ESPN’s The Undefeated EIC Kevin Merida Talks NBA Finals And His Path From College Into The News Industry

ESPN’s The Undefeated Editor in Chief Kevin Merida has been a veteran in the news industry since the early 80s, with stops at the Milwaukee Journal, The Dallas Morning News. During his time at both of those publications, Merida focus was on crime and society stories.

When he made the transition in 1993 to The Washington Post, the D.C. native focused his attention primarily on  US politics, related to the White House and the United States Congress.  He also authored a series of African American men in the U.S. called “Being a Black Man,” which would be featured in The Washington Post. During his time with The Post, he was awarded both the Journalist of the Year, National Association of Black Journalists in 2000, and in 2006, Vernon Jarrett Award for Journalistic Excellence. In 2012, He and his wife Donna Britt were named to the Huff Post Black Voices Couple of the Year countdown coming in seventh on the list.

The Hype Magazine recently had the opportunity to speak with the industry veteran about his journey from Boston University and this time at UC Berkeley to landing his first gig in the news industry.  Merida also shared his thoughts on this years NBA Finals and upcoming free agency.

You graduated from Boston University and attended the University of California, Berkeley’s “Summer Program for Minority Journalists. How did both of those institutions help prepare you as a writer and editor at the Dallas Morning News and the Milwaukee Journal?

I went to college during the aftermath of Watergate, so it was an intensely vibrant time for journalism. Investigative journalism, that is what I initially wanted to do when I decided to pursue a career in journalism. I wanted to become an investigative reporter, and it all started back in college. So, in the early years of my career, I tried my best on my own time to investigate as many things as I could. I had a mentor named Les Payne, who was a Pulitzer Prize winner at Newsday who nurtured my efforts and interest…The Summer program was like a journalistic boot camp for ten weeks. During those ten weeks, we had the opportunity to learn from some of the best journalists in the country. That experience helped prepare us for the jobs we got after the program, and it prepared me to be in Milwaukee.

When you are looking for interns, what are some of the characteristics you look for in your applicants?

Some of the characteristics that I look for in applicants are curiosity, how people think, topics they choose to write about, and how they write about the assignments that are given. If you ever get the chance to talk to anybody, see how they impress you.

What advice would you like to share with up and coming journalists who want to follow in your footsteps?

The best advice I have is to put in the work and get your reps in.

How do you think the media is doing in terms of diversity hiring?

When it comes to hiring, there has been progress, but not enough, particularly in the places where the decisions are being made… the top-level managerial executive ranks. That is not nearly where it should be. Where the decisions are made shapes everything in terms of people being seen and the opportunities they receive…That is the biggest hurdle we must leap, and you can take that up into ownership. That is where we need more progress.

Can you share a moment in your professional career where you had to overcome adversity?

I don’t know if I have a single event that I can pinpoint. I think if you are in a career, you are going to have ups and downs. We all grew up where we felt our careers were not progressing in the time we set for ourselves…It is a hard business…I don’t know anyone who has had a smooth sail throughout their entire career. Everyone has some struggles, but I have been fortunate that my career achievements have outweighed the setbacks. I am grateful to be in a profession for this long and still find joy within it.

Which team do you think will win the NBA Finals this season?

I think it is still up in the air…I think the betting odds would lean towards Golden State, but to be honest, they have a lot of injuries. I don’t know if the injury to Klay Thompson is going to have an impact. I don’t know how severe that injury is…Durant is coming off a bad calf injury, and that is a factor.

Also, Andre Iguodala is banged up a little bit, Kevon Looney is out, and DeMarcus Cousins looked good [initially], but he is not 100 percent. The Warriors have a championship pedigree, and they play well together. They have injuries, but they seem like they don’t miss a beat. The injuries that their players suffer don’t look like they devastate the team because they have so many star players in comparison to some other organizations. They also develop their confidence from winning, of being battle tested.

The Raptors are very good; they are defensively strong, and they have a player that is in the conversation for best player in the league, in Kawhi. He is someone that plays at his own pace, and Steve Kerr said it himself, they are long and lean. They also have people who can guard multiple positions; they bring a lot of dimensions at you, and they have the home court advantage. So, I think it is a game by the game decision of who is going to win that evening for the rest of the series. For me right now, I am not afraid to say the Warriors in six or the Raptors in seven. As each game goes, we will know more.

Who will be named the Finals MVP this season?

I think it depends on who wins. The people who have a shot are Kawhi Leonard if they win it and for the Warriors a battle between Steph Curry and Draymond Green..

Do you think KD has been underappreciated in The Bay Area?

I don’t know if Kevin Durant is underappreciated. The Warriors had a winning culture before he came. So, it was established that Steph was the star, but I think there is great appreciation for Kevin Durant in The Bay. I think they recognize that he won Final MVP the past two years and carried them.

Where do you think Kevin Durant will land this summer?

I think it is possible that Kevin Durant stays in The Bay. Everyone is assuming that he is leaving, but there is a possibility that he stays put. You never know how these decisions reveal themselves.

Klay Thompson has the option to stay or leave in free agency. Where do you think he may land next season?

I guess if I was a betting person, I bet that he stays. He can make far more money with Golden State… I know he missed out on 30 million because of the All-NBA team snub, but at $190 million, the Warriors can pay him more than any other team. They have built a great team, and he seems like he likes playing for Golden State.

Do you think Kawhi Leonard will leave Toronto even if they win the championship this season?

I think there is a chance he stays even if they don’t win a championship; they got to the finals. They have an ascending team… It is hard to tell because it seems Kawhi keeps his own counsel, but hats off to Masai Ujiri for putting that team together.

Where do you think Kyrie will land next season?

It would be interesting how he thinks about it. There was certainly a lot of ruffled feathers and disgruntlement in the Celtics organization and the disappointing season after reaching game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2018. This season for the Celtics, it was Finals or bust for them as an organization, and we got bust from the Celtics. It was a difficult and disappointing season for them, and Kyrie received some of the blame, and I think with leadership there comes responsibility. Some expectations were placed on him because he wanted his own team. It will be interesting to see if he leans into that and becomes a leader with the Celtics and stays because pure talent-wise the Celtics have the best talent [in the East]..

Do you have any thoughts about Drake’s trolling tactics thus far in game one and two?

I think it is amusing because Drake is a major cultural figure, and he has a lot of relationships with different athletes. So, most of the trolling is with people he is friends with and fans of, plus it has been well documented. He has tattoos of Curry’s number and KD’s on his arm, so these are not guys that he dislikes. He is a native of Toronto, and he is an ambassador of the team and talking trash like we would do in the barbershop. It adds a storyline to the Finals, and I don’t see anything wrong with it.

Originally posted on The Hype Magazine.

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Written by Landon Buford

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