David Aldridge announced last week that he was leaving Turner Sports to become the editor in chief of The Athletic’s newly launched Washington, D.C., site. Aldridge has been a fixture on NBA sidelines over the past 14 years at Turner; now, the lifelong D.C. resident isn’t so much coming home as staying home more. It won’t be his first turn covering the local teams: Between 1987 and 1996, Aldridge covered Georgetown basketball, the Wizards (then the Bullets) and the Redskins for The Post.
The Post spoke with Aldridge this week about how he plans to build the new site from scratch, The Athletic’s business model, why sideline reporting can be limiting and whether Bryce Harper will be a National next year. The transcript of the conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
The Post: Let’s start big: What’s the best sports story in D.C. right now?
Aldridge: A nice loaded question. Anyone who’s looking at the whole landscape, you certainly want to know how the Caps will handle being Stanley Cup champions. They may play exceptionally well this year as a team and have a much worse record than they did last year and not get to the finals or win the Cup. . . . They basically brought the whole team back — they lost [Philipp] Grubauer — but they have the whole team to take another run. It will be fascinating to see [Todd Reirden] handle the first year of being the head coach.
The Post: How did you make the decision to leave Turner and join The Athletic?
Aldridge: We’ve been talking for a few weeks more formally. At the same time, I was very seriously contemplating going back to Turner. I love that place. . . . They made an incredibly fair offer. It was a very tough decision, but it was an opportunity to be in on the ground floor of something here, to have some real say in coverage and personnel, to be home more. And the fact that the D.C. sports community has really matured over the last 10 years, I think all those things came together at the same time and made it worth taking the leap of faith that this thing can work and be successful.
The Post: I saw you were out at a Capitals practice last week. First, how was it? Second, when was the last time you were at a hockey practice facility?
Aldridge: It was either Bryan Murray or Jim Schoenfeld who was coaching the Caps the last time I was at practice. Rod Langway was still on the team, if that gives you any indication. It has not been a regular part of my sports journalism the last 30 years. . . . I’ve said I’ll be more in listening mode than writing mode with the Caps. We got Chris Kuc out there, and he’s really good.
The Post: What’s it like to try to get up to speed on hockey when you haven’t covered it in so long?
Aldridge: When you get on the beat on the first day you don’t know anything, so you have to listen. It’s a process, it takes a while. And you get smarter and you get to the point where you feel comfortable expressing an opinion on what’s going on. I’ll get there. I don’t think it will take a year, but it won’t take a week. It’s part of my job to have an opinion about the most successful team in town. . . . But I have been watching them already, so getting up to speed is more about meeting people than learning the rules. I know what a two-line pass used to be; I know what icing is. It’s a matter of learning the people involved in the organization.
The Post: What’s it like to put together a staff? How do you hope to make The Athletic D.C.’s coverage stand out?
Aldridge: [Hiring] will be ongoing, it will continue for a few more weeks … but I guarantee we’ll get it staffed. I want good reporters who tell good stories. We’re not going to be writing a whole lot of game stories; I just don’t think there’s much of a point to that anymore. We want stories that go beyond the score.
The Post: The Athletic has been a fascination for people in the media, from its hiring to its business model. What gives you confidence that the subscription business model is sustainable?
Aldridge: The cleanness of the relationship; you give us $5 a month and we’ll give you content. We give you no ads, we give you no quizzes. . . . That’s what most people want these days. In that sense, it’s transactional. We’re not depending on advertising to sustain to this. We’re depending on readers, point blank. We need people to sample the product. I think when they do, they’ll see it’s very good and it’s worth their one less mocha latte a month.
The Post: In a larger sense, do you see more competition as good for sports journalism?
Aldridge: Anybody that’s hiring is good for sports journalism.
The Post: You referred in your announcement piece to doing more than asking Gregg Popovich two questions at the end of the third quarter. Was being a sideline reporter limiting?
Aldridge: Everybody wants to do as much as they can in any broadcast. And if you ask any sideline reporter who covers anything — whether it’s Kenny Rosenthal covering baseball or Andrea Kremer covering football or me covering basketball — they would tell you the same thing: You have way more material than you ever get on the air. It makes it difficult because you have to zero in on one or two things that you can contribute during a broadcast. You were also right in the middle of things, you were talking to players after emotional wins and losses. So there’s pluses and minuses to any job.
The Post: D.C. has a reputation as a basketball city. Why have the Wizards — even with some decent teams — had trouble capturing the imagination of the city?
Aldridge: They haven’t won enough. They had [Gilbert] Arenas for a three-year span when he was amazing and then he got hurt and insanity enveloped him. Then they rebuilt it with [John] Wall and [Bradley] Beal, and that took a while. They’ve been a good team, but not a great team. I don’t think there’s a whole lot different between them and the Caps. The Nats have been more successful in terms of winning division championships, but the Wizards have been more successful in the playoffs than the Nats. They were all kind of in the same boat until the Caps broke through. You can’t win 44 games every year and think you’ve arrived.
The Post: Is D.C. still a basketball city?
Aldridge: If you look at the depth of fan interest and talent, I think basketball still is by far the most popular sport in the city. You don’t have much in the way of high school baseball in this city. I know Wilson is very good and St. John’s has been very good of late in the private leagues, but it’s not the same. Football has gotten better with the WCAC and some of the other teams in the area, but there’s not much in the way of college football other than Maryland, unless you count Virginia Tech in the local area, which I don’t. So if you look at high school basketball historically . . . and then colleges with Georgetown and Maryland, they’ve had incredible runs. And the Bullets were good for a long time in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but dropped off. There’s more history and success at all levels than in any other sport.
The Post: I’m going to put you on the hot seat now. The Redskins are 1-1. How many games do they win this year?
The Post: Will Bryce Harper be a Nat next year?
Aldridge: I think he’s going to be a Nat.
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