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The Ins And Outs Of NBA Draft Storytelling From A Distance

The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears, a staple on site during ESPN's live NBA Draft coverage for years, is up to the challenge of covering the virtual event remotely

As he has done since 1999, Marc J. Spears will be covering another class of NBA prospects approaching the biggest day of their lives — the 2020 NBA Draft.

This year, like so many other journalists adhering to the safety protocols and guidelines of COVID-19, the senior NBA writer for ESPN’s The Undefeated conducted interviews distanced from his interviewees.

“It has been extremely strange,” said Spears, on not being there in person. “But, I want to thank all those folks for being flexible under these COVID times.”

Ahead of ESPN’s 18th consecutive telecast of the NBA Draft, Spears reported on several stories – one focused on The NBA’s Father-Son Fraternity (watch the feature embedded above) – for The Undefeated. He tells Front Row about the challenges of covering the Draft remotely.

The Undefeated’s Marc Spears is going to miss reporting from the site of the NBA Draft this week.

How has covering the 2020 NBA Draft been different from previous years?
I’ve been covering the NBA for 21 years but actually have been attending the Draft every year for the past 10 years. I’ve absolutely loved being there and seeing the families’ emotions and the crowd’s — good or bad. I’ll never forget seeing a friend of D’Angelo Russell just break down crying when he was drafted surprisingly by the [Los Angeles] Lakers.

It’s one of my favorite days of the year being there and seeing the emotion of dreams coming true. Also, I usually show up three days before to create content with the players. I spent a day with Trae Young [Atlanta Hawks] before he was drafted in 2018. Now it’s oddly and understandably virtual and certainly much more challenging. Maybe, I could have done “a day in the life before the Draft” with [University of Georgia star] Anthony Edwards, but now we can’t. Instead, I did a phone interview with him and ran a Q&A [see tweet below].

We are also doing a story on why Seattle is producing a bunch of NBA players, most of whom are Black. I would have talked to [University of Washington NBA Draft prospect] Jaden McDaniels, Jamal Crawford, and Isaiah Thomas [both NBA stars who hail from the Seattle area] – guys like that – in person. But we can’t. Everything has been over the phone and virtual. We also have a really cool video piece we are doing with former NBA players and their sons going to the Draft. Kenyon Martin Sr. and Thurl Bailey granted us access to come into their homes with a film crew to interview them and their sons, who are 2020 Draft prospects. I interviewed them virtually while the film crews were there.

How did these stories come about?
I’m always bouncing ideas with Matt Wong, a great editor at The Undefeated. Basically, I have been wanting to tell the story about the Seattle basketball players for a while. I interviewed some of the guys last year about it.

Sometimes a story like that is a work in progress that you’re working on for a while. I just love doing stories like the “father-son” piece. Often, Black men get a bad rap that they are not involved in their son’s lives.

I had a story last year that brought together Black fathers of NBA players to share their experiences. That unvarnished, roundtable conversation was well-received. This is an extension of the story since there is definitely a nice list of former NBA players with sons in the league now who are heavily involved in their son’s lives and career choices. I was encouraged to do the video story with [The Undefeated’s executive producer] Sharon Matthews and [producer] Lois Nam.

With The Undefeated, we have a wider vision to get into stories that go beyond the surface of what athletes do, and focus on who they are. The NBA father-son connection fits the mold.

Mac Nwulu contributed to this post.

The virtual 2020 NBA Draft is Wednesday, Nov. 18, with coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. ET, exclusively on ESPN. For more information, please visit ESPN Press Room.

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