Editor's Note: Ethan Skolnick has joined Bleacher Report full-time to write about the Miami Heat. We asked Ethan, who has previously contributed to Bleacher Report, to introduce himself and his work.
We were in the Big Easy on March 29 for what was supposed to be an uneventful evening.
Two nights earlier, the second-longest winning streak in NBA history had mercifully ended at 27 games in the United Center, returning the Miami Heat's regular season to its originally anticipated state of irrelevance. Several members of the national media, after hounding the Heat for several days, had rerouted their reservations after the Chicago Bulls stopped the Heat's remarkable run, passing on a Bayou visit to chronicle more compelling contests elsewhere.
Even the maniacally competitive LeBron James, fresh off his first loss in seven weeks, didn't seem especially into it. Two nights earlier, he had been angry, complaining about the Bulls' hard fouls, complaints that Celtics executive Danny Ainge, of all people, had criticized in a radio appearance. But, following the morning shootaround, James was loose, even openly mulling the merits of starting his pre-playoffs maintenance program.
In light of that letdown, here was the reporter's game plan for covering the Heat's 72nd game of the 2012-13 season, all but five of which I had witnessed in person in my third year as the beat columnist for The Palm Beach Post:
Get in, get done, get out, without getting too bored. Get to Bourbon or Frenchmen Street. Get back to the hotel in shape and time to get up for the morning flight to San Antonio.
After all, these are the Heat, presently the most entertaining, exhausting, polarizing professional team on the planet.
Uneventful is impossible.
Roughly 90 minutes prior to tipoff, just before the locker room's opening, the Heat's longtime VP of media relations, Tim Donovan, called three of us over.
"This is from Pat."
“Danny Ainge needs to shut the f--- up and manage his own team. He was the biggest whiner going when he was playing and I know that because I coached against him.”
Seriously? We can tweet that? Write that? Attribute that? Seriously.
The door opens, and there's James, sprawled out on his back in the center of the room as usual, getting stretched, listening to his headphones, scrolling through social media on his smartphone. Smiling. Nodding. Smiling some more. Then, on the court, there's James, sinking his first six shots, outscoring the New Orleans Hornets, 28-27, at one stage, shimmying at stoppages to Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" and seeming to make certain that everyone saw it.
No, at this stage, I wouldn't want to cover anything else.
And, here, I won't.
This is where I'm supposed to tell you about myself, as Bleacher Report's Lead Writer assigned, home and road, to the Miami Heat.
So here are two sentences:
My sports-journalism career started rather innocently back in the third grade, when I sold a stapled, scribbled "newspaper" at recess for 30 cents apiece, and earned just enough for a couple of slices at La Scala on Long Island. And now, at age 40, I have a storage room stuffed with boxes that contain thousands of my clippings from the three South Florida newspapers.
Much in between is a blur, but it's all beside the point, because I'm not why you'll come here. At least, not initially. You'll come here to read about James and Riley and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers and Erik Spoelstra and the rest of the Heat.
It's my job to tell you enough about them to make you come back.
I'll attempt to do so by blending the four areas that make up a modern sports beat: statistics (old-school and analytics), strategy, personnel and personality.
But forgive me if I occasionally overemphasize the latter.
Athletes are people first, and I'll try to put their exploits and adversities in that context, so you know not only what they're saying or doing, but why. If you're seeking hysterical shrieking in response to every truncated, manipulated sound bite, this won't be the ideal outlet for you.
There are times when a sports figure's words or actions warrant questioning or criticism—including some who have played or worked for the Heat over the past two decades—but those reviews and reproaches should be motivated by truth, not traffic.
That, of course, hasn't always been the case with this edition of the Heat, when in the first year alone, they had more "gates" (CryGate, BumpGate, CelebrateGate and so on) than Miami International.
That, of course, hasn't always been the case with James, either, though he is caricatured less often now that he's a two-time champion.
I no longer claim to know an athlete well, at least not after making that mistake too many times early in my career. We all lead two lives, public and private. Reporters and athletes are not friends, so much as accidental associates, in one of the odder relationships in our society—what other business requires you to "talk about" your work day, just after you completed it, often before you are dressed, and for the public's scrutiny?
But I do believe, after three years of observation and interaction, as well as conversation with those close to him, that I have a better understanding of what James values than I did from afar, before he controversially chose to join the Heat in 2010.
Through that first South Florida summer and most of that fall, it was apparent that James was still sorting through the locally based media throng, which was virtually impossible to separate from the crush of reporters coming from everywhere else imaginable. I wasn't sure if he cared to know much about any of us, and if he didn't, it really didn't matter. It did matter, however, that a one-on-one opportunity with him wasn't wasted, since my editors were expecting an informative story.
Prior to a scheduled 15-minute interview slot, I prepared by reading not only whatever others had written about him, but whatever he had written about himself.
Near the end of the interview, he started speaking about how he wanted to win a title for the guys who might not otherwise have that opportunity, veterans like Jamaal Magloire, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Juwan Howard. It struck me as similar to passages from the book he had co-authored with Buzz Bissinger, originally titled Shooting Stars and later, LeBron's Dream Team: How Five Friends Made History. I merely mentioned that in passing, as a preface to another query.
James stopped me.
"You read my book? OK..."
That short, surprised and surprising response somehow made him seem more real, more regular, like anyone else who had been acknowledged for work that the majority may have overlooked. Less icon, more human. Which he is. They all are.
If I can help make him, or any others on the Heat, seem a bit more real and regular to any of the readers here—or to those consuming any of the other Turner properties where I'll be working—then perhaps a few will consider the experience eventful.
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