs.

I had a vested interest in the Clippers taking it all the way, and the result seemed inevitable as Los Angeles held a two-game lead over their conference rivals. This was a big game, as 3-0 series advantages have an unsurprising historical precedent of yielding to the leader.

It didn’t hit me until midway through the fourth quarter that I was not actually watching the game. Rather than yelling at my team for falling into a nine-point hole, I stared blankly at the TV while pondering the implications of some sports article I had just read. The sacrilege of my actions didn’t hit me until later that evening as a grim-faced Paul addressed the media about the loss.

Click; scroll; scan.

Click; scroll; scan.

This is the daily rhythm of the sports journalist. The constant pursuit of knowledge through story lines is necessary for success in today’s 24/7, information-obsessed society. There is not a moment that goes by without Adrian Wojnarowski breaking news about the latest J.R. Smith mishap, or James Walker tweeting pointless Miami Dolphins quotes. We have turned the trivial into gold as we dig ourselves deeper into a stimulation-driven prison.

Analyzing sports has changed me. I can’t watch an NHL game without picking apart San Jose’s offensive spacing. Andrew Luck’s inability to step into the pocket no longer escapes my notice. I subconsciously analyze Chicago’s pick-and-roll defence every time they step on the floor.

I can’t see the game for the game plan, if you will. Diving deep into the world of analytical athletics has broken down the beauty of the game into binary X’s and O’s. The loss of the wonder and unadulterated joy that I used to feel while watching sports is a painful reminder of the hidden cost of sports journalism.

And yet, there are still those rare, transcendent games that you catch on TV which erase any mutinous thoughts. The Leafs and Bruins in Game 7. Novak Djokovic, one-seed, pushed to his limits by ninth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka. The Miami Heat battling the San Antonio Spurs in one of the greatest finals in NBA history. These are the sporting events that break the shackles of media scrutiny. They remind you that sports will never be truly overshadowed by the media; sports transcend a 140 character limit or an expert’s analysis.

As with anything else in life, I think that reality checks are necessary when writing about sports. It is easy to get caught up in the analysis of professional athletes and forget about the love that drew us to sport in the first place. There is a fine balance between analyst and fan, and sports journalists must find it to maintain perspective.

That spring night when the Clippers fell to the Grizzlies was a crucial turning point for me. Los Angeles went on to lose the series eight days later, yielding to a dominant four-game run by Memphis. Perhaps it was because Zach Randolph found his rhythm. Perhaps Memphis realized that the Clippers were offensively inept beyond Paul. Perhaps I should have let my budding identity as a sports analyst continue to impartially analyze story lines for the collapse.

Or perhaps, I should just sit back and enjoy the game.