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Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Meet Your Blogger: Kevin Arnovitz of ClipperBlog


Yesterday, we announced the TrueHoop Network. It was all exciting and new. There were smiles! There was champagne!

And there were a few people left scratching their heads wondering: Who the heck are these people? What's going on?

With that in mind, we present a series of interviews with the bloggers of the TrueHoop Network. First up: Kevin Arnovitz. Not only is he a charter member of the TrueHoop Network -- thanks to his work at ClipperBlog -- but also now an editor at ESPN.com, where he manages the TrueHoop Network.

Did you grow up a Clipper fan, or did that disease come later? How? Is it contagious? (If so, can you sit over there?)
I grew up a big Atlanta Hawks fan and went to a lot of games at the old Omni during the Wilkins/Willis/Rivers era. I feel like it's incriminating to admit this, but I never gave the Clippers much thought before I moved to Los Angeles 12 years ago. I was too big an NBA fan not to have a rooting interest in my new hometown. The Lakers weren't appealing to me, whereas adopting the Clippers seemed like a true test of character.

Is Clippers fandom contagious? Not sure. I think it's more of a bacteria than a virus.

Los Angeles ClippersYou are, in fact, a real journalist. You have written for major-league publications, the radio, the screen ... can you tell us a bit about your career?
Trial and error. I've been competent enough to maintain a series of good jobs, but not smart enough to master the art of being happy at any one of them. I wrote some forgettable episodes of Saturday morning teen dramedies. There was a stint at Slate blogging about the site's reader community, with a few assignments to keep me sane. Some freelance work, including a few features for NPR's Day to Day, which was a lot of fun.

Most recently, I served as the commentary editor at "Marketplace" where I got to spend my day exchanging ideas and dealing with some of the sharpest people on the planet.  Now ESPN.com! This is likely the first ever Public Radio-to-ESPN transition on record.

What are you doing with a sports blog?
I didn't start Clipperblog with any entrepreneurial or journalistic ambition. I started it because it needed to be started. For all the information that was available on the internet circa 2005-06, none of it could answer the question: Why are the Los Angeles Clippers winning and losing basketball games? Photo courtesy of Kevin Arnovitz

The team was pretty good that season, and I'd get home from a game and rip off a 1,500-word email to a group of friends -- all season-ticket holders -- filled with minutiae from the game and wild, expansive theories about the team.

This happened about three or four times, then finally there was an intervention. My friend John, whom I share seats with, thanked me for my breakdowns, but suggested that a blog was a more appropriate forum. Mike Fiske, co-creator of Clipperblog, designed the site and things got rolling.

What, to you, is the point of a sports blog?
Andrew Sullivan wrote a great manifesto a couple of months ago for The Atlantic called "Why I Blog." He talks about how good blogs expand the knowledge base of the universe, and I think that's particularly true for sports.

Traditional media are constrained by the limits of their forms. That's nobody's fault, but I think a fair number of people out there have a much larger appetite for good information about the team or the league they follow.

For many Clipper fans, it isn't enough to tell them Eric Gordon scored 24 points, 11 of them in the final four minutes. They're interested in how. Was he creating for himself off the dribble?  Was he looking to draw contact like a good, strong penetrator should? If not, why not?

There's also a sense of community among people who care about these questions. A good blog allows them to exchange ideas and common gripes, to debate and engage one another.  Because sports blogs are relatively new, we're apt to forget about the historical record a blog will offer us down the road. They'll allow us to reconstruct the story of a particular team at a particular time. We'll be able to find important narrative moments: When did we have the first inkling that a team was a true contender? When did the sharks truly begin circling around a certain coach? What did these conversations sound like at the time?  Think about how amazing it'll be to relive a thrilling playoff series through a team blog's archive, say, 15 years later.

You have a real nose for the analytical basketball post. In fact, nobody does that like you do. How did you get all that geeky basketball knowledge?
As a kid, I was drawn to the geeky elements of the game -- the choreography of the offenses and defenses, the chess match, the pleasure of watching a favorite player pick up new skills.

For some reason, those features were always more interesting to me than the personalities.

So I just starting studying it, something that became much, much easier in the late 90s with Tivo and the explosion of the stuff available on the internet about the mechanics of the game.

The more I learned, the more I loved the game. Reading a novel is much more fun if you devour the details than if you just skim the text. Same thing with basketball.

Granted, some games are written by David Foster Wallace, while others are written by the kid in the beret from your junior-year fiction workshop.

One of my favorite posts you ever wrote was about sneaking healthy food into Staples Center. Tangerines, I believe it was. Are you a scofflaw in general?
For a nation that wrings its hands about obesity, our sports owners and venue concessionaires have no compunction about killing us with stadium cheese. I've gotten much craftier about my produce-smuggling operation into Staples. Bigger pockets, smaller tangerines.

At the time of the John Amaechi book, you wrote a really thoughtful post about the challenges of being gay in a homophobic sports world. Is it tough for you, being out of the closet?
I don't think about it all that often.

No active player has ever come out in American pro sports. So I guess we know the homophobia is real, which makes it all the more important that I should not run from this question.

But it's a tough proposition.

To be honest, if a pro ballplayer or coach asked me in casual conversation about my marital status, or whether I had a girlfriend, I'm not sure exactly how I'd respond. That bothers me, because I generally think of myself as fearless. Whether my reticence says more about me, the sports world, or my perceptions of the sports world, I'm not sure.

I guess being gay lends me some novelty as a basketball writer. [Hey! He's a basketball dork AND he's gay! That's nuttier than a Hasidic guy who loves NASCAR!] But personally, I think my sexual preference is one of the least interesting things about me. And with each passing year, I find these kinds of tribal identities more tiresome. Probably all that matters is that I really love basketball and think about it a lot. The particulars of my life are eerily similar to most of my single straight male friends' lives. Except, of course, my home is more tastefully furnished.