ESPN’s Undefeated Marc Spears Talks NBA Trade Deadline Transitions & Toughest Assignment To Date

Courtesy of Marc Spears

Marc Spears started his writing career as a student at Andrew Hill High School. He was a writer of his high school newspaper at Andrew Hill High School in San Jose. Spears was also an All-League and All-Region high school basketball player in addition to his academic duties and wrote on the school paper and played basketball in college.

Each journalist has a story to tell, and by putting pen to paper, it allows them the opportunity to give their enter most thoughts on a variety of different subjects. No matter where you get your daily news updates, there is a reason why we as individuals continue to come back for more information. The public has built a trust factor with the publications that they use to get their updates through the journalist that work for them. Over the past two decades, Spears has built a rapport with the public that is trustworthy.

Marc Spears is a recognizable NBA Journalist at ESPN, and before that, he worked at Yahoo Sports, where he became the first African-American sportswriter for Yahoo Sports. He also had the opportunity to work with other media outlets such as The Denver Post, The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., The Los Angeles Daily News and The Tulsa World as a sports writer. Marc is also the former chair of the National Association of Black Journalists’Sports Task Force.’

Spears has been covering the NBA since 1999but it took 21 years to reach his current position as a Senior NBA Journalist at ESPN’s Undefeated, but it almost didn’t happen. If it were not for several mentors that came into his life, he would not know where he would be today.

The Hype Magazine recently had the opportunity to sit down with the 20 plus year journalist to discuss the NBA trade deadline. Also, Marc Spears shares who he considers his mentors and how he approaches toughest assignments in the field.

When preparing for interviews and story leads roughly how long does it take you to figure out the direction of the piece?

Often you come in with an idea and direction of the story, but you have to adapt as the interview is taking place. A lot of the time a subject might tell you something that you were not expecting, or they are not willing to share the exact information to complete your story. Every interview is mutually exclusive, and I feel the key is to be a great listener. You not only need to listen but also look to adapt when necessary for the subject to open up to you.

What has been your toughest assignment to date and how did you approach it?   

I could probably name about 20 different things because one does not stick out more than the other. I just finished a story on Fred Whitfield the first African American Chief Operating Officer in the NBA. I started working on that story in October, and I just turned it in last Monday. There were a lot of layers to that story I had the opportunity to travel to Charlotte to interview him. I spent three days talking to him, and I received quotes from Stephen Curry, Warriors President Rick Welts, and Michael Jordan, who often is not quoted, having the opportunity to get quotes from him was an honor. So, I think it varies, but I will say the Fred Whitfield story because it took so long to finish. As know, if you want something done right it might take a while to complete.

Who did you consider some of your mentors as you worked your way up the ranks in sports media?

My first mentor, even though he didn’t know it, was a sports columnist out of San Jose by the name of Mark Purdy. I wrote him a letter in the seventh grade asking him what I needed to do to be a sports journalist.  He gave me a blueprint of what to do from there, and all the way through college and if it was not for him who knows what I would be doing now. I followed what he said to the ‘T.’ I respected what he had to say, and I met him over the phone for the first time twenty years after he wrote me the letter. He was calling me about a position at The Mercury News in San Jose. I told him  Mr.Purdy before we get too deep into this conversation I just want to let you know that if it were not for you writing your letter, I probably would not be talking to you today. He had a moment of silence and was like I do not know what you are talking about, and I proceeded to explain why. I ended up giving him an honorable mention when I received the NAACP award in San Jose a couple of years ago. There were a couple of others that I looked up to like Bud Geracie, who I still look up today and a lot of the National Association of Black Journalists. Some of those journalists are Garry D. Howard, Neil Scarborough, Rob Parkerthe late Gary BondMerv AuebuspinFletcher ClarkJean-Jacques Taylor among others and my parents. Also, shout out my honorary brotha and one-time NABJ member Mike Monroe.

What are your thoughts on what the Cleveland Cavaliers were to accomplish at the trade deadline? 

I feel the Cavaliers were able to make some great moves at the deadline. The previous roster that they had were a talented bunch of players, but disjointed and the pieces just did not fit. Now, with the addition of George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr, the Cavaliers added the versatility that is needed to complement Lebron’s playing style. Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson are players that will give you instant energy off the bench or in the starting line up. I’m still amazed that they were able to pull of those changes in just one day, but they now have a team that can compete and makes it a lot harder for Lebron to walk away from this summer.

 

What are your thoughts on Dwyane Wade going back to Miami?
It was a great opportunity to send him back to a city that he should have never left, but with the current roster of the Cavaliers, he would not have received the playing time that he is accustomed to as a player. So, I think it was a great job by general manager Koby Altman sending Dwyane Wade back to Miami for a second-round pick.

How do you compare the Los Angeles Lakers trading for Isaiah Thomas to other transition at the trade deadline?

I think Isaiah has to get healthy and prove that he can still play at an All-Star level. He is playing for a contract, and teams need to know what they are getting.  This is an excellent opportunity for him to change his own narrative and for business reason, this situation with the Los Angeles Lakers is a better than the previous one he was in Cleveland.

Do you feel KD’s decision to join the Warriors last season was about winning a championship or focused more on business opportunities in Silicon Valley off the court?

I think it was a combination of both and from a basketball standpoint, it speaks for itself. Knowing that you have the opportunity to obtain business success off the court in Silicon Valley, Kevin is someone that likes to think outside of the box. He is someone that will take what is there and try to figure out how he can capitalize on an idea and turn it into something else. So, I think Kevin figured for business purposes, and as a member of the Warriors how to grow his portfolio off the court. I think he is one of the smartest athletes in sports, and I expect him to be an NBA team owner one day.

Do you feel there is equal opportunity for minorities in the mainstream media?

“I do not like to use the word minority. I like to use less than people of color because I never want to feel less than being that is the definition of that word. I am very proud of what we accomplished with the National Association of Black Journalists Sports Task Force, and I wish I had statics to share. There has been a high number of people from the Sports Task Force over the last five to ten years, most notably the previous five who landed opportunities in print, online, television and radio journalism. That perhaps hasn’t been coming their way, and I was the chair for six years, but I think our efforts have done a great job helping people land employment across the country.

What are your thoughts on individuals having the resume to cover specific events but due to publication circulation numbers or name recognition they receive a denial from the venue? 

It is hard to say because each venue has different policies in place and I think there are so many blogs out there that clogs a lot of the publications that produce great work. I think hopefully with good journalism, those platforms you are interested in will see your value, and there is no way to deny you. If the work that you produce is excellent, then I think you can gain entry. It hard for me to answer because I am not on that end and I don’t know how many applications they are getting or their criteria on seat limitation. Keep pumping out great work, and you will get there.

Do you remember the last denial of access to an event as a member of the media and what was it?

Luckily, I haven’t been denied. But I have always stayed in my realistic realm.

What advice would you like to share with young upcoming sports journalists looking to land paid positions at entities like, NBC, CBS, Fox, ESPN, Bleacher Report, and Deadspin?

I think when starting out, you must lower your expectations because there are too many mistakes made as a journalist. It took me 21 years to reach the ESPN platform, and I recently mentored a reporter that was an outstanding journalist in college, and his first job was in Laredo Texas. While he was there, he was able to make mistakes and learn from them to allow him to be a better reporter. I think too many young journalists have the mentality of wanting to be featured at these more prominent platforms right out of college and you have to build up to get to them.

Would you ever consider starting a platform as Bill Simmons did with ‘The Ringer’?

I enjoy working at ESPN and ‘The Undefeated. Best job I’ve ever had.

Is there anything else that we should be aware of that you are involved in this year?

My tenure at the NABJ as Chair of the Sports Task Force has ended, but I plan to stay involved, and I am excited about the direction they are moving in. There is a Diversity in Sports group at San Jose State that I am on the board for, and they are at the forefront. A lot of what I do involves mentoring young journalists behind the scenes.

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