For basketball reporters, April means it’s time to kiss the family goodbye and set off on the year’s most thrilling — and exhausting — reporting trail.
Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.
The N.B.A. playoffs begin this weekend, which for those who report regularly on the world’s premier professional basketball league means one thing: the temporary suspension of life as they know it.
If it’s April, it’s time to tie up loose ends at home, kiss the significant other or beloved cat goodbye and wish the kids well on the soccer pitch. Someone please remember to send Mother’s Day flowers. Father’s Day will be celebrated pending the length of the finals.
The reporting grind of the 82-game regular season is disruptively hectic enough. But during the postseason, the sport sheds its least watchable teams, as well as a few that are competitively marginal, and gets down to the games that conclusively matter.
Breakout performances will become instant classics. Acknowledged stars could transition into legends with championship rings. Nothing may be missed in the postseason business of media-driven mythmaking.
Will Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors win a fourth ring in June, bringing him within two of Michael Jordan’s and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s half-dozen each (though still far behind Bill Russell’s 11)? Or will destiny call upon a first-timer like the so-called Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the rising Milwaukee Bucks?
As a sports reporter and columnist for four decades, the last 25 years of which were with The Times, the playoffs habitually meant two months of missing the springtime sun and — by the early 1990s — my two young sons, while chasing the extended N.B.A. family of one-name luminaries. (You know who I mean: Magic, Larry, Michael, LeBron.)
Throughout the playoffs, reporters must confront the crush of late-night deadlines while nattily dressed superstars complicate filing by taking their sweet time getting to the interview podium. Hours later, it’s on to the next city, the next round, often dealing with the logistical conundrum of never being sure when one series will end and the next will begin.
For a portion of my years on the basketball beat, that meant attaching myself to the Knicks, who children of a certain age might have a hard time believing consistently qualified for the playoffs. That was way back in the 1990s, otherwise known around New York as the Patrick Ewing Era.
When Ewing’s Knicks were ousted, it was on to chronicle Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls as they accumulated six titles in eight years, disbanding in 1998 and ceding short-term control of the sport to the Los Angeles Lakers of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. And so it went, into a new century that spawned even greater global exposure and scrutiny of a virtual one-man industry, LeBron James Inc.
For those having slept through the last six months, James will not be appearing in the 2019 playoffs after a gargantuan run of reaching the league championship series for eight straight years. His migration to Hollywood from Cleveland produced a critically assailed version of Lakers Showtime that, had he not signed a four-year contract last summer, would have already been canceled. (The Lakers’ hope of attracting a worthy co-star is as yet unrealized.)
Hence, the fortunes of the soon-to-be free agents Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and others will be fascinating spring subplots. No reporters worth their credentials will risk blinking through a telltale expression or a body-language betrayal of otherwise guarded intentions.
The playoffs, while typically impassioned and illuminating, are also logistically exhausting, but I confidently speak for my N.B.A. media brethren when I say that covering them is far more privilege than punishment.
The game looks much different now — so much of it focused on 3-point shooting — than it did during my earliest years on the N.B.A. beat. Back then, I routinely insisted there was no place in the world I would rather be than the old, ventilation-challenged Boston Garden for a showdown between the Celtics and Lakers. The modern and far more international N.B.A. media no doubt is equally passionate.
But lives do change. Issues arise. We in the ever-more-distant press-row seats do not attend games with traditional partisan interests, but over the long playoff haul, personal circumstances and needs do create some dilemmas.
Consider my plight in the final seconds of Game 6 of the 1993 finals between Jordan’s Bulls and Charles Barkley’s Phoenix Suns. The Bulls were leading in the series three games to two, but were trailing by 2 points while trying to avoid playing a seventh game in a hostile road arena.
Back home in Brooklyn, my wife was seven months pregnant with our second child while simultaneously preparing to sell our co-op and buy a house in New Jersey. Had the Bulls lost Game 6, I would not have made it home until the night before both closings and the move.
Fortunately for me, if not the Suns, all five Bulls touched the ball on a play that produced a historically clutch 3-point shot by John Paxson. The Bulls’ bid for a third straight title survived, along with my marriage.
Harvey Araton is the editor and annotator of “Elevated: The Global Rise of the N.B.A.” (Triumph), an archival book of selected works by the staff of The New York Times.
Follow the @ReaderCenter on Twitter for more coverage highlighting your perspectives and experiences and for insight into how we work.