Behind The Scenes’s Neel reflects upon Pujols, Paul’s marquee arrivals

The sports news emanating out of Los Angeles recently seems like it was conceived in a Hollywood studio pitch meeting.

Picture this: “The Machine” and “CP3” invade LA!

There are no scriptwriters needed for this blockbuster.

Sports journalists have been documenting the seismic events instead, and has been at the epicenter of it all.

On Dec. 8, the Los Angeles Angels signed free agent slugger Albert “The Machine” Pujols to a $254 million pact.

Before the baseball world could absorb that stunner, the Angels signed free agent pitcher C.J. Wilson to a pact promising another $77.5 million.

But the Angels’ showstoppers were almost eclipsed by NBA news later that day that the Los Angeles Lakers seemingly were closing a trade to land All-Star point guard Chris “CP3” Paul.

There might not be enough cyberspace to detail what happened in the Paul saga in the six days afterward.

The quick summary: The former New Orleans Hornets star is in Los Angeles, but as a Clipper, not a Laker.

It was enough to give even the most laid back Southern California sports fan the chills.

For managing editor Eric Neel and his staff, the past 10 days have been exhausting but thrilling.

“There isn’t any precedent for it, for us,” said Neel, who grew up in Long Beach, Calif.’s experienced staff of reporters, columnists and editors have been parts of plenty of huge sports stories. The difference in the week beginning Dec. 8 was the magnitude of the stories and the way they unfolded, one right after the other.

“Everybody has seen a big trade go down, or a big free-agent signing, or controversy or bizarre wrinkles to stories,” Neel said.

“For us, what’s new is that those have come in one on top of the other. It’s like waves rolling in on the shore.”

Neel’s staff reacted to the news of Pujols signing by trying to put the former St. Louis Cardinal’s arrival into perspective in terms of Los Angeles baseball history.

“Pujols has just signed the largest contract in Los Angeles baseball history and the buzz in our group is, ‘Is this the most significant baseball player to ever play here, Dodgers or Angels?'” Neel recalls his staff discussing.

“This sounds bizarre and — in a strange way, callous — but by 4 o’clock in the afternoon he’s on the ‘back page.’ Chris Paul’s coming, and the Lakers have jumped into the water sooner than anybody thought they might.” had redesigned the front page to hail Pujols’ arrival with a “WAR” treatment — big images, big headline. But by the afternoon, the redesign was redesigned to accommodate the news of the Lakers’ interest in Paul.

Neel applauded his staff’s tireless teamwork in covering these stories.

For example, Lakers writer Dave McMenamin “was transcribing his notes as fast as he can” for Ramona Shelburne, who was at the Clippers practice. She then could incorporate Kobe Bryant’s reaction to Paul’s trade in her questions for Clips’ star Blake Griffin, Neel said.

The challenge has been pursuing the blockbuster news even as other big sports stories — the Lakers’ various trades — rumored and otherwise — UCLA hiring a new football coach, the Los Angeles Kings firing their head coach, the Dodgers’ ownership saga — must be accounted for.

Working out of ESPN’s Los Angeles Production Center — with Staples Center a Kobe jumper away — helps accent its coverage. ESPNRadio 710 helped gather fan reaction videos, for example, to the news of the huge acquisitions.

“We’re a tight knit group. Our methodology all the time is to be as agile and as flexible as we can be, but never more than in the last seven days,” Neel said.


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