Q&A With Marc Stein: Born to Cover the NBA, but Has Plenty of Time for Israel

Marc Stein, one of America’s top sports journalists, speaks to Haaretz about his love of world soccer, his time at ESPN and his take on Omri Casspi and the future of Israeli basketball.

It's well known you're a huge world soccer fan. Why aren't you covering that sport?

I actually covered quite a bit of soccer and tennis – my two other sporting passions besides the NBA – in my youth. But there was no national league in the United States when I graduated from Cal State Fullerton in 1991. And when I got the chance to travel with the Clippers for the Los Angeles Daily News in February 1994, I jumped at it.

I still covered the 1994 World Cup for the Daily News that summer, where I not only met [soccer legend] Mordechai Spiegler – what a thrill! – but also the great Avi Meller from Arutz HaSport, which opened the door for me to meet many more great Israeli journalists over the years. And I'm proud to say that I've been co-hosting a weekly ESPN Radio show on soccer for nearly two years that's been a tremendous amount of fun for me.

But by the time Major League Soccer arrived in the States in 1996, I was already fully entrenched as an NBA writer. And I honestly think this is the sport that I was born to cover. Love the game, love the interesting people, love the access, love sitting so close to the action – in certain arenas – that you can almost touch it. It's the best beat in sportswriting.

When did you become a supporter of Israeli tennis and why?

In the summer of roughly 1983, on one of my many trips to Israel as a kid, my Grandma Trisa took me to a wax museum in Tel Aviv that to my knowledge no longer exists but unquestionably changed my life. There was a Shlomo Glickstein statue inside, draped in authentic Gali tennis gear from head to toe, which absolutely mesmerized me. I was 14 years old and, from that moment on, I wanted to be the next Shlomo Glickstein and play Davis Cup for Israel.

My late Aunt Bisi, for the next several years until her passing, faithfully cut out every Jack Leon-bylined tennis clipping she could find from The Jerusalem Post to mail to me in the States so I could keep up with my new heroes. The reality that I was never going to be good enough to play Davis Cup for Israel or play on the ATP Tour clinched the decision to go into journalism as a career, although when I look back now I have to confess that I was on the sportswriter path from the age of about 8.

 This was pretty much always what I was going to be. But I can tell you that I still follow Israeli tennis super close, and I'm incredibly proud to say that the likes of Andy Ram, Yoni Erlich and Dudi Sela have become friends of mine over the past few years.Dudi was just in Dallas for a tournament, and I had the chance to play some just-for-fun doubles with him against his brother Nir and coach Yoav Ben Zvi.

 And the absolute biggest perk from covering the 2012 Olympics in London was the opportunity to watch my Dream Team, Ram and Erlich, make a great run in men's doubles. I went to all three of their matches and was the most excited person on the grounds of Wimbledon when they beat Federer and Wawrinka in Round 2. Thankfully I've been able to get closer to Israeli tennis than I ever dreamed. Like I always say: Michael Jordan could walk into the room right now and I wouldn't get too excited. But if Shlomo or Amos Mansdorf showed up, you'd probably have to take me to the hospital.

Have you been to Israel often?

I wish I was there right now! Many, many times. Tel Aviv and Manchester – as America's biggest City fan – are my two favorite cities in the world.

What's your favorite thing about writing for ESPN?

How much time do you have? I recently celebrated my 10th anniversary as a full-time ESPN employee, which means I've been living out my post-Israeli tennis dream for 10 years and counting. I started writing once-a-week NBA columns for ESPN.com in 2000 and did everything I could from that point to convince them to hire me full-time. Thankfully they did in September 2002, and I've had the privilege of covering the NBA at the best place you could wish to cover it ever since.

Those four letters have incredible reach, open a lot of doors and, on top of everything, all the outstanding people you get to work with is probably the best thing. Our NBA team at ESPN.com is insanely deep and good. And then I'll get to moonlight, say, with ESPN Radio once in a while and work alongside a legend like Dr. Jack Ramsay. Maybe I never made the Israeli Davis Cup roster, but rest assured, I've had a lot of mazal in my life.

Are we going to see another Israeli in the NBA anytime soon?

For sure. I suspect Gal Mekel will be the next. He'll have to prove himself in summer league or training camp in October, but he's on the NBA radar as a legit guard prospect who knows how to run a team and make things happen in the pick and roll. I still have a lot to learn about Yogev Ohayon as well, but I've heard good things, so I'm cautiously optimistic. And I've always been fond of Lior Eliyahu, so I just ignore the folks who tell me it won't happen for him. But keep your eyes on Mekel. He's going places.

 What do you expect to happen with Cavs forward Omri Casspi?

Omri will be in the NBA with a new team next season. He'll be a free agent in July, so he'll have the chance to choose his destination for the first time in his NBA career. I've believed from the beginning that he'd flourish in the NBA as a role player with a playoff team if he wound up in the right situation.

My suspicion is that he'll join a contender and be far more effective as a glue guy with a good team than we've seen in Cleveland, which has never been a good fit for him. The Cavs' emphasis these past two seasons has been collecting assets for future moves, not necessarily what's happening on the court in the present. He's just got to tune out the naysayers and pick the right team in free agency. And then you'll see a different Omri.

You've accomplished so much in your career; what do you hope to achieve by the time you retire?

Thanks for saying so! Hopefully retirement is still far, far, far off. So you'll have to let me get back to you on that one. The business changes so fast nowadays thanks to technology. Five years ago, I couldn't have even dreamed of using Twitter. Now? I can't figure out how we lived without it. So it's really hard to make predictions and forecasts because technological revolutions tend to emerge without warning nowadays.

 All I want to do is adapt quickly to the next few game-changing tools that come along. And I want to attend an Israeli Davis Cup tie at Ramat Hasharon someday ... that's a must. Seeing Israel in the World Cup for the first time since I was a year old and covering the Israeli basketball team at the Olympics would be equally wonderful.

How long did it take you to develop your sources, and do you have any tips for young journalists trying to make it?

That job is never done, but showing your face around the league for 20 straight seasons – pinching myself as I say this because this is somehow my 20th season on the NBA beat – certainly helps. The two best tips I can offer young journalists are: 1) Try to get experience in every single medium you can because any journalist has to be able to function in all the various multimedia aspects of modern reporting, and: 2) Be a good listener. Keep your questions short and really listen to your interview subjects.

AP