NBA

Beyond The Story: Things to know about ESPN’s reporting of the Jordan “tick-tock”

DeAndre Jordan was at the center of an NBA free agency tug-of-war between the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks. (ESPN.com illustration)
DeAndre Jordan was at the center of an NBA free agency tug-of-war between the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks. (ESPN.com illustration)
MacMahon on reporting the Jordan free agency saga

What began as a story for ESPN.com Dallas Mavericks beat writer Tim MacMahon quickly became something much more complex. He shares how his reporting evolved and melded into what really happened behind the scenes.

How did you and Ramona collaborate on the piece?
MacMahon: I sent Ramona thousands of words of notes and quotes, a big chunk of which I had collected before Jordan changed his mind about signing with the Mavs, when I was planning on writing an in-depth piece about the recruiting process that finally brought a top-tier free agent to Dallas. Of course, that turned out to be just part of the story that developed.

Ramona wrote the first draft, sending me the story section by section for revisions. We exchanged a lot of emails and spent many, many minutes on the phone discussing the details, how we could incorporate all the important information and a lot of the color that we gathered from our reporting and how to best tell a story that stunned the NBA.

What has the reaction been to the story, from both the fans and the subjects involved?
MacMahon: The subjects involved that I’ve talked to thought the story was thorough and fair. The feedback from fans has been overwhelmingly positive. Mavs fans obviously are upset about Jordan’s decision, but they appreciated being taken behind the curtains of the entire process, from the time Chandler Parsons and a couple of his friends drove from Dallas to Houston to hang out with Jordan until Jordan signed his contract with the Clippers after ignoring Mark Cuban all day. Fans that weren’t emotionally attached to Jordan’s decision were fascinated by the details and scenes that we were able to describe.

ESPN.com’s narrative on DeAndre Jordan’s free agency and his decision to stay with the Los Angeles Clippers after verbally committing to the Dallas Mavericks gave readers an insider’s account of the events that unfolded in what became a very public back and forth. Senior writer Ramona Shelburne and ESPN.com’s Mavericks beat writer Tim MacMahon (see sidebar) share the backstory on how they were able to reconstruct the facts.

How were you able to reconstruct the events that took place to tell this story from an insider’s perspective?
Shelburne: I’ve done a few of these tick-tocks over the years and the key is to report, report, report. You call everyone you can think of who may know something about what happened. Then you line up all the stories and versions and it’s incredible where things overlap, and where they don’t. That’s when you can tell someone’s spinning, and you need to dig deeper as to why. The tricky part with these stories is that because they’re so fresh – and often times controversial – a lot of people prefer to stay on background instead of going on the record. You have to push people to give you something on the record, though. There’s no substitute for that. In this story, getting Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and John Lucas – a former NBA player and coach who was with DeAndre Jordan in Houston while he was changing his mind – on the record was critical.

How did you balance your time between reporting for the story and conducting on-air interviews about the situation as it was unfolding?
Shelburne: I called both of my main editors, Eric Neel and Henry Abbott, about this story within a few hours of when Marc Stein first broke it on Wednesday morning and said this needs to be a longer narrative story. They both agreed, and Henry suggested that I work with Tim – who had gathered some incredible reporting on the Mavericks efforts to woo Jordan in the first place. Once that decision was made, I had the narrative story in my head as I gathered and reported news in real time on the website, TV and radio.

You file away little details for later. You take really good notes on every phone call you make. I’m very close with the other NBA reporters on our staff. Marc Stein, Brian Windhorst, Chris Broussard, MacMahon and I talked 10 times a day during free agency. I can’t even imagine the number of emails with updates we all must have sent into the news desk, which then has to make sense of it all and constantly update the story on the site. We have to communicate like that in order to report out a huge national story like this from all angles in the time frame. Plus, it’s just good to have people to check you and your reporting all the time.

I think I transitioned from reporting on the story on TV to writing the longer narrative story after doing a segment with Lindsay Czarniak on Thursday’s 6 p.m. ET SportsCenter. The rest of that day and all day Friday were spent reporting. There were some really tricky issues to report here and we had to get them right, so we each made a few more calls on Saturday morning – that’s when I finally got a hold of John Lucas – and then I started writing. I wrote pretty much all night Saturday and into Sunday and filed by 4 p.m. We all collectively made edits that night and into Monday, then published the story.

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