A view from the opposing bench – on David Blatt

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (June 23, 2014) — By hiring David Blatt as their new head coach, the Cleveland Cavaliers made one of the most interesting, bold coaching decisions in recent memory.

The 55-year-old Blatt is an accomplished head coach — he led Russia to a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics and guided Maccabi Tel Aviv to five Israeli League titles in two stints, 2001-03 and 2010-14, plus the Israeli Cup and Euroleague championships this past season — but he hasn’t worked in the NBA. Now he is the first head coach to leave a European pro job for the same one in the NBA. So he remains a bit of a mystery man to casual observers.

Former Philadelphia Sixers general manager Brad Greenberg, who drafted Allen Iverson when he ran the Philly front office, competed against Blatt in Israel over the past two seasons while coaching the rival Maccabi Haifa (2012-13) and Hapoel Jerusalem (2013-14).

Greenberg’s Maccabi Haifa squad captured the 2012-13 Israeli League title. In addition, he also kept a close eye on how Blatt ran his team. He paid attention.

“David is mentally tough, fiercely competitive, and extremely confident,” Greenberg told me in an email on Monday. “And his teams reflect those strengths. His teams the last couple years in Israel were never out of the game regardless of whether they dug themselves a hole. When they needed to dig deeper and rally, they most often did. He is smart and knows how to best take advantage of his players’ strengths at the offensive end.  
“And as his team showed in the Euroleague Final Four, they competed at the defensive end and out-toughed their opponent. They got a little lucky in those games, but their effort and execution put them in position to take advantage of a few lucky breaks.”
Greenberg believes the current climate of the NBA made now the right time for a team to hire Blatt, who has also led successful pro teams in Greece, Russia and Turkey.
“I think the success of San Antonio, a team with a lot of international players and more of an international style — not many ISO’s (isolations) in their playbook outside some low-post stuff to (Tim) Duncan — has gotten more NBA people open to international basketball play,” Greenberg wrote. “It will open up some more opportunities for sure …. especially with new NBA owners who may be more inclined to think outside the box.”

What was it like to compete against Blatt’s Maccabi Tel Aviv squad?

 “I played against David a lot the last two years… and have the utmost respect for him,” Greenberg revealed. “He is a friend.  Aside from his coaching acumen, he is a gentleman and a real professional.  My team two years ago beat him for the championship and he was gracious in defeat.  My team this year beat him on his court by 28, the worst home loss in Maccabi Tel Aviv history and he was gracious in defeat.   There were times this past season where the media wrote he was close to being fired and some members even endorsed that. 

“And while everyone around him was losing their heads, he never wavered in his belief in his team and his ability to get them to (produce a) championship performance. It was masterful how he maintained his focus and got his team (back) on track.”

Looking ahead to the upcoming NBA season with Blatt running the show for the Cavaliers, Greenberg concluded by writing, “I couldn’t be happier for him. He deserved the opportunity he just received and I think he will do well. He can coach, and he can lead.”


“Pele used to come to my dad’s restaurant”

This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun.

(Update: Andre Luciano completed his 13th season as the Northern Arizona University women’s soccer head coach in 2013.)

Headline: Luciano’s passion a plus for NAU soccer

Oct. 31, 2003

By Ed Odeven

You walk into his comfortable Skydome office and immediately realize he’s a soccer fanatic. You see the team portrait of Brazil’s 2002 World Cup-winning team. You notice the framed photo of a 1975 Sports Illustrated cover, the one featuring the legendary Pele.

He is Andre Luciano, NAU’s third-year head soccer coach.

“I’m an absolute soccer junkie,” Luciano told me the other day. “You are going through the house and Fox Sports World is on all the time and it drives (NAU assistant coach) Tracy (Grose) nuts. It drives my wife nuts, but soccer to me is a lifestyle. It’s not a game you can just turn off. It’s a game of highs and lows. I think soccer is an analogy of life, the way I look at it. So it’s ingrained in me.”

Luciano deserves a lot of the credit for rebuilding the Lumberjacks soccer program. This team has never had a winning season — its best season was 1998, when it finished with an 8-11 record under the program’s original coach, Tracy Custer.

Today’s NAU match is one of the biggest in the history of the program. With a win or a tie at Weber State, the Lumberjacks will clinch the Big Sky Conference title and earn the right to host the conference tournament next week. The Lumberjacks have never placed higher than third (which they’ve done three times) in the league.

NAU, which has a 7-7-3 overall record, 4-1 in league play (it lost Thursday’s match 4-1 to Idaho State in snowy conditions), began the season at 1-4-1. Luciano did not push the panic button. He simply reminded the players of their potential.

“I think the turning point was the road trip (in late September) to Boise State,” Luciano said. “We had a tough tie against Boise State and a tough loss against Utah State and I remember sitting on the bus and I actually challenged them to be better than their record indicates. From that point forward, leaders have popped up all over the place. It’s not just one or two players — it’s 22, 23 players — each having a hand in how the program is turning around.”

It’s turning around because the players have bought into Luciano’s crede that strong defense needs to be a central characteristic of this team, because the Lumberjacks have more balanced scoring this season and because the players are more experienced. Sierra Cristiano, one of five senior captains, leads the team with 12 assists, Jesyca Rosholt is numero uno with seven goals and Brandy Johnson has chipped in six more. Sophomore goalkeeper Andrea Berra has had a stellar season, playing in all 17 matches and posting a 1.33 goals against average.

Luciano, who was born in Rome and moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil, as a baby, admits he’s an extremely competitive person and he expects a lot from himself as a coach. But he said he’s come to understand what coaching is really all about.

“It’s not about the wins or losses,” he said. “It’s the relationships I build with the players and how much I educate them about what life is really about and what the world is really about.”

It’s no surprise that Luciano developed a life-long love of soccer. Remember, he was living in Sao Paulo, and his father’s restaurant was just a few blocks away from the soccer stadium.

“We were always around celebrity soccer players,” said Luciano, who speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Czech, Slovak and Russian. “Half the players were always around when I grew up. Pele used to come to my dad’s restaurant and Zico, who’s my favorite all-time player for Brazil, used to swing by. So when you’re a kid and you see these guys it’s just ingrained in your life and you can’t get rid of it.”

Now, Luciano, who starred as a goalie at Yavapai College (one of the school’s first-ever soccer recruits who helped guide the Roughriders to the 1990 NJCAA title) and Indiana (the Hoosiers made the Final Four and Elite Eight with him starting), can’t get rid of his passion for turning NAU into a perennial Big Sky power.

“I have a tremendous amount of pride, and for us to come out and (start) 4-0 (in conference) reaffirms what we are trying to do here, and what we’ve been trying to do for 2 1/2 years,” he said Tuesday. “I think the biggest reward is seeing the smiles and the looks on the kids’ faces.”




“Hopis run for water”

This article appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun.

Headline: H2opi’s epic run to Mexico won’t be forgotten

By Ed Odeven

KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. (April 13, 2006) — These are faces and voices that share an ancient wisdom. And their strong legs carried them more than 2,000 miles to share an important reminder:

Water is essential to all living things.

The 27 H2opi Run participants, ranging in age from 12 to 74 who left the village of Lower Mungapi (on the outskirts of Tuba City) on March 2, embarked on a life-changing mission they believed in with every ounce of their beings. And after 14 days on the road, the Hopi runners arrived in Mexico City on March 15 for the Fourth World Water Forum.

In the words of Ruben Saufkie Sr., the H2opi Run coordinator, this was a “run of respect for water.”

This was probably the longest relay run in the history of the Americas, maybe even the world.

Each day, the runners, including Navajo Ivan Gamble of LeChee and New Mexico Pueblos, rose at dawn and began another journey. Some ran 10-15 miles a day, others went 20-30. Someone, or several people, from the group was always running during daylight hours.

At night, they slept in a larger charter bus, in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas or Mexico. They met with other native peoples along the way and shared songs and dances and traditional prayers.

On their journey, traditional values played a significant role. Each runner took with them an ear of Hopi corn, a traditional Hopi planting stick and a gourd of water (water taken from each Hopi village’s spring which was combined with water that was given to the H2opi Committee from nations near and far).

Twelve of the runners and a gathered crowd of friends, family and community members formally celebrated their return to Arizona last Saturday at the Hopi Veteran’s Memorial Center in Kykotsmovi.

A potluck lunch, slide show and personal reminiscences helped the visitors gain a greater sense of what happened over the first few weeks of March.

“We were all elated, all excited, about finishing the journey,” said Richard Dawavendewa, a 39-year-old Tuba City High School art teacher and cross country coach who spoke at length about this trip.

“I thought I was in decent shape, but towards the last week of the run I think I pulled something in my right groin muscle,” he added. “I was running on that for about three or four days just kind of enduring the pain.”

Reflecting on her yearlong preparation for the H2opi Run, Vivian Jones of Sichomovi spoke in a quiet, gentle manner and smiled constantly, revealing the satisfaction she has about accomplishing her goal.

“The days and the months went by fast …,” she said. “We had a lot of work fundraising, and I got interested in it because it was for my people and for all the living things of the world that needed water since everybody needs water for their plants, their vegetables, stuff that they need to eat.

“I didn’t just do it for myself. I just did it for the different types of peoples, all different nations, all living things from humans to insects on Mother Earth.”

Hendrickson Talayumptewa, 47, of Shungopavi, represented the Water Clan on this epic journey.

Simply put, he described it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

When the runners entered Mexico on March 7, the sixth day of their trip, they were informed snow had fallen in Hopiland and the surrounding areas.

For four days, rain and snow fell on northern Arizona, Talayumptewa’s wife informed him via cell phone.

“Great, at least we accomplished something,” he said, recounting their conversation, which was a reminder, too, that Hopis traditionally pray for rain to sustain their way of life.

Said Jones: “We cried on the way down when we heard it snowed up here. … That made us real happy.”

Now back in Kykotsmovi, Elden Kalesma of Sipaulovi spoke before the assembled crowd in vivid, emotional details about his journey.

“It was an overwhelming experience,” Kalesma said. “We learned about ourselves and one another and the power that we all have.”

Perhaps Vernon Masayesva, Black Mesa Trust’s executive director, best explained the significance of the H2opi Run.

“We have planted the seed. Many more events will sprout from this historic event,” Masayesva said as he narrated footage of a still-to-be-completed documentary.

Victor Masayesva, Vernon’s brother, is the director. He will condense 26 hours of footage into a 30-minute film.

As the Hopis ran to Mexico, traversing the rough, rugged terrain and enduring hot, sunny days, they were challenged mentally, physically and spiritually to stick with it.

It wasn’t easy.

“A lot of tears were shed, and with a lot of tears shed we knew how important our run was,” Saufkie said.

Bob Mac Harris, the 74-year-old elder of the group, kept everyone focused on the running day after day.

“He always managed to have a smile on his face,” Saufkie said, adding that Harris’ positivity gave everyone strength to finish the journey.

And so they ran and ran and ran. And like a loud, booming bass drum that echoes into the distance, 27 runners’ feet can cause a commotion, too.

This illustrates what Vernon Masayesva said on video about what the runners did:

“As feet hit the ground, it vibrates and carries this message to all four corners of the world.”

The New York Times, BBC Radio and other well-known media outlets covered the World Water Forum.

But perhaps one Mexican newspaper’s headline, which was shown at the Hopi Veteran’s Memorial Center, summarized their journey best:

Los Hopis corren por el aqua (Hopis run for water).”

In Mexico City, the Hopis received warm support and bountiful kindness from the people they met.

Case in point: At one function in downtown Mexico City, hosted by the city’s mayor, the Hopis received a standing ovation. Throughout their stay in Mexico, which included a visit to the sacred pyramids in Teotihuacan, Aztec, Puebla and Mayan dancers and tribal leaders met them and thanked them for their efforts.

“They said, ‘Welcome home,'” Saufkie said succinctly.

But there was still one leg of the journey remaining.

On Sunday, all 27 runners embarked on the final stage of their journey, a 45-mile trek from Hotvela to Lower Mungapi.

It was another relay-style run. Each Hopi ran a portion of the journey.

Now they were back in Lower Mungapi, the spot where they had originally placed their prayer feathers.

In the Hopi way, this signifies they’ve come full circle.

Yes, their journey is finished. But a powerful message lives on.

Feature flashback – A boxing gym in limbo

This article appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun.


July 24, 2004

By Ed Odeven

In one corner of a boxing gym, youngsters are jumping rope with the finely timed rhythm of a drum machine. In another, they are taking turns hitting speed bags with methodical precision, throwing punches from all angles. And in a well-worn ring, two teens are sparring, working on their hooks and jabs, footwork and positioning while a few talkative on-lookers are discussing their every move, dissecting every rat-a-tat-tat fistic sequence.

These scenes are repeated day after day at hundreds of gyms across the country.

And, remember, that’s a good thing. Boxing, the old-timers, baby-boomers and Generation Xers alike will tell you, keeps kids off the streets and out of trouble.

Here in Flagstaff, meanwhile, it’s a cool summer evening and a half-dozen boxers from the Flagstaff Impact Center are working out at Coconino High School. Outside. At Cromer Stadium. Near the end zone.

The end zone?

Yes. These boxers are honing their skills in this unusual setting, making the best of their new, difficult situation: a boxing club without a home.

“A lot of them were like, ‘Oh, man.’ A lot of them were real upset, like, ‘What are we going to do?’ ” said FIC member Angel Baca, recalling the reaction of many of the club’s young fighters when they heard the news. “So Ray (Alday, the club’s coach) was like, ‘Let’s keep working out at Coconino.’ So a lot of them have been going.

“But I’m sure it does frustrate people.”

For the past three weeks, the FIC has been conducting evening practices at CHS, where the track is open to the public after 6 p.m.

But this is a temporary solution for the FIC, the city’s only boxing club. When the weather gets cooler and when the days get shorter, the club won’t necessarily have the option of working out at CHS for one or two hours in the evenings.

“It’s very hard to work out without all the equipment — the speed bags and the heavy bags, the ring,” said Shandall Yazzie, a Coco sophomore-to-be.

Alday, who took over as the FIC coach after club founder Daniel Hudson moved to the Valley last fall, said the club, established in September 2002, had trouble paying rent at its Sunnyside neighborhood gym, located at 2307 E. Spruce Avenue. Initially, the club was paying $1,000 a month for rent at the converted garage. It was reduced to $800 in the past couple months, but the club was still having trouble coming up with the money.

Kids are charged $15 a month for membership, while adults are asked to shell out $25 for club fees. But membership fees alone, from around 30 members of which 20 or more were students — usually more during the school year — didn’t cover the cost of the club’s rent, especially since students didn’t always have the money.

In recent months, the Flagstaff Impact Center was having more and more car washes and fund-raisers and raffles, and, from time to time, putting on exhibition fight nights — all in the hope of securing more donations.

Alday, who recently started a new job as a locksmith, estimated that he was paying at least $400 on his own each month “just to keep it going.”

“We had money, but the landowners just didn’t like getting the payments (late),” he added.

Said Baca: “When Daniel was here, he was spending a whole lot of money out of his pocket. The rest of us don’t have that kind of money. He was pretty much paying the rent and buying equipment.”

Alday and a Northern Arizona University student were writing a proposal to get a grant or financial backing from business and civic groups and government organizations, but the student graduated and left town. So Alday plans to begin writing a new proposal. In addition, the club is scouring the “for rent” advertisements and scouting various spots around town as prospective locales for a new gym.

“We’re looking for something we can afford, basically, and what people want to afford,” Alday said.

“Most of these kids are coming from the Sunnyside neighborhood and they don’t have much money, and they really can’t pay too much.”

Still sweating after a good workout, Anthony Garcia, a carpenter by day, praises the combination of mental and physical discipline that boxing has given him.

“Boxing is good. It’s something we do. It keeps us in shape. … It’s different, too,” said Garcia, a former Arizona amateur state champion at 165 pounds.

Garcia runs five miles every morning. That’s the key, he said, to being ready to rumble.

“You need your wind,” Garcia said. “It’s speed from head to toe. It’s all about speed, agility, thinking, positioning. It’s like chess. It’s intelligent and requires speed, and then it hurts. And then how do you deal with it?”

Garcia said he hopes to continue competing, someday earning some money to invest back into the club. He said the club’s promising young fighters deserve the older members’ support.

“We still want to fight, no matter where we’re fighting,” he added.

For Baca, another standout on the state’s amateur scene in recent years, getting back in the ring is something he’s eager to do. He placed first in the 152-pound weight division of the Copper Gloves state tourney last November and advanced to regionals, but he hasn’t had any official fights since December. Overall, he’s 7-1 since taking up the sport two years ago.

Now, Baca feel like he’s stuck in limbo as the discussion of the club’s uncertain future comes up.

“It put the hurts on me pretty bad,” the 24-year-old said. “I don’t know whether to even continue or what’s going on. It’s been a hard town to box in. And then Daniel came in and opened up the gym. I’ve always wanted to box all my life. I got my chance and did much better than I ever expected, and then now we don’t got a gym again.”

A gym, the fighters agree, is necessary to further develop the skills of the club’s young fighters.

“There are a lot of really young kids that are real good,” Baca said. “If we can just get them back in competition, they can make a name for themselves and do well.”

A permanent club facility will likely increase the club’s membership (about 50 people were going to the club last fall before Hudson departed) as well as giving students a chance to get assistance with their homework.

“During the school year, after I’d do my homework or if I needed help with my homework, then I’d go to the boxing program because they’d have tutors in there,” Yazzie said. “And they’d help me with it over there, and then after my homework, I’d box and work out.”

Yazzie, who describes her passion for boxing in very basic terms (“I like getting into the ring and fighting the next girl”), was usually joined at the old gym by her best friend, Dina Sam, also 15. Other students have similar stories: they’d go and their friends would follow.

Nine years ago, in the same Sunnyside neighborhood, Alday got his start at Main Street Boxing Gym. That gym is also a thing of the past.

As for the future, Alday isn’t asking for too much.

“All we need is somewhere to put the ring and for the bags. That’s the main thing,” said Alday, who mentioned that most of the club’s equipment is now stored in various places around town.

The sunset is leaving a picturesque vista on the horizon, and as one watches the recent evening workout at CHS, you witness a group of dedicated, we-mean-business boxers doing all they can to maximize their workouts, to make the most of their limited means.

They run wind sprint after wind sprint on the track.

They jog up and down the Cromer Stadium bleachers.

They do push-ups and sit-ups and jump rope on the grass.

There are no heavy bags or speed bags with the word “Everlast” tattooed on them here in the great outdoors. But there’s a bag on the ground that contains gloves and hand wraps. Most of the bag’s contents are being used.

“A lot of cardio (cardiovascular exercises), out here, that’s mostly what we do,” Alday said. “We don’t spar too much.”

Instead, you’ll see volunteer coach Donrique Lopez, a seasoned boxing trainer who used to work in Oscar De La Hoya’s camp in Los Angeles, standing on the asphalt and holding up a pair of red focus mitts. He’s a busy man all night.

“We’re all here to use the pads,” Alday said, while glancing at 19-year-old Myron James, an NAU student, as he throws punches in Lopez’s direction. “One, two, three, four … (we’ll work on) all the different styles.”

The workouts, of course, would be so much better, so much more productive, in a gym.

Getting to know … Marc Stein, the consummate NBA insider

March 2018 update: Marc Stein is the high-profile NBA national writer/pundit for The New York Times after joining the paper last fall.

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (June 5, 2014) — From my distant outpost in Japan, I strive to learn as much as possible about the NBA. Communicating with league insiders and those who report on its daily operations provide a broader view of the league as a whole.

Marc Stein, senior NBA writer for ESPN.com, is a prolific reporter who chronicles the league from top to bottom and has his finger on the pulse of the league.

One of his latest articles, http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/10955188/gregg-popovich-tim-duncan-stories, is a revealing, in-depth look at the San Antonio Spurs during the Gregg Popovich-Tim Duncan years. It’s also one of the best pieces of sports journalism in recent times. I highly recommend this related story: http://espn.go.com/blog/marc-stein/post/_/id/2443/pops-one-of-a-kind-path)

Indeed, it’s been a busy past few months for Stein and his colleagues on the NBA daily beat, what with Phil Jackson joining the New York Knicks as team monarch, coaching vacancies left and right, the Donald Sterling saga in Los Angeles and, oh yeah, the playoffs.

I caught up with Stein via email and present this Q&A a day before the 2014 NBA Finals tips off.

* * *

Can you take me back to when your first regular beat reporting on the NBA began and recall the challenges of building a report with new sources at the team and league level?

STEIN: Will never forget the feeling of overmatched-ness when I started in February 1994. I know that’s not a word, but I’m searching for something to express how daunting it felt because A) I was 24 when I started traveling with the Clippers and pretty much as young as it gets and B) I got thrown onto the Clipper beat 10 days before the trade deadline. In other words, I was an NBA beat writer for all of 10 days when Danny Manning got traded to Atlanta. And I was by no means ready to cover a transaction of that magnitude, which was by far the biggest trade in the Clippers’ history to that point. But I look back on that time with incredible fondness, too, because the NBA beat is the one I desperately wanted. That was still a time that most aspiring sports writers dreamed of covering baseball, but my three favorite sports once I reached teenager status were tennis, soccer and NBA basketball. So I was literally pinching myself when I got to the hotel for that first Clipper road trip, which ironically started in my eventual adopted home city of Dallas.

In terms of building a base of sources, there is obviously no manual. It’s something you learn over time through trial and error and experience and just being around long enough for people around the league to get to know you and trust you. One of the keys, I think, is being yourself, but I also remember very well that it’s hard to strut around with a lot of confidence when you first step into a pro sports environment. You have to build up to it. I went to an amazing journalism school at Cal State Fullerton and had two peerless professors named Jay Berman and Rick Pullen who took incredibly good care of me. But you can’t learn the source-building stuff in a classroom from a lecture or textbook. Unfortunately.

In retrospect, though, I was incredibly fortunate to get the mid-1990s Clippers as a first beat. They were such a doormat/afterthought in those days, even with the Lakers in the midst of one of their rare title droughts, that I really had the chance to grow into the job — and, yes, screw up on occasion — in a climate complete different than today’s. No one was waiting to pounce within seconds if you had a comma in the wrong place like you get now with the Twitter police. Covering the Clippers for the Los Angeles Daily News, in the shadow of the L.A. Times, allowed me to stumble here and there. I had been working for major metropolitan papers as a young scribe for six or seven years by that point, but stepping up to do a major beat at that age … there’s going to be some stumbling.

Who do you consider your key mentors as a sports journalist, especially the NBA? What were the biggest lessons they taught you? Or what key advice did they give you?

STEIN: Oh, man. Even on the Internet, there isn’t enough space to list all my mentors. I always tell students when they ask me that one: No matter how good you are in any walk of life you have to get a few huge breaks along the way to help you get where you want to go. And one of the biggies for me is that so many established sportswriters of that era were so gracious with their time and advice when I showed up as a college-aged trying to learn every secret from them.

My journalism adviser at El Toro High in Southern California (Mike Gallups) had gone to high school with Orange County Register veteran NBA man Earl Bloom. So he convinced Earl to take me under his wing before I had even made it to college. It’s one of those lucky-stars connections that helped me score a part-time gig at the Register at the age of 18 that I wound up keeping throughout my four years at Fullerton, which was like winning the journalism lottery, because the writers and editors there all treated me like a staffer even though I was just a kid. The Register was in its heyday and locked in a circulation battle with the Orange County edition of the Times, so the staff was filled with stars and even the high school stories I was doing were routinely considered for the front page. I would have to list 20 people from that Register staff to answer this question properly. I was so damn lucky.

It didn’t stop with the Register, either. I won another journalism lottery in 1990 when I was granted the chance to spend a summer as a sports intern at the Washington Post, where I was introduced to another slew of sportswriting legends, including my future ESPN teammates Mike Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser. I applied for about 15 internships and the only two I got were the two I wanted most: New York Newsday and The Post. The L.A. Times wouldn’t even look at me. Go figure.

Ken Daley, now an outstanding news reporter at the New Orleans Times Picayune, was like a brother to me at the Register and paved the way for me at both the Los Angeles Daily News and The Dallas Morning News; he got to both places before I did and talked me up to the bosses at both spots. There were actually several more mentors at both places, but one in particular at the LADN before I made it onto the Clipper beat was a high schools supervisor named Eric Sondheimer, who really taught me the value of newsgathering. He wanted to beat the Valley edition of the Times on local stories more than any NBA writer lusts to break where LeBron plans to go in free agency this summer. So he made a huge impression on me.

I also have to give special thanks to the late Mike Penner of the Times, who was a peerless and incredibly patient writing coach to me and numerous colleagues from a variety of publications who banded together to form an all-scribes soccer team after the 1994 World Cup. When it was time to talk about the craft of putting a story together, or simply getting better as a writer, it was usually John Strege from the Register or Mike for me.

I really could go on and on and on. I’ve received way more help and guidance than any writer deserves. But since I imagine you were mostly after the names of NBA writers who really helped me over the years, there were several seen-it-all vets who were kind enough to pass on their wisdom. Mitch Chortkoff, Scott Howard-Cooper, Mark Heisler, Peter May, Jackie MacMullan, Sam Smith, Mike Monroe, Buck Harvey, Fran Blinebury, Jack McCallum, Marty McNeal, Steve Luhm, Mark Whicker, Peter Vecsey, Bob Ford and the late Phil Jasner … that’s just a sampling of the names that come to mind. And I apologize to anyone I forgot because I’m sure I left out someone worthy. I also have to mention that the chance to go work side-by-side with one of the best of that era — David Moore — was a big lure when I left L.A. in April 1997 to join The Morning News.

And please let me say one more thing in an answer that I know went on WAY too long: Chick Hearn was the absolute greatest!  When I started covering the Lakers at 26, he went out of his way to make me feel like I belonged on the beat. I loved that man dearly. He had a gruff exterior on occasion and could be tough on newcomers if he suspected for one second that you didn’t love the game — or love being around the Lakers — as much as he did. But for some reason Chick always looked out for me. I remember being SO scared to tell him that I was leaving the Laker beat to go cover the Mavericks, because I wrongly assumed that he’d never see it from my perspective that going to Dallas was an incredible opportunity with one of the best newspapers in the country. But he never stopped backing me. And I couldn’t wait for those four games every season when the Mavs played the Lakers and I got to see him. I owe him a ton.

What are three of your favorite non-basketball books? How about three hoops books?

STEIN: You’re about to expose how poorly read I am. Allow me to give you my three favorite sports books that aren’t basketball-related because my non-sports expertise is shamefully limited: Sparky Lyle’s “The Bronx Zoo,” Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch” and George Plimpton’s “Paper Lion.”

Sparky’s book was the first “adult” sports book I really remember reading as a kid … and as a young Yankees fan I simply couldn’t put it down. (Still can’t forget how disappointed my Uncle Joseph in Israel was when he kept trying to convince me to read Dickens and I just kept reading Lyle.) Hornby’s book, of course, is considered almost biblical because it so beautifully captures the evolution of a soccer fan growing up in England, which is irresistible for an Anglophile like me. And Plimpton had a tremendous influence on me, going all the way back to my teens, because he’s the father of participatory journalism in sports and I’ve tried to copy his formula so many times. The best piece I wrote for my high school paper was a first-person story about playing for the varsity baseball team that I had no shot at making in real life. In the mid-1990s, I wrote a tennis column for the Daily News about trying to return Roscoe Tanner’s laser serves on three different surfaces. And in 1998, during the NBA lockout, I signed a one-week contract with Dallas Sidekicks of indoor soccer fame and wrote about masquerading as a pro in that sport, too, all because I so badly wanted to be Plimptonian.

For basketball books, I gotta go with Jack McCallum’s “Seven Seconds or Less,” Bill Simmons “Book of Basketball” and, as a thoroughly selfish choice, Tim Wendel’s “Home of the Braves.” I have a special fondness for Jack’s work because I covered Steve Nash and that Suns team very closely as well, so I have to applaud his efforts to go even deeper behind than the scenes and teach me more about a group that I thought I knew pretty well. Simmons is the most entertaining hoops writer of the Internet era and loves the game as much as anyone I know, which you can swiftly deduce just by trying to lift his 800-pager. And then the book on my Buffalo Braves means so much to me because it brings my favorite NBA team back to life by reprinting a bunch of newspaper stuff from the 1970s that I was a little bit too young to consume when it actually happened.

For work-related knowledge (and perhaps personal interest, too) what are must-read NBA-related websites, blogs, columns and notebooks for you?

STEIN: I’m probably too biased to answer this one, because I would say that ESPN.com — in conjunction with our Grantland brothers — pretty much has you covered on any and every possible NBA angle you could wish to read. But to show some semblance of neutrality, allow me to tip my hat to the guys at HoopsHype. Nobody in the business does a better job of collecting the zillions of pertinent links and tweets in circulation and amassing them all in one easy-to-navigate place. HH is my first stop every morning and I use the various tools there several times a day … to the point that my kids used to give me grief about it when they were just starting to be aware of my job. “Why are you always looking at that HoopsHype, Dad?” As for features, anything new from Lee Jenkins in Sports Illustrated is a drop-everything-you’re-doing sort of situation.

How many games do you attend in person during a “normal” month during the regular season? And how many hours would you estimate you spend watching live or taped footage of NBA games per month?

STEIN: I would estimate that I attend 8 to 10 games a month in person. Maybe more depending on the month and if you add in D-League games, which I have a huge fondness for as a former minor league baseball scribe who longs to see the NBA’s minor league reach the same status someday. In general, though, I’m more interested in the people of the NBA than trying to consume five games in one night. My nightly goal is to get a good grip on at least one game, but what invariably happens is that I end up engaged with various folks around the league either by phone, email, text, etc. So game-watching tends to get interrupted. That’s one of the beauties of Twitter; all your friends and colleagues and fellow lovers of hoop help keep you plugged in with highlights and video clips and warnings that YOU MUST TUNE IN RIGHT NOW to help the cause.

On a related note, can you pinpoint how many league sources you are in regular contact with via text, phone, email, etc. to stay in the know about what’s happening in all facets of the league?

STEIN: Between team executives, coaches, players, agents, league officials, owners, ESPN colleagues … it’s a lot. But I’d also say: Never enough. I want more! Because talking to people around the league is my favorite part of the job. As a younger sports writer, I had the chance to at least get a taste of covering all the major team sports in this country. And I’ve always said that the people in the NBA, from whichever part of the game you want to pinpoint, are the most accessible/engaging/interesting in North America. The NBA, quite simply, is the best league to cover because of the people as well as the game. Just talking hoops with folks is the best part of my job.

From 1993-94 until now, who are five coaches you have most enjoyed interacting with?

STEIN:  I’m incredibly blessed at ESPN, where I’ve had the chance to work closely with a bunch of great ones. Trying, again, to do this off the top of my head, I’m thinking of Hubie Brown, Rick Carlisle, Avery Johnson, Doug Collins, Mark Jackson, P.J. Carlesimo, Paul Silas, Jeff Van Gundy, George Karl and, of course, Dr. Jack Ramsay, who sadly passed away recently.

But I could just as easily focus on the three main coaches I covered as a beat writer, who were all so good to me. When it comes to the bulk of whatever I understand about the intricacies of this game, chances are I learned it from either Bill Fitch, Del Harris or Don Nelson. Only Nellie is in the Hall of Fame, but all three would be in Springfield if it were up to me. I learned a ton about the sport from all of them and was fortunate enough to be able to travel with their teams at a time when coaches weren’t nearly as guarded as they have to be now because things can go viral in second.

Fitch, that supposed authoritarian, used to let me watch entire Clipper practices … although maybe that was because I was the only one who wanted to. Del Harris, meanwhile, is an absolute walking X-and-O encyclopedia. When it comes to a technical explanation of what is actually going on out there, I don’t know that I’ve encountered anyone who can break down the game better than Del can. Or anyone who has seen more than he has. And Nellie, bless him, was the biggest open book I’ve ever covered on a daily basis. Couldn’t filter himself in good times or bad. Always said more than he should have, which is obviously beat writer gold.

What appear to be Adam Silver’s leadership strengths now that he is David Stern’s replacement?

STEIN: He is incredibly approachable and accessible. He’s clearly not afraid to consider tweaks of all kinds to the game and seems willing to put pretty much anything on the table at a time when the league is doing well and it would be easy to just push the status quo. He also strikes me as quite comfortable in the glare of the spotlight despite the size of the very big shoes he’s stepped into. I’ve said from the start that establishing the sort of authoritarian presence that I think a commissioner has to have is going to be his biggest challenge after the domineering way Stern lorded over the game for three decades. But you’d have to say Silver has quickly accumulated a lot of fans — and rightfully so — with the way he’s handled the Donald Sterling situation. He’s going to force Sterling out of the league and ultimately preside over a $2 billion sale of Sterling’s team to make all the other owners happy. He’s off to some start.

What stories or projects you have done rank as most important and/or satisfying to you?.

STEIN: Those who know me best, especially editors who’ve worked with me closest, would tell you that I’m a self-loather by nature who tends to fuel himself by never liking anything I just wrote or said. It’s a thoroughly unhealthy approach that I recommend to absolutely no one, but it’s the way I’m wired. It works for me … I think.

That said …

The access Vlade Divac gave me on the weekend his jersey was retired in Sacramento in 2009 was unforgettable because of the full-circle nature of the experience: Vlade was the first NBAer that I covered closely starting back when he made his summer-league debut in 1989. So the eventual story I wrote about Vlade’s career later that year meant a ton to me. And then just having the privilege to coverage Dirk Nowitzki from such close range, starting before he ever took a real dribble in the NBA, has been a huge, huge privilege. Along the way I hope I did decent job telling his story, starting with the incredible pick-and-roll partnership and friendship he built with another guy who has given me more access than I ever deserved — Nash — all the way to Game 6 of 2011 NBA Finals when Dirk climbed the mountain and won the championship that changed his legacy forever.

Having moved to Texas in April 1997, one month before the Spurs won the lottery that allowed them to draft Tim Duncan, I’ve also covered a lot of Gregg Popovich and Duncan for the last 17 years. Writing about Pop’s testy history with sideline reporters and then the history of Pop & Timmy as a tag team leading into last June’s Finals and then these 2014 Finals were great experiences that are going to stick with me.

I’ve enjoyed email contact with Peter Vecsey for several years, exchanging ideas about basketball in addition to reading his work. His Hoop Du Jour column ran as the NBA Report in The Japan Times, and previously in The Daily Yomiuri, for many years until 2012, when he retired from the New York Post. Asked to pinpoint the best in the business, Vecsey told me it’s his view that you and Howard Beck, who now works for Bleacher Report (http://bleacherreport.com/users/3065513-howard-beck), are the best all-around NBA reporters today. What does that assessment mean to you coming from Vecsey?

STEIN: It’s priceless to hear something like that. Because Pete has always been one of my all-time favorites, which he knows because I always try to squeeze some more “mentoring” out of him on the rare occasions we cross paths. He took the whole NBA Insider genre to new levels with his columns and as the first hoop scribe to really make it big on TV. To give you a glimpse of the sort of influence Pete had when I started during that 1993-94 season — which was obviously pre-Internet and ages before texting and Facebook and Twitter — one of the first things I felt I HAD to do when I got moved onto the Clipper beat was buy a fax machine. And that’s because you could subscribe to the three-times-a-week faxed version of Pete’s “Hoop Du Jour” column and get all of his stuff no matter where you lived. I’m pretty sure that the first anyone heard of the Danny Manning-for-Dominique Wilkins trade that I referenced way back at the beginning was in Pete’s column. And if he wants to put me in the same sentence as my dear friend Hojo Beck, who actually succeeded me on the Laker beat at the Daily News and ranks as one of the finest wordsmiths who has ever covered the NBA, I’m even prouder.

Follow Marc Stein’s NBA reporting here: http://search.espn.go.com/marc-stein/