Behind The Scenes

Nothin’ but net in two sports

Looking ahead to Saturday, NBA Senior Writer Marc Stein is both nervous and excited.

His beloved Manchester City is facing Stoke City in the FA Cup final at London’s famed Wembley Stadium (on ESPN UK in England).

The source of the excitement and the nervousness is the same, because Stein — like every long-suffering City fan — has been waiting for 35 years since the club’s last major trophy. 

Stein’s love affair with City began when he spent several summers in Israel as a youth and became an avid reader of SHOOT!, a weekly publication focusing on English soccer. He started reading it when he was 11 years old, knowing virtually nothing about the country’s geography or the league’s history.

But the first issue he picked up had City defender Tommy Caton on the back cover wearing the club’s traditional light blue shirt, similar to the one Stein’s youth team wore in Southern California.

And thus a City fan was born. Stein has been hooked ever since and later learned that Man City last won the FA Cup in 1969 — when he was one day old.

“That told me it was meant to be,” Stein said.

It wasn’t until Stein turned 27 that he saw City play in person, during his first trip to England, but he has returned every September since. The last thing he does before every NBA season starts is visit Manchester to watch the Blues in person.

“This year has been special because I’ve had the unique opportunity to see City play in three different countries,” Stein said.  “I saw them during their U.S. preseason tour in New Jersey and Baltimore, then in Austria in the Europa League and, of course, in England.

“And luckily now, with pretty much all the games on TV, I never miss a match.”

Following the team, though, has not always been so easy. 

As recently as 10 years ago, Stein felt fortunate to see a few City games on TV every season. He’d pray he could find City radio broadcasts on the Internet when necessary. In high school and college, even those options didn’t exist.

“The beauty of technology is that every year the world gets smaller and smaller,” Stein said.

 “I’ll be watching SportsCenter while I’m working now and a City signing or transfer rumor will flash across the ESPN Bottom Line. It blows me away. Just two or three years ago, that was unfathomable.”

This is Stein’s 18th season covering the NBA — and his ninth for ESPN — but his passion for watching and playing soccer knows no bounds.

One of his most memorable experiences in journalism was signing a one-week contract with the Dallas Sidekicks of indoor fame to write a first-person story for the Dallas Morning News. 

He’s also played in Steve Nash’s annual charity soccer match for the past three years, but Stein says: “Nash would be the first one to tell you that calling me a ‘player’ is a big, big stretch of the imagination.”

Stein hopes Man City beating Stoke to end that 35-year trophy drought is not such a leap.

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