By Ed Odeven
Aug. 28, 2013
One of the most intriguing sports documentaries I’d ever read about was Jerald Hoover’s “Four Square Miles to Glory,” an ode to Mount Vernon, New York’s rich basketball history. Which is why I sought out an interview with Hoover, the project’s producer/director.
Mount Vernon, located on the outskirts of New York City, has nurtured a dazzling array of basketball talent that starred at the high school, Division I and pro levels, including NBA-playing brothers Gus and Ray Williams and Rodney and Scooter McCray, and current standout guard Ben Gordon, who completed his ninth NBA campaign in the spring.
The 47-year-old Hoover is a novelist (“My Friend, My Hero,” “He Was My Hero Too,” among others), Boy’s Club mentor and sports columnist for various media outlets, including blackathlete.net. He also operates Write Mind Foundation, which is devoted to helping improve literacy in the inner city.
Hoover’s formative years as an NBA scribe were enriched by the inimitable, longtime New York Post basketball columnist Peter Vesey, whom he describes as a mentor and friend.
Here are excerpts from a recent interview with Hoover.
You have mentioned to me that Peter Vecsey is your mentor. Can you summarize how important he has been for media coverage of the NBA for decades?
For me, I grew up reading Pete’s column while he was with the New York Post. I just like thousands of other kids longed for Pete’s Hoop Du Jour. Right away you knew either Pete had serious connections or he was psychic.
And based on his relentless communication efforts with an impressive range of contacts, how significant has his unmatched pursuit of stories and dishing out knowledge of the sport been for those who aspire to do those things, particularly in the big media markets and the U.S. media capital,NYC?
It gave me an insight that you should be thorough and know your stuff. If it meant asking extra questions or asking more people, do what you have to do to get it done.
In directing and writing “Four Square Miles to Glory,” what was the most satisfying aspect of that creative journey/mission?
Satisfying in knowing that I started something from scratch and out of the blue to being able to interview the likes of, Commissioner David Stern, Phil Jackson, Jerry West, Willis Reed, Clyde Frazier and the list goes on and on. Those people that I mentioned aren’t from Mount Vernon where the story takes place, but they either coached or played with or against someone from Mount Vernon. That showed me the respect level the guys from Mount Vernon had around the League.
Do you think the new-wave GMs, who place more of an emphasis on analytics like the Billy Beane sabermetrics approach in baseball, is a real transformation in the NBA or simply something that will be fused into the way the GMs and talent evaluators do their work?
It might be a little bit of both. The NBA is above the other major sports a fad league. If something works for someone else, the others are prone to give it a try. There was a time when the teams in the NBA tried to all get big or very strong point guards like the Lakers and Celtics had with Magic Johnson and Dennis Johnson. Then there was a time when teams tried the Twin Towers (approach). The NBA is funny like that. It’s a copy cat league.
Within the next five years, do you believe Jay-Z will be one of the premier basketball and/or sports agents?
I don’t know, it’s hard to say, but I will add that if he’s truly committed to it with his name alone he will attract the big names.
Flashing back to your childhood, who was the first NBA or college player you found yourself being a huge fan of?
Jamaal Wilkes was and is my all-time favorite player. In the early to mid ’70s he starred in a tear-jerking movie called, “Cornbread, Earl and Me.” I won’t go spoiler on it because some people may not have seen it, but it was an awesome movie for that time period. I was hooked on him ever since.
And was it a game or series of moments that especially captured your attention?
I guess watching Magic as a rookie take the NBA by storm after winning the NCAA Championship and then winning an NBA championship. He and Larry Bird were both incredible.
Of the coaches with, say, five years of less in the league, are there a few you believe will rapidly rise and become well-accomplished bench bosses, a la Doc Rivers?
Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel has a chance….
Thinking of your own column and feature writing work on the NBA, is there a subject matter and/or published piece that holds No.1 special significance to you, that brings you pride knowing that it was something you worked on?
Probably the very first live game I covered which was Michael Jordan’s comeback (in 2001) with the Washington Wizards. I remember even wearing a fresh three-piece suit for the occasion. The game was at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and it was a who’s who in sports that was there. It was credentialed as if it were an NBA Finals.
Follow Jerald Hoover on Twitter: @jerryhoover65