ESPN The Magazine’s senior writer and columnist Mina Kimes takes us behind the scenes of her latest feature (and her first to appear in The Mag) “Free To Go,” the story of University of Houston basketball player Devonta Pollard and his complex relationship with his imprisoned mother.
The story appears in The Mag’s Nov. 10 College Hoops Tip-Off Issue, currently on newsstands:
How did you come to write this story?
My [senior] editor, Megan Greenwell, assigned me the story in September. When I first started researching Devonta’s past, I came across numerous reports detailing his mother’s crime, his testimony and his subsequent agreement to avoid charges.
But I was stunned when I dug further and learned about the hardships he endured growing up. Devonta had yet to tell his story in full. After he agreed to meet with me, I flew to Houston and spent the day with him, then interviewed his coaches, family members and friends. I also read the documents and transcripts associated with his mother’s case in order to describe her crime and his day in court.
What was the most challenging aspect about writing this piece?
When I first met Devonta, I had no idea what his current relationship with his mother was like – whether they were even on speaking terms. So I was amazed when he told me that he still talks to her every day on the phone and views her as his best friend. They have a complex and unusual relationship, and I was focused on trying to understand and convey the intensity of that bond.
How have people reacted to the story?
From what I’ve seen, readers have been extremely supportive of Devonta. He has a lot of fans.
Regarding your overall responsibilities for The Mag, what challenges go into turning out a regular column?
My column is a reported one, so the biggest challenge is finding new ideas and interesting angles on the business of sports and culture of fandom. [Note: Before joining ESPN in May 2014, Kimes reported for Bloomberg News and Fortune.]
I sometimes riff on the news, but I’m usually searching for stories that haven’t been told. I’ve written about everything from a church that refused to sell its land to a soccer team to a mysterious collector who’s obsessed with owning every copy of a single baseball card. It’s been a lot of fun.