"To keep your lone professional franchise in the city happy, Orlando officials had to bite what was an unpopular bullet for a chunk of residents. I just hope that the fan base has the motivation and the disposable cash down the road to support the Magic when it's finished being built."
-- Kyle Hightower, Orlando Sentinel
If you've been a reader of Third Quarter Collapse for some time now, then you'll certainly recognize the name, Kyle Hightower, from the Orlando Sentinel. His articles are linked to on this blog on a frequent basis.
A few days ago, I was able to speak with Hightower via email to discuss various topics ranging from blogging, his current stint at the Sentinel, the Orlando Magic, and more. Needless to say, he was kind enough to take some time to provide his thoughts on these subjects.
With that said, I'm honored to debut 3QC's first in-depth interview.
Click after the jump for the full transcript.
How long have you been working at the Orlando Sentinel for?
- I've been at the Sentinel since June of 2004, so I'm approaching my fifth anniversary this coming summer. But I think when I get there I will honestly be able to say that it's been a fast five years.
Before you arrived to the Sentinel, what did you do before then?
- I actually came to the Sentinel straight out of college. I graduated from Western Kentucky University in May of '04. Astute readers will quickly recognize that is the same alma mater as Magic rookie Courtney Lee. He was actually a freshman when I was a senior. I didn't know him well at the time as I spent the last two semesters at my college paper as an editor and had stopped covering the Hilltopper basketball team directly. Courtney and I do know some of the same people, though.
Currently, you are covering both the NBA and the Orlando Magic for the Sentinel. How do you like the position?
- I love it. It's definitely a challenge in just my first year on both. In some ways I feel like I did back when I was a rookie reporter because I am meeting people for the first time everywhere I go and sometimes even with every story I pursue. But it's going well. I'm getting more comfortable with each day on the beat. It already feels totally different than it did at the beginning of the season.
What beats did you cover at the Sentinel before this year? Which one was your favorite?
- I started out as a high schools reporter/general assignment reporter. I covered Seminole County schools directly, but also helped with our overall prep operation as well as filled in on NBA, NFL and college coverage. I did that for a little under a year before taking over the UCF basketball beat for the 2005-06 season and the UCF football beat in time for the 2006 season.
My favorite? Well, I am originally from Kentucky, so I was bred on basketball - albeit of the college variety. Still, I have a passion for the sport, so I've always been a watcher/follower of the NBA as well. And even though it's the freshest beat for me, covering league wins out. I did, however, have a great time covering both colleges and high schools. The access to those athletes is so great and made for some great stories. The pro guys are naturally a little more guarded. Though, that's part of the challenge in finding good stories to write and your subjects to let down that guard a tad.
Who is currently your favorite Magic player to cover?
- That's tough because I'm still getting to know all of them. I love the fact that Dwight is showing his personality a lot more than when he first arrived on the scene, so that's fun from a writer's standpoint. But I think I'll go with Jameer Nelson, just because he has that chip on his shoulder thing that won't ever go away. Who doesn't appreciate a good underdog?
What are your thoughts on the construction of the new arena for the Magic?
- It's a tough call. To keep your lone professional franchise in the city happy, Orlando officials had to bite what was an unpopular bullet for a chunk of residents. I just hope that the fan base has the motivation and the disposable cash down the road to support the Magic when it's finished being built. Memphis has one of the best arenas in the NBA, but they are not the city's big draw. With the Magic being the only game in town, the city can't afford to have less stellar crowds in there.
How big of an impact do you think that'll have on both the franchise and the city?
- I kind of addressed this in the previous question, but overall I think it has the potential to be really positive for the city. Obviously not every season is going to be like this one, though. That will eventually be the test. But I do hope/think that the new stadium will have and decent impact on the downtown neighborhood it's being built in.
Do you expect the Magic to win an NBA Title in the next five years? If yes, when? If no, will Orlando ever win a championship?
- In the next five years, yes. I think this year will be their year to get deep (probably the Eastern Finals) and then with more experience and growth can finally put together the team to win it. I just think Dwight Howard is one of those once-in-a-franchise stars. The Magic let their last one get away in Shaq. They won't let that happen again.
Nick Anderson. The majority of Magic fans have been pleading with the organization for years now to immortalize him and retire his jersey. They feel he deserves to be the first player in the franchise to receive that honor. What are your thoughts on that? Do you believe he will indeed be the first to have his number retired for Orlando?
- Hard to say. I do think that if there is a face of Magic basketball's beginning it is him. And when you add in what he's done in his community ambassador role, it only adds to his resume. When you are around Nick, you get a sense of how much he loves the organization. In that sense you can't help but root that he'd get that kind of honor.
Blogging is obviously begun to really enter the mainstream media these past few years. Since you run your own blog at the Sentinel, what are you thoughts on blogging and even the internet media in general? How much do you think that has affected newspapers?
- It's affected newspapers a lot. Like it or not, we've have had to change how disseminate our news. The newspaper culture that I started studying in school back in 2000 had a format in which a "scoop" or breaking news such as a trade, injury or whatever would be saved for the next day of publication. Now, with the advent of blogs and the speeding up of the news cycle, newspapers have been forced to operate on a new timetable. That has been an adjustment not just for people young in the business like myself, but also vets like my colleague and our lead Magic writer Brian Schmitz.
To their credit, I think the vets have taken to the new culture well. But even the younger reporters like me are still adjusting to it. I realize that as one person tackling covering the league, my blog can't just be news - readers can get that anywhere. So I have to try to find interesting topics to bring up and just be creative. It's all trial and error. There is a fine line between pandering to the new era we're in and holding on to our journalism souls. Hopefully I don't straddle that line too much.
To build off the previous question, do you have any advice you could provide to those interested in a career in sports journalism?
- RUN! Far, far away. No, just kidding. But seriously, everyone knows the industry is struggling right now. More than that, the places you can get the space and time to be the next Bill Nack or Gary Smith are becoming fewer. My advice would be to not be a one trick pony. Learn not just how to write and report classically, but also blog and be heavily involved multimedia-wise. Find something that is yours or something nobody is doing but you. That is what the industry needs and craves.
When I was about to graduate in 2004, my fellow journalism seniors and I scoffed at the idea of a "converged" newsroom in which reporters carried video cameras or were involved with multimedia. We barely knew what a blog was just four years later it's here with a vengeance. That said, there's always going to be a need for people to gather and report news. And though the media is always taking hits for what we report, if we went completely away I wonder who would be gathering the information that people love to haggle about? So in that sense, I have a little optimism about where we're headed as an industry.
What are your thoughts on the All-Star balloting process?
- The balloting process is about as fair as it can be I think. I have no problem with the fan voting process actually. We live in a country where popularity rules. Sure, some players wind up in the starting lineup for the All-Star game that probably don't deserve to be there from time to time. But those are the people the fans want to see play. It does make for some tough reserve selections for the head coaches I suppose. I just can't think of an alternative system that would still be inclusive for fans, which is who consumes it.
Additionally, what is your personal All-Star ballot this year?
- If my opinion actually mattered, these would be my All-Star picks:
Eastern Conference starters:
Guards: Dwyane Wade/Allen Iverson; Wade has been unbelievable coming off his injuries last season and his amazing performance in the Olympics; A.I. is still a threat as he gets older and obviously still very popular.
Forwards: LeBron James/Kevin Garnett; Both are having great years. King James is probably the front runner for the MVP award.
Center: Dwight Howard; I'm not sure anybody could have anticipated the kind of year Clark Kent, err, Dwight is having.
Devin Harris/Joe Johnson/Ray Allen/Rashard Lewis/Paul Pierce/Chris Bosh/Emeka Okafor
- You think the Mavericks might want to recall that trade for Harris? He has
been the highlight for the Nets this season IMO. Joe Johnson has been a little off lately, but the guy can play. I think Allen makes the team over a guy like Jameer Nelson just because you have to have another Celtic on the roster because of the run they had out of the gate. Plus, there's no way that I can predict three Magic players would make it. Especially when nationally they still aren't getting the buzz. Chris Bosh is a man-child. Even as his team has hit a rough patch, Pierce has been great. And though Emeka Okafor's scoring doesn't jump off the page, but when you combine them with double-digit rebounds and you have an All-Star.
Western Conference starters:
Guards: Kobe Bryant/Tracy McGrady; Bryant no explanation is needed for this fan favorite. McGrady is popular, but no way he is one of the best two guards in the East at the halfway point IMO.
Forwards: Tim Duncan/Amare Stoudemire; I am fine with both of these I think. Both have solid numbers.
Center: Yao Ming: Also deserving by averaging basically a double-double.
Chauncey Billups/Chris Paul/Brandon Roy/Tony Parker/Dirk Nowitzki/Pau Gasol/Shaquille O'Neal
- I wonder if the Pistons might not want a do over on saying goodbye to Chauncey. Chris Paul's performances last season were clearly not a fluke. Brandon Roy is a true gem for Portland. Tony Parker held things down while Ginobli was ailing. Dirk is showing shades of his recent MVP run. Pau Gasol is again holding it down as apart of the Lake Show's Big Three. And while I won't call him Shaqovich, Mr. O'Neal has surprised me in the twilight of his career.
I like to thank Kyle again for taking the time to conduct this interview. Don't be surprised if you hear again from him in the future.
Next week, stay tuned, because I'm proud to announce that Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus has also agreed to an interview with us. For those that don't know, Pelton is a highly-respected APBRmetrics expert. We at 3QC have linked to his material many times so it's only appropriate to have a Q/A session with him.