Sports Journalism Institute

Helping women and minorities get into newsrooms since 1993

Wilbon: “Watch the game … tell me a story”

Michael Wilbon isn’t shy about offering his opinions on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, and he was equally comfortable sharing his take on how games should be covered when he spoke with our class on June 1. Wilbon, calling in from Oakland, stressed the importance of being in the moment at a game and not allowing ourselves to get distracted by note-taking, tweeting or checking live statistical updates.

“Watch the game,” Wilbon advised.

He also had strong feelings about how we should approach writing. “Tell me a story,” he said. “Stories require thought. Put your phone down and tell me what happened. Tell me what they said in the huddle or something the audience wouldn’t get from watching TV.”

This gem hit home for me, because we’ve written several game stories in SJI boot camp. I’ve been taking notes during the game and checking Twitter to find out what’s driving the conversation. By being present and focusing on moments that define the game, I’ll be able to provide a better story for my audience.

I asked Wilbon about the best way to tell a game story and his advice was simple, but effective. “Tell the story like you’re talking to your friends,” he said. “You wouldn’t use a bunch of numbers when talking to your friends, so don’t use them in your story. Describe what happened.”

He used an example from Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Golden State won, but the story was in the last two minutes, which included LeBron James’ offensive foul being changed to a blocking foul, George Hill’s missed free throw, and notably, JR Smith’s epic mental mistake.

Wilbon was one of our most candid speakers. His brutal honesty about our generation was fair—and his advice will be essential to our success in this industry.

–Michael Curtis