(“Stick to NBA,” an ESPN colleague wrote to Schefter after he tweeted the Clady news from a basketball court.)
Schefter’s much-discussed offseason experiment as an NBA sideline reporter will resume more than a month later with an appearance at Verizon Center on Wednesday night, where he’ll serve as the sideline reporter for the Wizards-Hawks game. He’ll interview the coaches. He’ll provide in-game updates. He barely even needs to study up; he quickly ticked off 11 of Washington’s top 12 players during a recent phone conversation, while demonstrating an unhealthy familiarity with Washington’s roster. (Marcin Gortat’s production had been dipping, Schefter noted, Markieff Morris had been ill and Jason Smith “was good even before he drew the two starts over the weekend,” which is all true.) And he might even break news of the basketball variety during the broadcast.
“I’m just gonna say I already have a news-based element that I think actually will be a minor headline,” Schefter said. “It’s not insignificant, let’s just say that. It’s not nothing. It’s not the biggest thing — believe me, I don’t want to over-dramatize it — but I believe that it’s actually NBA news.”
(No, the Wizards are not hiring Scot McCloughan.)
(Just for fun, though, I did ask Schefter for which team Kirk Cousins will play in 2017. ” The Washington Redskins,” he said immediately. “And I don’t even hesitate when I say that, right? I don’t even hesitate when I say that.”)
(Plus, he’s high on the Wizards. “They seem like they’re the second-best team in the East,” he said before Washington’s Monday night loss in Boston, “and you wonder if they’re going to have enough down the stretch to get past that team, and that’s the big question to me.”)
Schefter’s blossoming love affair with the NBA, as he’s often explained, had its roots in fantasy basketball. He was obsessed with all sports as a kid, and that included the Knicks, whose exploits he followed in bed at night via Marv Albert’s radio calls. Then, as with so many of us, life took over. In Schefter’s case, it was life on the NFL beat, and then life as one of ESPN’s signature NFL voices. The only other sports he continued to closely follow involved the University of Michigan. Five years ago, Schefter said, he would not have been able to tell you the 11th man on the Wizards, much less the NBA all-star lineups.
“Maybe a dream team,” he said. “Maybe. Maybe. I mean, I knew nothing.”
The siren call of fantasy sports brought him back, both in the form of $2 and $3 daily fantasy contests and season-long leagues. “I refer to it as my cigarette break,” he said, and he brought a level of obsession to following the NBA that you might expect from an Adam Schefter.
“Really, were it not for the fantasy element of it, I don’t believe I would have gotten back into the NBA,” he said. “Fantasy lured liarized me with the league, and got it to the point where I now can tell you basically every player on every roster.”
And so his new contract included some NBA sideline gigs among his expanding portfolio, which also includes a new podcast (on which Cousins recently made news). This new job strikes me as quite a bit different from breaking a constant stream of NFL news, and the sort of thing that might cause some slight anxiety. But what he calls his “professional vacation” does not seem to be stressing him out, anyhow.
“It’s kind of fun because I’m stepping into foreign waters, and people are stepping into foreign waters with me,” he said. “I’m not used to them, they’re not used to me, It’s all different, it’s all new, it’s all fresh. And so I find it invigorating and refreshing. …
“There’s nothing about that that makes me uneasy,” he later said. “I think any sports reporter back in the day did all sorts of things. So when I was coming up, I did fencing matches, curling matches, gymnastics meets, tennis matches, wrestling, volleyball, golf. Like, I’ve done everything. So to do an NBA game? I don’t want to say it’s easy, because to do any job the right way is not easy. But no, I don’t worry about it.”
Of course, you’ll note that as Schefter gets more and more gigs, they aren’t involving the thing that originally launched his career: writing words in greater than 140-character bursts. Even his NFL free agency thread on ESPN.com last month was just a collection of his tweets, which makes sense logistically, but also makes me a bit sad. Now he’s doing podcasts and sideline reports, and you kind of get the sense that talking gets you further in the world than writing.
“I’ll say this: I was a newspaper writer for 16 years,” Schefter said. “I’ve written four books, and I love writing. Writing’s hard, man. Writing’s harrrrrrd. And it’s a part of me, and I still enjoy it, believe me. I keep a journal every day. I have a journal going back to 1990, and I write every day. … But with as constant as the NFL has become, and between the podcast and the NBA, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for writing other than my journal.”
Which he takes quite seriously, for the record. Saturday, he wrote 730 words in his journal. Friday, it was 1,513 words. Thursday, he hit 1,151. This Wednesday, his journal might well include notes about John Wall and Scott Brooks, or at least G-Wiz and the Secret Service Dunkers. And can you imagine if someone on the Hawks misses two free throws in the fourth quarter? I could do 1,500 words in my journal about that, easy.
This is a less fraught NFL moment than mid-February, when he made his sideline reporting debut. Still, you can bet that Schefter’s phone will never be far from his hand Wednesday night. He can call a Wizards game his professional vacation, but when you’re in the business of breaking NFL news, there aren’t really any vacations.
“If the Cowboys release Tony Romo, or the Washington Redskins decide that they’re going to entertain trade offers for Kirk Cousins, and I happen to get that information during the course of that two-and-a-half hours while I’m reporting on the sideline for the Wizards and the Hawks? Yes,” Schefter confirmed, “I will be reporting on it.”