Storyline: Media Hirings

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The Athletic pursuing Zach Lowe?

Lowe has not yet signed a new deal with ESPN. Decision-makers at the network really hope to retain him, but there exists a price that is a bridge too far as they continue to practice austerity on talent deals. The most likely suitor for Lowe is The Athletic. They are believed to have made a substantial offer. Lowe, in deciding between ESPN and The Athletic, must weigh factors like whether and how much he wants to be on television, the extent to which having the widest possible readership for his stories and listenership for his podcasts is important to him, and if he wants the pressure of driving enough subscriptions to justify a seven-figure annual deal.

CNBC.com managing editor Jeffrey McCracken sent out the following announcement on Thursday to the staff: I am pleased to announce a new hire for the CNBC.com newsroom. Jabari Young joins as a sports business reporter based in Englewood Cliffs. He will cover news ranging from big TV network sports contracts to the influence of agents to the growth of sports gambling. Jabari comes to CNBC from San Antonio where he reported on the NBA and San Antonio Spurs for The Athletic. Before that, he covered the Spurs’ 2013-2014 championship run for the San Antonio Express-News and later broke the story on NBA superstar Kawhi Leonard requesting a trade from the team.

WNBA player Candace Parker’s contract with Turner Sports has expired and ESPN is showing interest in signing her as an analyst, The Big Lead has learned from multiple people with knowledge of the situation. Parker has impressed during her time with Turner and there could be a bidding war. Turner is hoping to keep her at the network and plans to be aggressive in their approach. Parker has served as both and an analyst and commentator for the NBA on TNT, NBA TV, and Turner/CBS coverage of March Madness.

Brian Sieman is close to finalizing a deal to become the new television voice of the Clippers, succeeding the soon-to-be Hall of Famer Ralph Lawler in the play-by-play role, The Times has learned. With Sieman set to leave the team’s radio broadcast for television, the Clippers will hire Noah Eagle as his replacement on radio, according to a person with knowledge of the situation not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. The rest of the broadcast crew, including the analyst role on the team’s Fox Sports West/Prime Ticket television broadcasts, has yet to be completed, the person said.

After months of searching, NBC Sports Washington is making progress on finding Steve Buckhantz’s replacement. Fox’s Justin Kutcher has emerged as the leading candidate to be the next play-by-play voice of the Wizards, according to sources with knowledge of the hiring process. Kutcher, a Connecticut native, has worked for Fox since 2012 and has called college football, college hoops and MLB games during his time there. He first came to D.C. to interview and audition for the job in early May, according to a source.

The Los Angeles Times has named Arash Markazi Sports Enterprise Reporter and Page 2 Columnist, reporting to Assistant Managing Editor for Sports, Angel Rodriguez. “Like everything else in our society, the digital revolution has had a profound influence on sports,” said Times Executive Editor Norman Pearlstine. “We’re excited to have Arash on board to help us launch coverage of widely popular and emerging trends in sports, ranging from multiplayer gaming competitions to the legalization of sports betting.”

ESPN is letting sports business reporter and social media provocateur Darren Rovell out of his contract early to join the upstart gambling platform The Action Network, sources told The Post. Rovell’s contract with ESPN is not up until the summer, however the network plans to let Rovell leave early. Rovell’s Action Network contract has not been signed yet, though he is expected to start there relatively soon. Sources said that Rovell will focus on sports gambling, which is now legal in his home state of New Jersey. He will also have a management role in which he will have a voice in new ideas for the group.

After a 17-season career that began with the Nets in 2001, Jefferson is launching his broadcasting career with the YES Network this season, working primarily as a game analyst. “I’ve been doing little different things” said Jefferson. “I’ve done podcasts. I’ve done some radio stuff. But I’d never called a game before, and when the Nets signed me I really thought I’d be in studio more than games, and (YES producer) Frank (DiGraci) had a different idea.”

What has it been like working at The Athletic vs more traditional outlets? Sam Amick: I’ve enjoyed it a great deal, and it only gets better now that I’m starting to figure out how our readers are different – i.e. more demanding, in a good way – than the mainstream audience. It had been a few years since writing for the most passionate fans was the top priority, and that part has been fantastic. I love the direct relationship with the reader. It’s more akin to my time covering the Kings at The Sacramento Bee again.

House of Highlights’ Omar Raja is getting his own talk show. Turner’s Bleacher Report, which bought House of Highlights Instagram in 2015, is producing a monthly live talk show for Twitter. Premiering on Oct. 25, “The House of Highlights Show” will run about 75 minutes per episode and will be co-hosted by CJ Toledano, a creative director on Bleacher Report’s social content team and former writer for Conan O’Brien’s late-night show.

Michael Lee: My time at Yahoo produced some valuable lessons for which I’m grateful and I know I’m better for the experience. I also know that I’m more determined to thrive here at The Athletic, where finding great stories is not only encouraged but expected. Throughout my recruitment process, the editors and writers with whom I spoke shared how much they enjoy the working environment at The Athletic. More than once, I heard, “This is the best job I’ve ever had.”

Yahoo was where you really made your name. Both emotionally and professionally, can you talk about everything that went into the decision to move to The Athletic, and what led up to it? Shams Charania: I’ve always tried to be so focused on the work, so it was definitely interesting in talking to Yahoo and everyone else that became involved in the process. But just throughout it all, I got the best sense from The Athletic and Stadium about their hunger and their desire to cover the league at a really high level. Both platforms are really developing and growing, and I see myself the same way. I’m still developing. I’m still growing. So to be able to involve myself with that made all the sense in the world.

Josh Robbins: In 1997, years after becoming a successful lawyer, Jeff took his motorcycle out on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Maryland and crashed. Alcohol wasn’t involved. He just lost control of his Harley. He died that night. He was 33 years old. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I try not to think about him much. Please don’t misunderstand me; I love him and would do anything to bring him back. But I still feel angry about his death, about how he should have lived another 50 years, about the hell he put our parents, our older brother, Jon, and me through. What a senseless loss.

Josh Robbins: I was 23 when he died. At the time, I was working at a think tank in D.C. and studying to take the LSAT. Going to law school was the safe thing to do. But Jeff’s death made me reevaluate everything, including my career choice. Becoming an attorney didn’t excite me. Becoming a journalist did. If life can be so short, as Jeff’s was, I figured I should spend it doing something I regarded as special. So I tried. I scrapped my law school plans and instead went to journalism school. I eventually landed at a great outlet, the Orlando Sentinel, surrounded by reporters and editors who mentored me.

Sam Amick: Anyone​ who has​ started​ a new job​ knows that the​ well wishes​ are​ one of the highlights. Congrats!​ Best of luck!​​ You’ll kill it! But on the night of September 6th, as I was making the transition from USA TODAY Sports to The Athletic and word was starting to spread throughout our industry, there was one text message that stood out among the rest. “Word on the street (is) you headed to The Athletic… my sources have alerted me,” it read.

But there was also this, a rambling and angry internal email Cleveland.com editor Chris Quinn sent to his employees on Saturday, Sept.15, on the topic of The Athletic, which seems like one of those emails you should leave in the drafts folder for a day or two and then delete after you’ve cooled down. Enjoy [sic]: I want to say a word about The Athletic, which suddenly seems frantic to raid our staff because of its inability to groom talented sportswriters on its own. Most of you know Joe Vardon is headed there, and they do not appear to be finished in their recruiting efforts. This has the feeling of desperation to me. As I’ve mentioned since this thing started, it’s financial model is not sound. In the print days, the Daily tried it. In the digital era, Patch tried it. Each time someone tries it, an investor kicks in a huge amount of money to get the thing launched but because the financial model is so unsound, it always fails. If you could sustain an experienced staff on digital subscription revenue alone, we’d have gone that way a long time ago. To produce the kind of content we produce takes more than digital subscribers.

As the Athletic makes this sprint to hire away the best sportswriters in the land, I worry about how lives will be affected. Their recruiting effort is rushed. You get a couple of days to decide and then the offer is gone. The pressure is intense. Think about that. What responsible employer does that? When we recruit, we give people all the time they need to work out the details and consider how a job change might affect their lives and their families. Our intention is to build a lasting relationship, and you don’t do that with a breathless offer that forces people into a corner. Doing what the Athletic does is desperate and uncaring.

Tony Jones: With The Athletic, my day-to-day duties won’t be dissimilar to my previous responsibilities with The Salt Lake Tribune. I will cover the Utah Jazz and the NBA like a blanket. I will take you inside a team at an exciting time, a time where the Jazz are expected to be one of the best teams in the Western Conference. A time where the Jazz boast the likes of star guard Donovan Mitchell, and star center Rudy Gobert, who is the NBA’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year.

Jason Quick: But to be honest, I nearly walked away from the profession this summer. Much has changed over the years. The media landscape today is a tricky one. I’ve had to deal with the click-bait mentality of one organization, and the pom-pom waving of another. And it seems like some are more interested in being friends with players than telling the real story. But just as I was entertaining thoughts of opening a bar, or applying at the postal service, The Athletic presented this opportunity. Frankly, it’s a writer’s dream: find the best stories and execute.

Brett Dawson: Westbrook, as it turned out, was open and introspective that day in Phoenix. He talked about the narrative that teammates don’t enjoy playing with him, disputing it and wondering rhetorically why it’s a subject broached so often with him and so rarely with other stars. His initial warning was classic Westbrook. But the interview — and the story that sprang from it — was emblematic of the kind of work I most enjoy, the kind I’m hoping to do more of now that I’m covering the Thunder for The Athletic.

How did you make the decision to leave Turner and join The Athletic? David Aldridge: We’ve been talking for a few weeks more formally. At the same time, I was very seriously contemplating going back to Turner. I love that place. . . . They made an incredibly fair offer. It was a very tough decision, but it was an opportunity to be in on the ground floor of something here, to have some real say in coverage and personnel, to be home more. And the fact that the D.C. sports community has really matured over the last 10 years, I think all those things came together at the same time and made it worth taking the leap of faith that this thing can work and be successful.

Last week, Andrew Marchand of the Post reported that several TV outlets were interested in hiring Richard Jefferson as a game analysts, listing YES, ESPN and the Clippers as the top three. Now, league sources tell NetsDaily that unless RJ gets an offer to play another year, he will be joining the YES Network, doing both game analysis and studio work on broadcasts of Nets games, The move to the broadcast booth comes a decade after he was traded to the Bucks for Yi Jianlian. Jefferson, 38, has since played with the Spurs, Warriors, Jazz, Mavericks, Cavaliers and Nuggets, winning an NBA championship with Cleveland two years ago. He joined the Cavs broadcast teams in the playoffs last season, his first broadcasting gig.

David Aldridge: So why make the move now? First, and foremost, I’ve been missing too much of my family’s collective life. My wife and I have two sons, who are growing up way too fast. And I don’t want to keep missing plays and concerts and baseball games. I’ll still miss some of them, but not as many. I’ll hopefully be able to take my wife out more than once or twice a month. There will be a lot of long days and nights, and a lot of games to attend in town, but when the games are over, I’ll go home, not to a hotel. Second, I’m a man in love with words. Even though I’ve primarily been a television reporter for the last two decades, I still often refer to myself as a writer who appears on TV. My voice comes from my writing. Believe me: I understand the power of television. It produces emotional, visceral reactions.

Shams Charania: My first real passions in life were basketball and writing, and I hoped to combine that with my love for the NBA and the ins and outs of the league. I loved the NBA and playing basketball, so I had to find my route to stay around the game. Writing about it was that route. I grew up roaming the websites of RealGM and HoopsHype for the latest rumors. Whether it was driving to Milwaukee or nearby Indianapolis in high school, I always wanted to challenge myself and find interesting topics to write about. It was more than just the news items that interested me. It was the behind-the-scenes stories, the rise and fall of players, the teams and people in the league that fascinated me and pushed me to pursue the career. The subjects around the NBA are intriguing and I am proud of the relationships I have formed over the years in this field because it showed me the respect and openness of many of them.
More HoopsHype Rumors
September 18, 2019 | 8:25 pm EDT Update
On Wednesday, some members of the Pistons organization joined Henry Ford for the sports medicine center’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. Detroit Lions team owner Martha Ford, 94, the widow of William Clay Ford, was in attendance. (The Lions also use Henry Ford for their team’s doctors.). “Our move to Detroit would not have happened without our partnership with Henry Ford,” said Arn Tellem, vice chairman of the Pistons. “Our organizations have worked side by side to create one of the best developments in medicine and sports, not in the region, in the world. This is a true game-changer for our team, franchise and the community.”
September 18, 2019 | 7:05 pm EDT Update
Pacers coach Nate McMillan echoed Bitadze’s disappointment in missing Summer League, adding the rookie would’ve played if he was able to. “We tried to do everything we could to try to speed up that visa,” McMillan said. “As soon as we drafted him, we talked about it that night. To try to get it, put a rush on it and get it so he could get back and play. I would’ve loved to see him play in Vegas. It didn’t work out, but it was good to see him in some runs in the month of August and September.”