Interview with NBA Reporter Dave McMenamin
Dave McMenamin, an NBA Reporter for ESPN, is one of the most well-respected reporters in the basketball world. The Cougar Chronicle had the opportunity to interview Dave about his career, basketball, and much more. A transcript of the interview follows:
Cougar Chronicle: Was there ever a moment that made you realize that you wanted to go into sports journalism/broadcasting?
Dave McMenamin: "Yeah, I guess there were many moments. I started being a sports-obsessed kid because my family was into it. You know what it's like growing up outside of Philadelphia? Sports are a way of life. My dad was a pro-sports fan. My older sister played sports and was a pretty good high school athlete. She played basketball, field hockey, lacrosse and was pretty good at all of it. Sports were what I was into when I was a kid; I was not the most athletic, but I love basketball, so I worked really hard to become a decent player. But I was most academically strong in writing, and I loved to read. What I was good at was writing, and then combining that with what I love, which was basketball. When I was in eighth grade, one of my buddies and I were making a newsletter on Microsoft Paint or whatever the program was back in the day, and writing small, short stories and articles about what we love about the NBA and the players who we are watching and our theoretical power rankings and stuff like that. We would print them out and put them out at the lunch tables. And from there, I was in high school, I was writing for some of the local papers in the Philly suburbs: The Main Line Times, The Suburban, and Wayne Times. And even before college, I got an internship with NBC 10 on City Line Avenue. Doors kept opening, and I still had the interest. And so it was like, why would I stop? And that's kind of the story of my career."
CC: How did you end up at ESPN?
DM: I worked for NBA.com out of college and worked there for about five years. My last year with NBA.com, they entered into a partnership with Turner Broadcasting, so they moved their television studio from New Jersey, where I was working, to Atlanta. And they had these meetings where they were like, OK, so now that it's a partnership like you guys have been working here, what would you do to make the website better? And I was like, well, whenever we write about the Lakers and Kobe, our traffic spikes; it's clearly the most popular player and team. And some of them are, I guess, “competitors” like other places where you go for NBA coverage, ESPN, Yahoo, CBS Sports. Those sites have writers spread out. They don't have all the writers in the New York metropolitan area. And so I said, yeah, we should have someone in LA, and I was twenty-five at the time. I was saying this as a theoretical concept. I went to Syracuse, and all my best friends live in New York, all my family’s in Philly. So I wasn't like saying you should send me to LA. But they came back after discussing that idea down in Atlanta with another staff meeting about a month later. And they said to me OK, so that LA idea of yours, we like it, and Dave, when can you move? So I moved to LA. But this was around the recession, so I covered the Lakers winning the championship in 2009 for NBA.com and the championship parade and everything like that. I want to say it was less than a week later that I got laid off because they lost 20 percent of all the staff; they started this new project called NBA Digital. Digital was a partnership between NBA.com and Turner, and they had this course correct. So now I'm twenty-five. Now, like everybody else, I'm unemployed, just lost my dream job. But I had an interview with ESPN for a job in 2008. I didn't get it. It was Henry Abbott who was interviewing for a number two, but I got deep into the interview process, so I got to know some of the folks on the NBA side at ESPN. And lo and behold, the timing worked out around the same time I was laid off. ESPN was just starting a string of local sites. So I think when I was laid off in Chicago, I had already been watched. And in short order, they launched ESPN, Boston, ESPN, Dallas in LA, and I think the last one was in New York. And so it wasn't long before I found out that they're going to be looking for staff in LA and so because of our great folks at ESPN, I was like, I would be completely insistent that whatever I could do, and it was tough because my lease was ending and my roommates were moving on in life. And I had to decide what I wanted to do because I don't have a job at this point. And through a friend of a friend, I ended up subletting a place for a month to do the ESPN interviews in person. I had my stuff in boxes. One month, I just had my bed and a couple of suits and a couple of pairs of basketball sneakers and workout gear. And fortunately enough, I got the job, and I was able to start with ESPN right before Christmas 2009 and have been at ESPN ever since.
CC: What advice would you give a young journalist?
DM: You're going to have to work hard. When you're in high school and college, there's a natural way for you to prove where you stand amongst your peers because there are papers that you write and there are tests that you take, and you get graded, and then those grades result in your GPA. You know exactly where you stand. But once you're in the workforce, it's all subjective. And my way to get around was maybe by playing favorites or getting around; maybe someone is getting the more enviable assignment or whatever; just you can't slack off in my work. You get to have a work ethic that I will not be taking days off during the season. I'll take a vacation in the off-season. But during the season, I'm not going to take a random practice off because of whatever. No, I'll do all my other stuff on my time. If the team I'm covering is playing or practicing I'm going to be there. And then beyond that, it's about going above and beyond. And that's been the most challenging part about this job: in the last 14, 15 months. I got pretty good at doing a job with the resources that I was accustomed to in terms of sending me to every game. And so the night before the game when I'm in a random city, I can link up with an assistant coach or an assistant general manager for a dinner or a couple of drinks and then the day of the game, maybe do the same thing, get a coffee with someone like that. I recognized over time that you just absorb it like it's relationship building. Everyone says if you actually had to like their steps, you have to do right. So I got good at that. Like, I'm not going to just stay in my hotel room and watch a movie or whatever.
CC:" What's your all-time starting five?"
DM:" Well, this isn't easy, but I'll go Shaq at center. Kareem had a better career, but Shaq is so dominant I couldn't imagine not taking him. Then it gets tricky because Magic can't shoot it in today's NBA, and if I am going to build a team that can win, I'm going to need some roster balance because Lebron and Michael Jordan aren't excellent shooters, and Shaq isn't a good shooter so give me Steph as my point guard. I don't believe he's a top-five player ever, but I need him if I’m going to win. At power forward, give me Hakeem because he was so talented that he could play the four even though his natural position was center. So my lineup would be Stephen Curry, Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Shaquille O'Neal."