TORONTO — Chris Ballard, Kevin Ding, Jason Quick and Marc J. Spears have been named first-place winners in the 2015 PBWA Blumenthal Memorial Writing Contest, which honors the best work by members of the Professional Basketball Writers Association during the 2015 calendar year.
Ballard, of Sports Illustrated, won the Features category for his 30th-anniversary retrospective of the 1985 NBA Draft Lottery — the lottery in which the New York Knicks secured the top overall pick, which was later used to select Patrick Ewing.
Ding, of Bleacher Report, earned first-place honors in the Breaking News category for writing about the Los Angeles Lakers’ intention to draft Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell second overall later that day.
Quick received the first-place award in the Columns category for a piece he penned for The Oregonian. In that column, he argued about the impact that LaMarcus Aldridge’s free-agency departure would have on the Portland Trail Blazers.
Spears, of Yahoo Sports, won the Game Stories category for his account of the Golden State Warriors’ victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
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 judges received the entries.
This year’s winners were announced at the PBWA’s annual All-Star Weekend meeting, which was held at the Air Canada Centre prior to the 2016 NBA All-Star Game.
The contest is named after Dan Blumenthal, who served as the organization’s secretary-treasurer from 1980 through 1983.
The PBWA consists of approximately 190 writers who cover the NBA on a regular basis for newspapers, Internet services and magazines.
Results of the 2015 PBWA Blumenthal Memorial Writing Contest
1st place: Kevin Ding, Bleacher Report, “Lakers drawing closer to drafting D’Angelo Russell to lead team into next era”
Judge’s comment: A surprise choice from the team with the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft is a big story. It impacts every team with a selection after that. But the story gets even bigger when the team in question is the Lakers and when the Los Angeles front office is desperately trying to keep a lid on information about its choice. That’s a big part of why “Lakers Drawing Closer to Drafting D’Angelo Russell” is the winner in the Breaking News category. Not only is the journalist here well-sourced enough to pull this off, the reporter also did a good job explaining the “why” of the choice immediately, so if you only read four paragraphs you could understand what the Lakers were doing and why they wanted to make the move.
2nd place: Tim Reynolds, Associated Press, “Wade chooses to stay with Heat”
Judge’s comment: With the intense level of competition in contemporary sports journalism, getting a break on a new deal for one of the NBA’s biggest stars is not easy. This story not only broke that Dwyane Wade had a new, one-year deal with Miami at a time when there was genuine concern he would leave the Heat, but also the value of the deal ($20 million), and it includes exclusive, extensive comment from Wade. That’s pretty much a clean sweep. The story also did a fine job of explaining the contract negotiation, along with the context of the deal.
3rd place: Ken Berger, CBSSports.com, “Billions in TV money has NBA, players talking new CBA before it’s too late”
Judge’s comment: The NBA’s massive new TV contract was bound to stir up relations between the league and the players, and — over the long haul — how that dustup resolves itself is likely to be the most important story in basketball. Certainly, that will be true of covering the business side of the game. This piece breaks an important development — that the two sides are now trying to work out a new CBA after just four years of labor peace in an attempt to accommodate the huge influx of money the league is about to experience. It’s a somewhat complex story, but the writer does a good job breaking down its implications. The one criticism I have is that the real news of the piece takes several paragraphs to get to. Nonetheless, it is a thorough and essential story.
1st place: Jason Quick, The Oregonian, “LaMarcus Aldridge is gone, and now the Trail Blazers can exhale their relief”
Judge’s comment: This outstanding column on LaMarcus Aldridge leaving Portland for San Antonio was a provocative, revealing look that claimed the Trail Blazers were actually happy in some respects to watch their superstar leave. In his time with the Trail Blazers, this was clearly Aldridge’s team, but he used that status, the column said, to frequently behave in a selfish manner. Giving several anecdotes, this column explained how Portland — with Damian Lillard primed to make the Trail Blazers his team — has achieved addition by subtraction.
2nd place: Chris Mannix, SI.com, “Bulls, Reinsdorf show true colors in classless dismissal of Tom Thibodeau”
Judge’s comment: This column took a less common approach to the firing of a coach. It wasn’t about whether the Bulls were right or wrong to dismiss Tom Thibodeau, it was about how they went about doing it. The column examined “the classless way the Bulls severed ties with Thibodeau, about the never ending leaking of petty gripes, the staunch refusal to acknowledge that while, yes, Thibodeau could be a taskmaster, you won’t find a player who doesn’t swear by his skills as a strategist.”
3rd place: Lee Jenkins, SI.com, “The gifts and ghosts of Lamar Odom”
Judge’s comment: This beautifully written, poignant column takes a look at Lamar Odom and the lesser-known influences that steered Odom down the dark, self-destructive paths in his life. The column argued that Odom was not one of those athletes who is able to push past his personal catastrophes: “Odom clung to his ghosts, staring at photographs of dead relatives every morning, then scrawling their names on his sneakers in the locker room before games.”
1st place: Chris Ballard, Sports Illustrated, “The Ewing Conspiracy”
Judge’s comment: This was just a great piece — the subject matter, the interviews, the high-level writing. There was nothing extraneous at all. It was well-structured. The author seamlessly weaved in what could have been some dull facts. It was just extremely well-written.
2nd place: Jonathan Abrams, Grantland, “Blue Chips: An oral history of Shaq, Penny, and the Orlando Magic’s lost NBA dynasty”
Judge’s comment: I was hooked by Page 3. This piece was entertaining and, despite its length, it was a breezy read.
3rd place: Nick Friedell, ESPN.com, “Like every game is his last”
Judge’s comment: This was a solid treatment of what could’ve been a dull subject: “So, why did Tom Thibodeau get fired?” Instead, it was an in-depth and entertaining look at what went wrong in Chicago. A lot of good background info was weaved in seamlessly, and the author used quotes well, too. It could have been boring and clunky. It was not.
1st place: Marc J. Spears, Yahoo Sports, “The mystery man behind the plan that helped the Warriors win Game 4 of the NBA Finals”
Judge’s comment: The writer obviously did some digging to come up with a great angle for the lead in a pivotal game. The reader is drawn into the story from the opening paragraph and is compelled to keep reading to find out who the mystery man is and how he helped the Warriors win.
2nd place: Jason Quick, CSNNW.com, “When a tap on the shoulder plays a part in a Trail Blazers victory”
Judge’s comment: The writer provides the reader with a rare inside look at the off-the-court interaction between teammates and how it can affect the outcome of a game days later. This is a concise, well-written game story with a unique angle.
3rd place: Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN.com, “Wizards feeling broken after Game 6 exit”
Judge’s comment: The dejection in the locker room after a crushing, season-ending overtime playoff loss is palpable thanks to the writer’s ability to convey players’ emotions as they swung from elation to devastation in the blink of an eye.