December 19, 2007
There are so many good NBA beat writers that it's a little silly. It's a little silly because you can't really say the same for a lot of national columnists, who have all the time and resources in the world to put some good stuff together, but too often only seem to go off of what they see during that week's nationally televised contests.
By comparison, the beat writers don't have much room to work with. They have to file a notes column by halftime of that night's game, and have a gamer 90 percent finished by the final buzzer. They have space limitations, can't offer many opinions, don't have the luxury of sitting in front of a television set to catch up on the league's other 29 teams and most of them are expected to maintain their own blog to be kept up in the "downtime" between that morning's shootaround and the game that night. And yet, there are so many good ones that I'm not even going to start to name names for fear that this post will take me until 2008 to finish.
But I do have to point out one of the best, The Rake's Britt Robson, who is covering the Minnesota Timberwolves with a beat man's eye for detail, a columnist's confident way with opinions and a writing touch that few in the industry can match at this point (for whatever reasons, most of them having to do with space and style limitations).
This guy is really, really good. He has an unerring sense of what really counts. He can write circles around just about anyone in the profession. He offers tangible evidence and hard-to-qualify opinions in appropriate doses. He's cynical enough to see through a lot of what doesn't deserve our time, but doesn't sneer for effect alone.
Most importantly, he legitimately appears to be enjoying what he's doing. This is essential, because a whole lot of newspaper types are coming off as dour, uninterested sorts these days. This doesn't mean writers have to pretend to enjoy a game or league that they're covering. That day's copy doesn't have to be all sunshine and light, but it does mean they should at least seem enthusiastic about what you're presenting to the reader - even if it means you're giving the league or a team a rightful lash or 12.
Britt's up in Minnesota, writing about a Timberwolves team that he knew would end up like this, an organization that blew the prime of one of the better talents in NBA history and one that appears to be mishandling a rebuilding effort in spite of being handed a 22-year old who can give you 20 and 10 in his sleep (but would prefer to give you 30 and 15 while wide awake). And yet, Robson's turning in game recaps and columns that burst with energy, insight and a deft touch that a scribe covering a 70-win team could only hope to approximate.
And he isn't getting his kicks off of pure schadenfreude, mind you. This isn't some guy that appears to be only in it to stomp a Timberwolf when it's down. This is just a damn good writer who I'm pleased beyond belief is deigning to lend his talents to our goofball neck of the woods.
This is really where we should be headed. Newspaper beat men are often beat down by space and timing issues, whereas individual team blog scribes (as great as they are) are just as beat down by having to ply their trade around the schedule of an honest day's work at a money-making gig. Robson is taking that freedom, that ability to have faith in your readership's knowledge of the game and ability to find a milquetoast wire recap elsewhere, and doing marvelous things with the opportunity.
I cannot recommend him enough. The best thing I can say about him, and potentially any other writer, is that he nearly reminds me of when I discovered Dave D'Alessandro's work a decade ago. That's strong stuff, and Robson's that good.