– Kevin Arnovitz on profiling NBA referee Bill Kennedy (pictured above)
ESPN NBA writer Kevin Arnovitz opened up to Front Row to share how his own personal experience helped him tell the story of Bill Kennedy, an NBA referee whose professional and personal life changed after an altercation on the court.
Being an openly gay journalist, Arnovitz was able to draw from his own experiences to better relate to Kennedy in the creation of “The Official Coming-Out Party.” The story, which is a collaboration with TrueHoop, appears in ESPN The Magazine’s “Great Debates” issue.
Given the sensitivity of the content, did you prepare any differently?
I didn’t generally depart from my usual process, but there were moments in the reporting when I drew on my personal experience as an openly gay journalist, which isn’t something I’ve done very often. Reporting on a subject is always about building trust, and the ability to understand his journey intimately probably allowed me to dig a little deeper. I knew the questions to ask, the nomenclature, and even some of the goofy conventions of gay life in America that can lighten up a conversation. In some respects, my preparation didn’t occur in the weeks prior to reporting — but in the 23 years since I came out.
What did you find most challenging about writing this story?
Though avid NBA fans know Kennedy by face, he didn’t live a public life and there was very little previously documented about his life. Like most of us, Kennedy didn’t have immediate recall of whether an event occurred in, say, 1989 or 1991. That can be tricky when assembling a story that needs to be precise. There was one particular episode in the story surrounding a charge a Detroit usher leveled against Kennedy, an incident that threatened his career. But Kennedy couldn’t remember which season, and those who adjudicated the matter in the NBA office couldn’t either, which meant I couldn’t get hold of the accuser. The NBA dug through old records, but nobody could find a thing. Here was this pivotal moment in his professional and personal biography, but it was nearly impossible to piece together. In the end, I had to distill it down to generalities.
— Glenn Valencich (@glennvalencich) October 13, 2016
Fine piece on Bill Kennedy, from how fellow Phoenician Tommy Nuñez got him started to the Rajon Rondo hate incident. https://t.co/SiyyNIp4u6
— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) October 12, 2016
Is there anything else you would like readers or fans to know?
One of the pleasures of telling Kennedy’s story was the opportunity to introduce readers to a character we don’t frequently see in stories — the professional, workaday 49-year-old gay man. We get plenty on the Neil Patrick Harrises of the world, or the Tim Cooks, or the victims of violence, all of which warrant attention. But in a real sense, Kennedy might represent a more everyday portrayal of gay life in America, which is something that’s still a relative unknown to most folks, even as the nation has become more collectively tolerant. He’s a company man who lives in a tract home in the Sun Belt, plays softball with the guys, takes his meals at upscale casual dining spots, loves popular country music and navigates the travails of dating in the modern world. I’m thrilled his story of being the only openly gay man who will take an NBA court this season resonated with readers, but there’s also a real satisfaction that those same readers learned just a little bit more about gay life than they had going in.