NEW YORK — Paul Flannery, Ramona Shelburne, Marc Stein and Phil Taylor have been named first-place winners in the 2014 PBWA Best Writing Contest, which honors the best work by members of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.
Flannery, of SB Nation, won the Game Story category for his account of the San Antonio Spurs’ victory over the Miami Heat in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
Shelburne, of ESPN.com, took first-place honors in the Breaking News category for her account — with a contribution from colleague Darren Rovell — of Shelly Sterling’s agreement to sell the Los Angeles Clippers to Steve Ballmer for $2 billion. In that report, Shelburne reported exclusively that Shelly Sterling had been able to sell the team, which was owned by a family trust, because Donald Sterling had been found mentally incapacitated and no longer able to manage his legal and business affairs.
Stein, of ESPN.com, received first place in the Features category for an article about the relationship between the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan.
Taylor, of Sports Illustrated, won the Columns category for an opinion piece about Donald Sterling’s CNN interview with Anderson Cooper.
The PBWA holds the contest each year. The organization’s active members were eligible to enter one piece from the 2014 calendar year in three of the four categories.
Four independent judges evaluated the entries — one judge for each category. The authors’ names and the names of the authors’ news outlets were redacted before the entries were sent to the judges.
This year’s winners were announced at the PBWA’s annual All-Star Weekend meeting, which was held at the Marriott Marquis hotel prior to the 2015 NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden.
The PBWA consists of approximately 190 writers who cover the NBA on a regular basis for newspapers, Internet services and magazines.
Results of the 2014 PBWA Best Writing Contest
1st place: Ramona Shelburne with Darren Rovell, ESPN.com, “Ballmer, Sterling trust strike $2B deal”
Judge’s comment: The sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to Steve Ballmer for $2 billion, ending the controversial ownership of Donald Sterling, concluded one of the most controversial and significant stories of the year. The exclusive breaking news of the sale — the ability of Shelly Sterling to sell without her husband’s consent — represented a complex element that was handled with precision.
2nd place: Ohm Youngmisuk and Marc Stein, ESPN.com, “Sources: Nets eye Jason Collins”
Judge’s comment: The article established the interest shown by the Brooklyn Nets in Jason Collins, who became the first openly gay athlete in the four major team sports in North America. The report included a disclosure of a secret workout that took place in Los Angeles, months after NBA teams had failed to sign Collins. The story effectively included valuable context that described the level of respect Collins established when he played for the Nets, then in New Jersey, from 2001 to 2008.
3rd place: Jim Owczarski, OnMilwaukee.com, “Bucks negotiating to buy Journal Sentinel buildings for new arena”
Judge’s comment: The description of the negotiations that could lead to a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks was marked by its thoroughness and attention to detail. The establishment of discussions about a specific site required a combination of on-the-record and off-the-record comments because of the private nature of the negotiations. The report described a preferred location but included the possibility of problems with the site. The context included how the creation of a new arena would impact businesses in the vicinity.
1st place: Phil Taylor, SI.com, “Sterling digs deeper hole with repulsive CNN interview”
Judge’s comment: This was a most difficult category to judge because its entries were so many things: terse, direct columns that described a point with force and perspective, several long, feature-style, semi-profiles that had voice but no real opinion, and lighter or more textured approaches to subjects of great and less-than-great import. This piece was separated from a bunched field because it was the best example of a “real column.” It had news/information, style/voice and a firm point of view. It was well-conceived, well-composed and well-argued and made the reader think. Donald Sterling was an easy topic — pervasive in this category — but this piece went to the heart of the issue in the best form. Sometimes in column judging, the deciding factor is not found in the first two paragraphs but the last two. This entry had the best and firmest conclusion of those that rose to the top.
2nd place: Ramona Shelburne, ESPN.com, “Phil Jackson’s long goodbye to L.A.”
Judge’s comment: This piece had a perspective on an issue that likely is very well understood by its audience. The columnist wrote with depth of knowledge, a clear understanding of the personalities and a nuanced slicing of the various elements of Phil Jackson’s last years spent around the Lakers. If you didn’t know the inside story, you learned. If you knew it, you were entertained. The column worked on both fronts and used a nice, metaphorical ending to drive home its point.
3rd place: Shaun Powell, NBA.com, “Dressed for sideline success, Sager readies for his return”
Judge’s comment: This was the best of the long “features written with voice” that masqueraded as a column. The genre was so well done that, although not technically a column by a classic definition, it is a good example of what blog-era readers accept for opinion. Craig Sager’s tale is a colorful and poignant one, well-reported, well-grasped and well-explained. This piece offered insight into many aspects of an omnipresent but largely unknown person. It was written with a strong and entertaining voice.
1st place: Marc Stein, ESPN.com, “Pop And Timmy: Power Couple”
Judge’s comment: This piece was well-written and well-reported. This was an “obvious” story, but it wasn’t “obvious” in the way it was written. While it starts a bit slow, the writer produced a nice narrative and an entertaining read. It included some excellent detail, especially about the March 2, 1999, game against Houston, perhaps the most important game in Popovich’s tenure, and the whole piece flows well after the section on that game.
2nd place: Baxter Holmes, The Boston Globe, “Bill Russell and K.C. Jones treated like ‘Rock’ stars at Alcatraz in 1956”
Judge’s comment: This was by far the most surprising story among the entries. This is a story that makes you say “wow” about five paragraphs in when you realize what you’re reading about. The writer did a nice job uncovering the visit. The writer’s excellent lede section truly gets you into the story. It was well-reported, and its (relatively) sparse use of quotes was a positive.
3rd place: David Aldridge, NBA.com, “Oral history: The life and times of Commissioner David Stern”
Judge’s comment: Obviously, this is a well-reported story, and using the oral history mode of storytelling was a must. A traditional story would’ve bogged down and basically been unreadable. There was excellent detail here, especially on the late-’70s/early-’80s NBA. That said, there was a little too much on the “good” side. Where are the Stern detractors? That detracts a bit from the overall depth of the piece.
1st place: Paul Flannery, SBNation.com, “The Spurs paint their masterpiece”
Judge’s comment: The story captured the personality and professionalism of the Spurs while breaking down one of the most memorable and important games of the season. The story also captured the mood of the Heat as the team faced one of the more embarrassing collapses in NBA history.
2nd place: Phil Taylor, SI.com, “Donald Sterling scandal leaves Clippers in an impossible position”
Judge’s comment: The Donald Sterling affair was one of the most astonishing moments in years in the NBA, and the game that night was one of the most dramatic. This piece told the story clearly in a calm fashion and left any reader with a powerful snapshot of the controversy and what the players, coaches and organizations endured on that night.
3rd place: Mike Tokito, The Oregonian, “Just 0.9 seconds from returning home for Game 7, Rockets left stunned after defeat”
Judge’s comment: This was a good, tight story about one of the best games in the playoffs. The writer did not resort to the type of theatrics that have ruined many a story like this. Instead it was a simple narrative that told the story about a dramatic shot and moment. The portrait of the Rockets’ emotions was memorable.