This week I learned that when I write about the upcoming 2017-18 college basketball season at ESPN.com, I’ll no longer be doing so alongside my friends Andy Katz, Dana O’Neil, Eamonn Brennan, and C.L. Brown.
When I first met Andy at ESPN, it was remarkable to me that this college basketball icon — one whom I’d been watching for well over a decade and who by this time was already making yearly trips to the White House — was for some reason behaving toward me as though I were somehow kind of a big deal. (I was/am not.) I could never shake the feeling of how remarkable this really was, which is to say I could never lose the appreciation of how remarkable my friend really is.
Dana writes pieces that I go back to again and again as I try to better understand the sport I love, and, again, I was doing that kind of plundering of her work even before I met her. To go from fan to colleague is basically an exercise in repressed admiration. Purely as a matter of office etiquette and professional decorum, one is supposed to act like one has been here before. Well, in point of fact, I hadn’t been here before (I got into this thing with a blogspot.com account, for goodness sake), and here was Dana O’Neil, author, macher, and central nervous system of the college basketball media. I’m actually more of a fan for having had the privilege of working with her.
In each of the last two years I’ve watched 48 straight NCAA tournament games in the rounds of 64 and 32 while sitting next to Eamonn. If I respond to something in real time by saying, “Sorrentine,” “Nasir Robinson,” or “JeQuan Lewis,” he gets it even as the rest of the war room shrugs off yet another odd mutter of mine. Eamonn writes things that make me professionally jealous and delighted as a reader in equal measure. (On Bob Knight: “What once looked like defiance now just seems sad and played out.”) I’ll miss having a Big Ten colleague who was raised in the Mississippi River watershed and who is shouted at daily on Twitter for exhibiting rampant East Coast bias. That role is now mine alone.
C.L., to me, is a wise, irenic, and charitable soul in a field known, on occasion, to reward hot takes that are ill-considered, overdramatic, and misanthropic. You may have heard he’s the best-dressed person in our line of work. That of course sounds superficial and extraneous (and certainly it can be, depending on the person), but in C.L.’s case I’ve been given to wonder whether it is in fact the outward and visible sign of an inward eloquence and appreciation that the rest of us far too often lack. I think what my friend might really be saying with his very presence, manner, and bearing is that today is very, very important.
A little like Prince did for Paul Westerberg, Andy, Dana, Eamonn and C.L. all gave me and, I have no doubt, will continue to afford me occasion to wonder “What am I doing?” in the best aspirational sense of that question. I’m proud to have been their colleague.