First Person Singular

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I got cut by the Atlanta Hawks. After not realizing my dreams playing professional basketball, I was working in corporate America, working at Xerox as a sales manager, and had done that about four or five years. I was on a TV show of a Washington political/social activist by the name of Petey Greene, talking about making the transition from sports into the world of work, and he told me about the opening for this position [covering] the Washington Bullets. The TV station, an old UHF station in town, Channel 20, asked me to come over on a Tuesday to audition for the job. I took my marketing training and grabbed Phil Chenier, the team's star, [and] had him come over with me -- I played against him in college. They were impressed that I could get a guy of this magnitude, on his day off, to come with me and simulate a halftime interview. I was blessed to get the job as the analyst.

I knew basketball. I was 28 at the time, and I was still reasonably close to a lot of the players who were playing professional basketball -- Dr. J., all the big-name basketball players who I played against in college. But I was learning on the job. I remember one of the producers was also a weekend producer for Channel 9, the CBS station here, and he made the news director aware that I was up and coming, and he said, "You ought to consider him as an emergency fill-in guy if one of your lead guys ever got sick."

I remember getting a call about 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon -- the main guy had called in sick. So I dashed up to the TV station, and the producer said: "Here's the script. You'll read on camera." I'm working with big guys in the business, Gordon Peterson and Maureen Bunyan. So I'm sitting there talking with them on the set, and they engaged in a little bit of [on-air] chitchat, just trying to get me warmed up, but [then] I'm supposed to turn and do sports. I'm engaged in conversation, having a good time, and they're like, He doesn't get it. He's supposed to turn and do sports. Finally, Gordon had to say, "Well, James, what do you have for us?" And I said, "Oh, yeah! I got sports." So I'm talking, and I'm way over my time; I had, like, four minutes for the report, and I'm in the fifth minute. And they're like, we've got to break him. They're giving me the cut [sign]. I don't know what that means. The floor director said to the camera director, "He doesn't know what he's doing -- back the camera away. That will give him a clue." They started backing the camera away, and I started climbing into the desk because I couldn't read the copy. It was a complete disaster. And they still had me come back. I worked hard at it. I had a passion for it.

Interview by Robin Rose Parker

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