Sports Journalism Institute

Helping women and minorities get into newsrooms since 1993

Jonathan Abrams’ low key personality, diligence help him be elite feature writer

By Cameron Fields
SJI Class of 2018

Jonathan Abrams was at a bar in McCarran International Airport a few years ago, preparing to leave the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League.

Abrams, 34, wrote for ESPN’s Grantland website at the time, and he had been working on a piece about Kentucky basketball’s latest draft class. As he waited at the bar, Abrams sent a direct message on Twitter to Shea Serrano, who also, wrote for Grantland and was at the airport as well.

“He was like ‘Hey, I’m at the airport as well. I’m at this bar. Come meet me,’ ” said Serrano, who now writes for The Ringer..

Abrams and Serrano talked as they waited for their planes, and after the meeting, Serrano left with a favorable impression of his new friend.

“Ever since then, I was like ‘This guy’s cool as (expletive),’ ” Serrano said.

Abrams, a member of the Sports Journalism Institute Class of 2004, might get his “cool” from his SoCal roots. He grew up in Upland, California, a Los Angeles suburb, and is a graduate of the University of Southern California.

Abrams has a lowkey personality, but it’s a personality that’s helped him become one of the best feature writers in the country. He writes for Bleacher Report, and he has also written “Boys Among Men,” a book
about the NBA’s prep-to-pro era. His latest book is “All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire.” Both books are New York Times bestsellers.

“The Wire” was an HBO series that aired from 2002-2008. The show was set in Baltimore, Maryland, and it displayed the drug trade from perspectives such as law enforcement, drug dealers and users. Abrams said that some of the show’s themes and subjects are still relevant today.

“I thought it would be a perfect time to revisit it and talk to the creators and the writers and the actors,” Abrams said. “And kind of see what their experience was on that show, and what they think the legacy of the show is.”

Abrams said that his interests expand beyond sports, and he hopes to do other books that aren’t sports-related in the future. He said that he’s currently studying the Civil Rights era, and he’s looking to possibly do a book on the unsung heroes of the generation.

Whether he’s writing books or articles, what has brought Abrams success is his ability to stay true to himself. He doesn’t bring himself into stories.

“Even just talking about myself is still weird,” Abrams said.

Abrams’ persona feeds into his diligence as well. When he writes a story or book, he does thorough research, making sure to put in relevant information for readers. During his writing process, Abrams
prints out and reads every story he thinks will be relevant in helping
him write the piece.

Despite being in a field that elevates mostly extroverted personalities, Abrams has carved a spot for himself in the journalism industry. He has the respect of his peers.

“I’ve seen people across the entire spectrum of personalities and approaches, and you know, they all can work,” said Howard Beck, an NBA writer at Bleacher Report. “So, Jonathan’s way works for him because I
think he just develops an instant trust with people.”

Since writing at Grantland, Abrams has cemented a spot as one of the top basketball writers in the world because of his informative stories. Serrano said that when Abrams comes out with a piece, hoops
heads discuss it for several days on social media.

That ability to produce content that has a lasting effect is a testament to the kind of reporter Abrams is: His diligent reporting makes for interesting stories.

“With Jonathan, like the type of writing he’s doing, there are 10 other people in America who are writing the way Jonathan writes,” Serrano said. “Which to me makes him very, very valuable.”